MY SAX LIFE: A Memoir

The venerated Cuban jazz saxophonist produces a rambling rendition of his life that is far from pitch-perfect.

The venerated Cuban jazz saxophonist produces a rambling rendition of his life that is far from pitch-perfect.

D'Rivera begins with Webster's definition of "book," but he would have fared better to find the meaning of "memoir." D'Rivera's story reads like a scrapbook, replete with travelogue accounts of his concerts abroad, random black-and-white photos (one of him and Dizzy Gillespie in a sauna in Helsinki in the middle of a chapter about Madrid) and caricature sketches (by him, by his mother, by his friends) of Fidel Castro, of himself, of the Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma. At times it appears that since D'Rivera's 1980 defection from Cuba (to New York via Madrid), this self-proclaimed "raging anti-Communist" has made a side career of collecting and writing snarky op-ed pieces about anyone—from actor Danny Glover to bass player Charlie Haden—who dares to visit Cuba and not denounce Castro. While D'Rivera's anger does have a basis—he was involved in a nine-year legal battle to bring his wife and son over from Cuba and, while still on the island, his music was sometimes censored—his vitriolic classification of those who don't share his views, political or otherwise, as "idiots" and "assholes," is hard to take. Tiresome too are D'Rivera's machista descriptions of women (he likes Venezuelans because they are good cooks and all the ugly ones have probably been sent to Mongolia), his sexual puns and his surplus of scatological humor. Toward the end, D'Rivera tells us that Cubans are, by nature, contradictory characters, a point already proven by his sudden switches between resentment and reverence in his extended acknowledgment-like passages to his friends and in their reprinted testimonial letters touting D'Rivera's talent.

To borrow one of the author's overused transitions, "to make a long story short," stick with the master's music and steer clear of this book.