Monday, July 17, 2006

Polls Are Open, Vote for Paquito

Arguably the greatest award in jazz is now the NEA Jazz Master title. However, in the years prior to NEA Chair Dana Gioia reinvigorating the Jazz Master program, the jazz magazine reader’s polls were much more coveted than traditional recording industry accolades, like Grammy’s. Of the reader’s poll, Downbeat magazine’s is probably the more famous, but the Jazz Times poll has cachet as well. Both can help reluctant labels to put a little more muscle in their marketing, and in general they carry prestige in the jazz world.

You should, as with any ballot, vote your conscious, but I would offer a suggestion: vote for Paquito D’Rivera for clarinet and jazz musician of the year. D’Rivera is an excellent musician, who defected from Cuba in 1980 to pursue musical free expression in America. D’Rivera is popular with his fellow musicians, as evidenced this year by his performances at the NEA Jazz Masters jam session, and with Toots Thielemans and friends during the harmonica player’s Carnegie Hall tribute concert.

D’Rivera’s preferred reed is the clarinet, and he usually makes the readers polls in that category, but below Don Byron. A legitimately talented clarinetist, Byron has been a perennial winner, but when his work broaches politics, it is with tunes like “Shelby Steele Would Be Mowing Your Lawn” and “The Importance of Being SHARPTON” on Music for Six Musicians.

It’s time to get behind D’Rivera, a musician’s musician and a plain-spoken critic of Castro’s criminal reign of terror in his native Cuba. D’Rivera’s My Sax Life (review coming soon) is an entertaining and insightful musical memoir, which dramatically portrays the reality of post-revolution Cuba.

Voting for D’Rivera is not a simply a partisan act. He is a truly worthy artist, already the recipient of the NEA Jazz Master title. Votes for D’Rivera for clarinet and jazz musician would hardly scandalize the jazz press, despite their overwhelming left-wing biases. D’Rivera is that good. (Even Hall of Fame votes for NEA Jazz Master D’Rivera would not be inappropriate, although I’ll give my Hall nod to Illinois Jacquet, the Texas Tenor who was a big part of Lionel Hampton’s breakout hit “Flying Home.”) While you’re at it, you can also vote with confidence for Arturo Sandoval on trumpet, D’Rivera’s fellow Cuban defector and frequent musical associate, whose life was dramatized by Andy Garcia in an HBO bio-picture.

Currently, there does not appear to be an online voting feature on Downbeat’s website, but there are business reply card ballots in the latest (August 2006) issue of the printed magazine. Only official ballots are accepted. They must be post-marked by August 29th and the results will be announced in December. Jazz Times usually has on-line voting, and I’ll post info on their poll when it is announced.

D’Rivera and Sandoval defected for freedom and artistic expression. As listeners, we have benefited from their decision to make their home in America. To show some appreciation, do what Cubans can’t do: exercise your right to vote. In this case, vote for D’Rivera and Sandoval.

(Thanks to Babalu Blog for supporting the campaign.)
(Thanks to Gateway Pundit too, I sense a winning coalition coming together.)