there are those who have told me that i don’t really vent. so here’s one.

it sounds like the U. S. is about to re-open relations with Cuba, again. Ambassador Jazz to the fore, again. there are trips advertised by jazz mags and travel agencies. Irakere’s Chucho Valdes has been hosting his jazz festival there for some time now. however, what has gone virtually unnoticed is that Pres. Jimmy Carter started all of this in 1977 when he surreptitiously organized a cruise from New Orleans to Havana with jazz musicians on board to co-mingle. (a complete report about the cruise and what happened in Havana will appear here next April when we celebrate the 35th Anny of said journey, which starred Dizzy Gillespie in a triumphant return to the Island since his discovery of Chano Pozo, Stan Getz, Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, David Amram, Ray Mantilla, Joanne Brackeen, and a young man who was doing independent musical research named Ry Cooder. included will be new revelations heretofore undisclosed.)

i was aboard to report and photograph to no fewer than five (5) publications in two (2) languages. there were other reporters as well: Leonard Feather (LA Times), Ira Sabin (Radio Free Jazz a/k/a JazzTimes), Richard Severo (NY Times). all seem to have been conveniently ignored. in 1979 CBS records sent their estimable all star stable of artists to Havana the attendant tsunami-like publicity for which swamped everything before it. but historians are supposed to be more circumspect.

in an otherwise thorough forthcoming (2012) new textbook by John Edward Hasse and Ted Lathrop (“Discover Jazz,” Pearson) including the most complete Latin Jazz section of any textbook i have used, or read, they acknowledge our cruise, but added that Getz and Gillespie “discovered” Irakere.

sound the buzzer. wrong! while i know, respect and admire the authors one may find in the autobios of Amram (“Upbeat: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat,” Paradigm Publishers, 2008) and Irakere alum Paquito D’Rivera (“My Sax Life: A Memoir,” Northwestern University Press, 2006) and in subsequent conversations with Irakere’s Valdes, Arturo Sandoval and Carlos Averhoff, as well as in “90 Miles: Cuban Journeys In The Age of Castro” by Ian Michael James (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006), that, yes, we were all at a jam session at the Havana Libre Hotel in April 1977 where Irakere was showcased for the visiting Nord Americanos. with Diz and Stan sitting in, a reporter made a cassette tape on his very lo-fi interview recorder and gave it to a friend (sic!) at CBS Records. when said reporter heard it being played in the offices of Fania Records he had the tape pulled from circulation. conclusion(?): the reporter “discovered” Irakere, which was acknowledged later (see below). in case you haven’t already guessed that reporter was this blogger.

in a vindication of sorts at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival i was asked to be the official photographer for a presentation by a musical instrument manufacturer (no names, please) which was supposed to present Irakere with hot-off-the-line brass and woodwinds to take back to a much needing school. unfortunately, both governments –yes, even the Swiss– thought that unwise as that was tantamount to “payment” which, in Communist parlance was blasphemy for Irakere’s “educational” visits off the Island. there was a private ceremony with the instruments remaining on display throughout the Festival. i don’t know if the horns ever made it to Cuba.

am i whining? shit yeah! as professionals we are supposed to do research and ascribe credit. in an email Hasse wrote that “it would be corrected in future editions.” is that the publishing equivalent of “we’ll fix it in the mix”? he also wrote “congratulations on discovering Irakere.” i’ll ignore the facetiousness and accept the acknowledgment.

will jazz history be rewritten each time someone else writes it? like jazz itself each new version is a voyage of discovery. and that ain’t bad. as for books, which soon enough will as extinct as LPs and cassette tapes, we won’t need Fahrenheit 451 as plastic melts a lot quicker than that. remember when your public school teachers told you, “that’s going on your permanent record”? well, some wag said, thanks to the computer now we REALLY do have a permanent record.

- © arnold jay smith
November 2011

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