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My Sax Life by Paquito D’Rivera

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If you are soft on Communism and Fidel Castro, you won’t be after reading this autobiography. While D’Rivera’s denunciation of these two evils isn’t the main theme of the book, it permeates everything and leaves an indelible impression. D’Rivera—Cuban native, child prodigy, alto saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, author, practical joker, upbraiding letter-writer—endured 21 years of Castro’s tyranny before he defected to the United States in 1981. He was a member of Irakere, Cuba’s top band, at the time.

“The basic ad libitum theme of this book will be the people I’ve met over the years,” D’Rivera says in the introduction. You get the feeling that all the Cuban musicians—and later, all the other Latin American musicians and all the jazz musicians—in his life are a community or family. He writes about them with warmth and wit, but he isn’t afraid to publicly question their silence on or naive support of abusive political regimes.

Of course, he has strong opinions about the music, too: You should get a thorough musical education; excessive volume has become a plague; arrogance and conceit have no place in the attitude of the artist. My Sax Life is a most descriptive and well-written book.

Originally Published