J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Wein Scolded

“A Nightmare in Havana” is the title of an open letter from Paquito D’Rivera to George Wein, the famed founder and producer of the Newport Jazz Festival, published in the August Latin Beat magazine (not available on-line). The great clarinetist and saxophonist took issue with Wein for programming a film by John Holland titled A Night in Havana, featuring Dizzy Gillespie at one of his festivals. D’Rivera of course defected from Cuba, and was separated from his family for years, as there were held as hostages by Castro’s criminal regime.

Seeing the film is particularly unpleasant for D’Rivera because of his “having to put up with the repugnant presence of the oldest dictator on this planet, absurdly mixed with a certainly dearest—yet ill-advised—representative of an art form that epitomizes the most revered concept of artistic and personal freedom.”

He takes Wein to task for screening a film that exploits music for the sake of its pro-Castro, and therefore pro-oppression propaganda. D’Rivera pointedly scolds Wein for giving credibility to such an undertaking, pointedly writing:

“Despite the availability of so much footage of Dizzy’s masterful performances, what is the point in portraying him in such an embarrassing environment?—Dizzy’s presence in Cuba was commercially very rentable—was the answer of filmmaker Holland. For my money, it is unfair to take advantage of the terrorist repression and absolute lack of freedom that the Cuban people have to endure on a daily basis. Marketing our misery, is highly cruel, insulting, racist and disrespectful.”

He also reminds Wein “looking at the Cuban musicians on tape, you’ll easily find out that a great number of them are now living in different countries around the world, far away from the ‘paradise island.’” Indeed, D’Rivera reminds Wein, his colleague Arturo Sandoval’s defection “was orchestrated by Washington impresario Charlie Fishman, backed up by Dizzy himself, using his contacts at Reagan’s White House.”

Reading his frank autobiography, Myself Among Others, the impresario is laudably willing to admit past mistakes, like the shabby treatment bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs received at a Newport Folk Festival. Wein succumbed to pressure to flip-flop Scruggs with the popular scheduled closing act the Kingston Trio. After the Trio’s set, many young fans and their parents poured out of the festival as Scruggs began to perform, creating an unfortunate situation for the vastly superior musician. The decision to program a film rife with pro-Castro sentiment however, was an unforced error, which could easily have been foreseen to lead to potential ill-will with scores of Cuban-American musicians like D’Rivera, Sandoval, and others. Wein should have known better than this.