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PALABRAS: Cuban Grammy-Winning Composer Paquito D'Rivera Publishes Captivating Memoir

First Posted: Nov 12, 2015 05:00 AM EST

Cuban classical composer and fourteen-time Grammy award-winning clarinetist and saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera has published his memoir, "Letters to Yeyito: Lessons from a Life in Music." The upbeat nonfiction piece offers an enthralling tour of D'Rivera lengthy career as a jazz musician, which spans six decades, two nations and 30 solo albums.

The Havana-born jazzman grew up just 10 blocks from the Tropicana nightclub. He was surrounded by dancers, magicians, journalists, authors, singers and other other creatives. Also, he naturally took after his father, a classical saxophone player who practiced his tenor sax "twenty-six hours a day." His father was a lover of jazz and own a small import office that provided instruments, printed music and accessories to his colleagues. D'Rivera had no choice but to become a saxophonist. By the age of 10 he'd performed at the National Theater Orchestra. At 17, he was a featured soloist with the Cuban National Symphony.

Dizzy Gillespie and Yo-Yo Ma are among the many music legends with whom D'Rivera has collaborated since he's become a legend in his own right. He writes about those relationships, the life lived within music and musical wisdom in the pages of "Letters to Yeyito."

"When Ilan Stavans [publisher of Restless Books] asked me to write a kind of "extended letter" to an imaginary music student, I remembered the day I received something similar signed by a young aspiring saxophonist simply named 'Yeyito,' asking me if it was worth it to pursue a career in music," D'Rivera told Latin Post. "But the letter had no return address, and I was just sixteen years old and had no idea how to answer that question. Now I know!"

"Letters to Yeyito" comes after D'Rivera's past publications, "My Sax Life," "¡Oh, La Habana!" and "Paisajes y Retratos." D'Rivera explained that "Paisajes y Retratos" (Landscapes and Portraits), written in Spanish and now out of print, was used as source material for the new book. He also deposited insightful anecdotes and thoughtful recommendations, which is of great use to those interested in the art of sound.

"I'm not exactly the best guy to explain how I do things, but I think there are some similarities in writing music and telling stories," said D'Rivera, the only artist to have won Grammys in Classical and Latin Jazz categories.. "Both are composing, but I don't have any particular method to follow. Maybe that's because I am a musical improviser. I apply the concept to different activities.

"I love writing and I do it constantly -- articles for newspapers and magazines, liner notes for recordings. Now I have an idea for a novel about twin brothers in an imaginary small Caribbean town taking completely different paths in their lives. [Writing books] is a great sensation, like putting out a new CD. I love seeing people laughing ...or crying at my stories. Sometimes friends call asking what is truth or fiction, and I lie all the time. Maybe because I don't remember anymore. It's all mixed up in my mind."

One of D'Rivera's upcoming musical projects is the premiere of his symphonic poem "The Elephant and the Clown" in Mexico City. According to the author, "The piece is inspired by a joke about an old clown friend of mine that hid an elephant from his trainer and then accompanied him to the police station to file a claim for the lost animal."

"Letters to Yeyito" hit bookshelves Nov. 10, and it was translated by Cuban-born translator and writer Rosario Moreno.

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