Arturo Sandoval’s story is long and inspiring; he carries all the hallmarks of someone whose passion is ignited at an early age and is unwaveringly able to carry a person through life, to heights not dreamed of.
Born in a tiny village named Artemisa in the province of Havana in 1949. His biographies state that he loved music as a child and at the age of 13, he began playing music with the village band. Here he learned the rudiments of percussion and music theory.
Arturo loved all music and instruments, but settled on the trumpet. So successful was his trumpet playing that at age 16, Arturo was playing in Cuba’s all-star national band. At the same time, he was studying classical trumpet at the Cuban National School Of Arts (Richard De La Font Agency, 1997 – 2005).
Drafted into the military at age 22, Sandoval had already become obsessed with Dizzy Gillespie’s music, and he seemed to have absorbed the spirit of what Gillespie played.
Sandoval went on to play with the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna. He also dedicated his daily free time to practicing without fail.
Using his incredible dexterity and ability to play anything, Arturo co-founded a group which would become Cuba’s stellar jazz ensemble, Irakere. This group featured Paquito D’Rivera (saxophone) and Chucho Valdez (piano). In 1978, the group was introduced to American audiences where they appeared at the New York Jazz Festival and later signed a contract with Columbia Records.
All of this sounds flowing and easy, but for Arturo it was not. His native country was (and is) oppressive and chaotic; Arturo’s family was poor and it was solely his love of music that kept him on his path. This rare quality is what Arturo Sandoval gave total credit to when asked about his success in an interview with Chris Slawecki in September 2000: “There only one thing: You must be in love with the music. You must respect what you’re doing and you must respect the music very much. Because there’s going to be a lot of difficulties in your way. The only thing that keeps you going is if you are in love with the music – your enthusiasm, your desire to keep going, to keep practicing. It doesn’t matter what happens. It doesn’t matter what’s going on around you, you’re going to keep trying” (All About Jazz, September 2000).
And keep trying he did. Today Sandoval is considered to be a “pioneer” of jazz, even though it may be difficult to imagine anything being pioneered anymore with new and diverse styles of music being invented and named so often no one can keep up. At this stage of the game, Sandoval’s greatest gift to all of music is still appreciation, love of the music, respect for other musicians and the synthesis of mastery and experimentation.
A pivotal event took place for Sandoval in 1977; he met Dizzy Gillespie in person. Gillespie was conducting an impromptu tour of the Caribbean and Sandoval sought him out. During a twenty-year period, American musicians were isolated from Cuba due to Cuba’s political situation and Gillespie wanted to know what was going on in the back streets, being a lover of Afro-Cuban music (JazzTrumpetSolos.com, n.d.). Arturo offered to take Gillespie to the neighborhoods in his car, eventually taking the stage with Gillespie and revealing that he was a musician as well. This friendship remained strong throughout the rest of Gillespie’s life.
Sandoval eventually outgrew Irakere and in the early 1980’s he formed his own bands and began to expand his repertoire and style.
Being among the first to combine Cuban/Latin rhythms with jazz, Sandoval rocketed to fame worldwide, while dominating the music scene in his native country; he won the Cuba’s Best Instrumentalist award eight years in a row, from 1982 to 1990.
By now, Sandoval could begin to dream of leaving Cuba and Castro’s dictatorship, which he hated. By 1990 Sandoval has gotten his wife and child safely away from Cuba, and Sandoval played in a European concert tour in Rome and, in the middle of the tour, he went to the U.S. embassy and requested asylum, thus defecting from Cuba. It would be 1999 before Sandoval would receive U.S. citizenship.
It could be said that growing up in poverty and without a voice contributed to Sandoval’s passion for playing music; his aim was always to be able to convey what was in his heart and express his emotions through his music. When one lives in a country where speech is severely restricted, the instrument played becomes the voice of one’s soul, freeing the player to say whatever he or she wishes. Sandoval’s music is like that; he deftly changes from jazz to classical, holding his audience spellbound. If nothing else, his versatility lends an enormous amount to music.
The inspiration Sandoval draws comes from all walks of life; in one account, one man of Middle-Eastern descent recounts going with his son to a Sandoval concert in Baltimore (Chicken Bone Journal, n.d.): What I love about Arturo is his spirit. Arturo plays fiery and passionate notes. There is no holding back for Arturo. Yet Sandoval is always in control when he plays. And, it is his respectful interpretation for the melody of the music, which separates him from so many young guns now on the Jazz scene.”
It is rare that one name can stand out over time after changing bands, but Sandoval has defied all the props and has been able to stand alone in his music when need be. In addition to appearing with his own bands, he has played with classical orchestras as well, such as the BBC Symphony and the Leningrad Philharmonic (Richard S. Ginell,, n.d.)
Arturo Sandoval has given his heart to jazz; he prefers not to be known as a “pioneer;” he simply wants to be recognized as someone who loves and has a great respect for music.
He has also contributed in teaching; having lectured at music conservatories all over the world. Currently he holds a full professorship at Florida International University in Miami.
Sandoval is a rare individual who has managed to beat the odds and embody the very spirit of his roots, integrating all forms of music into his performances.
“Arturo Sandoval.” JazzTrumpetSolos.com. n.d., 30 November 2005. http://www.jazztrumpetsolos.com/Arturo_Sandoval_Biography.asp
Ginell, Richard S. “Arturo Sandoval: Biography”. All Music Guide, n.d., 30 November 2005. http://music.yahoo.com/ar-263096-bio–Arturo-Sandoval
Sharif, Amin. “Arturo Sandoval In Baltimore”. Chicken Bones: A Journal n.d., 30 November 2005 http://www.nathanielturner.com/arturosandoval.htm
Slawecki, Chris. “An Interview With Arturo Sandoval.” All About Jazz. September 2000, 30 November 2005. http://www.allaboutjazz.com/articles/ftio0900.htm
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