America embraced Paquito D’Rivera, nurtured his talents and provided him with ample opportunity to flourish.
With the current political turbulence and rancor, there is a tendency to downplay how our country has been a beacon of hope for so many. Few people in the world wake up in the morning and dream of moving to Venezuela or Croatia. But for more than 100 years, folks worldwide have been driven to the United States to seek refuge, peace and opportunity. On our worst day, we exceed the life experiences of most countries on their best day.
Paquito D’Rivera’s life in jazz is case in point. The first time I saw Paquito perform was years ago at Blue Note New York. He was the host of a special event to support the James Moody Foundation. I was struck not only by the beauty of his clarinet performance, but also by his elegant, stately and powerful demeanor and appearance. He oozed pride and confidence, without a single ounce of haughtiness or arrogance.
As I sat there, mesmerized by his work as the emcee of the evening, I tried to pinpoint how he managed to both dominate the bandstand and charm the audience. He did it by being happy, excited about sharing his music and exuding a loving spirit. He did not brood or boorishly list his accomplishments and awards. An NEA Jazz Master with 5 Grammy Awards and 15 Grammy nominations, he could have easily sought to impress. But, as a teacher once told me, “them that are real, do not need to reveal.”
Paquito was taught reed instruments by his father. His early talent landed him in the famed Havana Conservatory of Music in 1960, where he met the amazing Chucho Valdés. Later, they founded Orchestra Cubana de Musica Moderna and Irakere, which fused jazz, rock, classical and Cuban music. Having both of them on The Jazz Cruise is a dream I have sought for many years. As the Cuban government began to officially censor jazz, as well as rock ‘n’ roll, Paquito found it more difficult to stay. In 1980, while performing in Spain, he defected by seeking asylum at the American Embassy.
For the time being, he had to leave his wife and children behind. Imagine the anguish of that moment. The desire to seek a new life in the United States had to have been enormous for the 32-year-old jazz musician. But, with great talent comes great support. The American jazz world embraced him, nurtured his talents and provided him with ample opportunity to flourish and, eventually, to be reunited with his family. He has become of pillar of the American jazz scene, a true giant.
Paquito’s vision of the United States was a place where he could express his music without interference or regulation. All of us seek similar freedoms and liberties. How we get there and whether there needs to be restrictions of any kind is where the friction occurs. Internal strife is not new to us. The volume (both in number and noise level) of opinions on social media exacerbates our differences and hides the fact that we do have broad consensus on many issues.
Just as Paquito can ascend a bandstand and stand for excellence and the right of an individual to express himself or herself, so can all of us. To make that work for all, however, we need to emulate his loving spirit, his elegant manners and demeanor, and, most of all, his dignity.
(Note: To learn more about Paquito D’Rivera, you may wish to read his books, “My Sax Life” and “Letters to Yeyito.”)
Our Take is written by Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of The Jazz Cruise, The Smooth Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Gift to You:
The Smooth Jazz Cruise Holiday Show!
As a gift from us and dozens of the amazing artists who sail on our cruises, The Smooth Jazz Cruise Holiday Show will be available for free starting December 18! When we asked the Artists to participate, each and every one of them were thrilled to give something of themselves to you during this special holiday season.
The show will be hosted by … you guessed it … MARCUS MILLER! He hasn’t been “Home for the Holidays” in years, so he is having his great pal Alonzo Bodden over to his house and getting their Smooth Jazz friends together (virtually) to share some Holiday Cheer with you. There will be amazing music, exchange of holiday wishes and a lot of fun! And you can join the show as our guest — starting at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, December 18. No charge of any kind … just the joy, camaraderie and music we share on The Smooth Jazz Cruise streaming online to you.
From Marcus Miller, Alonzo Bodden and everyone at Entertainment Cruise Productions, we wish you and your family a very Happy Holiday season.
Grammy Nominations Announced
Earlier this week several artists from The Jazz Cruise family earned more reasons to be thankful with the announcement of the 2021 Grammy Award nominations.
Among the nominees were Kurt Elling (Best Jazz Vocal Album); Gerald Clayton (Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo) and Regina Carter (Best Improvised Jazz Solo). Christian McBride had the unusual honor of being nominated in two categories with two different bands (Redman/Mehldau/McBride/Blade and Corea/McBride/Blade). John Pizzarelli earned a nomination for his collaboration with James Taylor and his American Standard album, which was nominated as Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. We’re also excited to congratulate a member of our Blue Note at Sea family, Robert Glasper, who received two nominations — for Best R&B Song and Best Progressive R&B Album.
Our heartfelt congratulations go out to these nominees, along with the other great musicians recognized in the jazz categories. The Grammy Award show is set for January 31 on CBS with Trevor Noah as the host.
Jonathan Butler Releases New Single
Written in response to the murder of George Floyd, Jonathan Butler’s new single Our Voices Matter speaks to the public as a call to action against racial injustice and to encourage people to use their voices to make change in a peaceful, orderly manner.
“The murder, killing and public lynching of George Floyd was a reminder to me of growing up in apartheid era South Africa. It is hard to believe that the oppression and injustice that I left has now confronted us on our doorsteps. Our Voices Matter — a new collaboration between myself and my dear friends — is a message for us to have conversations that bring forth change, that we cannot stay silent when our brothers and sisters are suffering, and that with our collective voices we can fight for just treatment of all, just like we did in South Africa decades ago. Our Voices Matter is the start of that conversation.”
The song features several of Jonathan’s fellow stars on The Smooth Jazz Cruise, including Marcus Miller, Jeffrey Osborne, Candy Dulfer, Maysa, Rick Braun, Arlington Jones and more.
On the heels of his awesome 25th Anniversary Virtual Tour, Kurt Elling is set to return to our living rooms on December 6 with another online show, this one with a more seasonal bent.
Kurt’s “Christmas in Chicago” will be devoted to holiday music, including songs from his popular album The Beautiful Day. The versatile and popular singer Lizz Wright will join Kurt as his special guest for the show, airing at 4 p.m. ET December 6 from the iconic Green Mill in Chicago.
Robert Glasper Acoustic Trio Performing from Kennedy Center in D.C.
Any of the guests who sailed on Blue Note at Sea earlier this year will tell you how much fun it was to watch Robert Glasper and his acoustic trio in performances in the Celebrity Theater as well as his late-night, high-energy jam sessions in Constellations Lounge.
We now have to share Robert and his amazing bandmates with the world, because Robert is bringing the latest iteration of his acclaimed acoustic trio, featuring Vicente Archer (bass), Justin Tyson (drums), and DJ Jahi Sundance, to the Kennedy Center for an intimate On Stage at the Opera House performance.
The online show will stream on December 4 from the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. After the show, the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz will join Robert in a discussion about the power of music during the pandemic.