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Cubano Be, Cubano Bop: One Hundred Years of Jazz in Cuba by Leonardo Acosta

According to Reporters Without Borders, Cuba is the “the world’s biggest prison for journalists” and its dictator the “Maximum Leader of predators of press freedom.” Auspiciously, nevertheless, Leonardo Acosta’s remarkably fair and balanced groundwork on 100 years of jazz in Cuba has yet to land him behind bars. If there’s wonderment about the evenhandedness and poise of Cubano Be, Cubano Bop because of the repressive and manipulative unreasonableness of some of the regime’s musical policies, don’t worry: Those don’t evade Acosta’s criticism. He, however, doesn’t beat the proverbial dead horse by criticizing the Cuban authorities’ bureaucratic and ideological excesses willy-nilly either.

Acosta is outstandingly qualified to write what he truthfully describes as “barely an outline” to further investigations into the history of jazz in Cuba. He is a well-rounded and experienced musician, journalist, critic, researcher and producer of musical events as well as organizer of associations and groups during the most important periods covered in the book. Consequently, much of the history competently introduced in Cubano Be, Cubano Bop is Acosta’s too. Further help for his case comes from his lifelong association with Armando Romeu, whom Acosta considers Cuba’s most important jazz character. Since Romeu was already jazzing Cuba in the ’30s, and still doing so with Dizzy Gillespie in 1990, the importance of such a close association between the two cannot be overestimated.

Ease of read, based on a fine translation by Daniel S. Whitesell, characterizes the work. In truth, the English version supersedes the Spanish editions. (The Colombian one, however, has some photographic materials not included in the Smithsonian edition.) The book features a narrative that incorporates biographical entries about salient-as well as obscure-figures, analysis of recordings, trends and a Peter Parker-like ability to weave a web of connections between them all given their historical, social, economic and political contexts.

Originally Published