Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Annual D’Rivera Campaign

The critics have had their say in the Downbeat critics poll out now in the August issue. The rest of us civilians can still vote in the readers poll, which we can now do online—no more business reply ballots (but wait a minute, no paper trail?).

Like last year, I would recommend voting for Paquito D’Rivera in the clarinet category (you can write him in for alto too, if you’re so inclined), and Arturo Sandoval for trumpet. These would not be votes against another artist, but votes for acknowledged jazz giants. They also understand what freedom really means, having defected from Castro’s island gulag.

NEA Jazz Master D’Rivera has been particularly outspoken, taking clueless celebrities like Carlos Santana to task for their Che fetish. He also plays with an infectious sense of joy, clearly illustrating the close relationship between jazz and freedom. His autobiography, My Sax Life, is in many ways a love letter to the many musicians he has worked with, but also recounts the frightening reality of living under a dictatorial regime.

Sandoval’s defection is a story familiar to many thanks to the HBO film For Love or Country starring Andy Garcia. A trumpeter comfortable in the stratosphere, he was one of the last real protégés of Dizzy Gillespie, who helped facilitate his defection. Sandoval is also an entrepreneur, having opened a club in the Miami area. No jazz fan would begrudge him votes in the trumpet category.

It is a mistake to let mere political differences affect one’s aesthetic judgments. However, some readers here might take added motivation in the fact that the perennial clarinet winner, Don Byron, a legitimately talented musician, often infuses political commentary into his tunes like “Shelby Steele Would Be Mowing Your Lawn” and “The Importance of Being SHARPTON.” He has also been emphasizing tenor more over clarinet in recent years.

D’Rivera and Sandoval defected for freedom and artistic expression. As jazz 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 (click on “Vote!” icon on upper left of their homepage). Downbeat supplies drop-down menus for their anticipated top vote getters, which I have mixed feelings about. As readers, we do not have the “Rising Star” categories available in the critics poll. Don’t let that stop you from writing in less famous musicians. Feel free to scan the archives here for suggestions in various categories, and vote your conscience.