Book Review: “Letters to Yeyito: Lessons from a Life in Music” by Paquito d’Rivera

The Marlowsphere Blog (#134)

Letters to Yeyito: Lessons from a Life in Music

Letters to Yeyito (Restless Books, Brooklyn, NY, 228 pages, softcover, 2015) by world renowned reed player Paquito d’Rivera has the sub-title “Lessons from a Life in Music.” Fact is the book is much more than that.

It is more than a litany of lessons from a life in music for one major reason: Paquito d’Rivera. If this book had been written by less than an accomplished jazz/classical musician than Maestro d’Rivera, it would have less meaning. Fact is Cuban-born clarinetist and saxophonist d’Rivera is celebrated for his artistry in Latin jazz and achievements in classical composition. He has received 14 Grammys, the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award, and the National Medal of the Arts.  He is the only artist to have won Grammys in both classical and Latin jazz categories.

But it is not this wall of awards that gives Letters to Yeyito its literary heft. Not only does the author offer a highly descriptive account of life in Cuba under Fidel Castro, he also provides a detailed account of the many people who have crossed his musical path and the family and friends who have surrounded him. More than the lessons, the page after page mention of people in his career is what gives the book its life.

The list of musical mentors and colleagues is lengthy. And it is not just name-dropping. Many are familiar in their own right; many others are less well known, but nonetheless important to his evolving career.

Here’s a partial list: “Charanguero” flutist Jose Fajardo, pianist Rafael Somavilla, guitarist Carlos Emilio, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, bassist Carlitos Puerto, trap drummer Enrique Pla, trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, pianist Mike Longo, composer Lalo Schifrin, the twins Placido and Domingo Calzadilla, Stan Getz, Earl Hines, David Amram, Mario Bauza (an old friend of Paquito’s father), alto clarinetist Rudy Rutherford, bassist Ron McClure, drummer Billy Hart, Ray Mantilla, John Ore, Mickey Rocker, Ben Brown, Paquito d'Riverapianist Joanne Brackeen, Rodney Jones, Bruce Lundval, jazz event entrepreneur George Wein, pianists Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner, bassist Israel Cachao, local guitarist Carlo Emilio, saxophonist Phil Woods, saxophonist and flautist Frank Wess, soprano Martina Arroyo, trumpeter Claudio Roditi, bass guitarist Lincoln Goines, drummer Portinho, pianist Michael Camilo, trombonist Conrad Herwig, Argentinian saxophonist Oscar Feldman, and cellist Yo Yo Ma. Again, this is a partial list.

There’s also Uncle Ernesto, Jesus Canon the grocer, and old lady Cheché, among many other family members, friends, peers, and Castro-ites from his native Cuba.

If there’s a life lesson in this book it is that talent and high musical accomplishment attracts like talent and accomplishment.

Paquito d’Rivera’s  Letters to Yeyito: Lessons from a Life in Music offers the reader a first- hand account of life in Castro’s Cuba from a musician’s perspective. But more than this, it underlines the importance of family, friends, mentors, and peers in the development of a musical career.

Eugene Marlow
September 19, 2016

© Eugene Marlow 2016

Back to Top