Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Sandoval, Arturo

In 1982, Dizzy Gillespie hatched a plan to introduce a young discovery of his, Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, to the world. When the two met at a festival in Helsinki, Diz booked a studio so they could record together, unrehearsed.

The resulting album, To a Finland Station, brimmed with stratospheric runs and flawless execution by Sandoval. It established him as a virtuoso whose talents rival those of Gillespie at his peak. Dizzy brought Sandoval onto the world stage, and he has remained there ever since.

The LP was released by Gillespie's friend, producer Norman Granz, on Pablo Records in 1983. Its title, an ironic reference to Lenin's arrival in 1917 at St. Petersburg's Finland Station to start the Bolshevik Revolution, foreshadowed Sandoval's own flight from Communism, with Diz's help, several years later.

On November 6, 1949, Arturo Sandoval was born in Artemisa, Cuba, a small town outside Havana. His father, a mechanic, hoped his son would learn his craft, but young Arturo had expressed an interest in music from an early age; after trying out several instruments, he chose the trumpet after hearing a local wind band.

At age 12, he joined a village band, where he learned the rudiments of music and percussion. At age 13 he joined a local septet, Los Granjeros, whose members were many decades his senior. In 1963, he traveled, without his parents' knowledge, to an audition for admission at the newly founded Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana.

Sandoval passed the audition, and over the next three years he received rigorous instruction in European classical music. It was also during these studies that he first heard jazz, when a friend played an album with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie for him. Sandoval immersed himself in Gillespie's style, learning many of the bebop trumpeter's solos note for note. Like many other young Cuban musicians, he discreetly listened to Willis Conover's "Jazz Hour" broadcasts on the Voice of America radio station, a dangerous thing to do at a time when jazz music was out of favor with the island's Communist government.

Three years later, Luis Escalante chose Sandoval to replace him in the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, a prestigious experimental ensemble. Sandoval left his formal performance studies to join the band. He quickly rose through its ranks to occupy the group's first trumpet chair, in large part thanks to his focused and intensive practice regimen. He also met a number of future collaborators in the group, including pianist Chucho Valdés and alto saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera.

His rise through Cuba's musical ranks halted abruptly when he was drafted into the army in 1971. While he was allowed to continue practicing, Sandoval acknowledges these three years as the most disappointing of his life. While in the military, he was jailed for four months when authorities caught him listening to Willis Conover's jazz broadcasts.

After his discharge, Sandoval joined D'Rivera and Valdés to found a new group, Irakere. While its members were all accomplished jazz musicians, at first they were not allowed to call their music "jazz," because of the government's Soviet-inspired rejection of North American cultural influences.

As a result, the group concocted a uniquely Cuban fusion of jazz, classical, rock and traditional music which ultimately won the group international acclaim, Grammy awards and the privilege to be the first group allowed to play jazz, and tour outside the country, since 1959.

In 1977, Sandoval first met Gillespie, when the elder trumpeter came to Cuba with musicians including Stan Getz, Earl "Fatha" Hines, and David Amram, on a musical tour inspired by a brief thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations. Sandoval first approached Gillespie on the Havana docks, and offered to take him around the city in his car. To Dizzys's surprise, his chauffeur turned up next to him onstage, horn in hand at the concert with Irakere later that night.

The success of Gillespie's trip to Cuba led to an offer for Irakere to visit New York in 1978 to perform at Carnegie Hall as part of producer George Wein's Newport in New York Festival. This in turn led to an offer from CBS Records producer Bruce Lundvall to record an album in the U.S.. The eponymous album which emerged went on to win a Grammy award for Best Latin Recording in 1979.

This success led to more chances for Irakere to travel – and saxophonist D'Rivera seized the opportunity to seek exile in the United States in 1980. In 1981, Sandoval also left Irakere to form his own ensemble in Cuba, but was initially unable to secure government funding and sanction for his group.

Sandoval did eventually manage to tour with his group, including the trip to Finland where he was reunited with Diz in 1982. He also performed and recorded classical music with orchestras in the Soviet Union.

The climate for jazz performance in Cuba began to thaw, and Havana launched a jazz festival, Jazz Plaza, in 1981. Sandoval reunited with Dizzy on his return trips to the island. A memorable duet from 1985 – with Dizzy on piano – is captured in the 1988 documentary "A Night in Havana," in which Sandoval plays Charlie Parker's legendary introduction to Dizzy's "A Night in Tunisia" at twice the original speed, and with absolute precision. Dizzy's face, captured on screen, tells the story of his delight and admiration for the talent of the younger trumpeter.

In 1989, Sandoval gained permission to tour with Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra, and recorded a memorable concert with the ensemble at London's Royal Festival Hall. In 1990, Sandoval defected at the American Embassy in Rome. Simultaneously, his family defected in London, in the hopes of being reunited in the U.S.. Gillespie worked behind the scenes to guarantee the success of Sandoval's escape, even placing an early-morning call to the White House, to make sure Sandoval would be welcomed into the embassy.

Thanks to the support he received from Gillespie and others, Sandoval quickly established himself as a musical presence in the United States. Within a month, he was performing as a special guest with the Tito Puente and Mario Bauzá bands at the Village Gate in New York City, and he settled in Miami, where he accepted a job as professor at Florida International University.

To celebrate his arrival in the U.S., Sandoval recorded the album Flight to Freedom with guest artists Chick Corea and Anthony Jackson. He also recorded Reunión with D'Rivera, and published Brass Concepts, one of several method books he has written.

In one of his many tributes to past musicians, in 1992 Sandoval recorded the Grammy-nominated album I Remember Clifford, an homage to Clifford Brown, on which he overdubbed his playing with Brown, harmonizing solo lines on several iconic tracks, and recorded several other tributes.

The following year, Sandoval's album Danzón earned both the Grammy and Billboard awards for Best Latin Jazz Album. He received further awards from Billboard for his albums Swingin' and Hot House, which also won a Grammy.

In 1994, he recorded an album of classical music, featuring trumpet concertos by Mozart, Hummel, and Sandoval, on which he was accompanied by the London Symphony. The following year, he produced one of his most acclaimed latin jazz recordings, Y El Tren Latino.

As long in form and quick in tempo any one piece may be, Sandoval's music never suffers in substance. On Straight Ahead, the album he recorded in 1988 in Cuba with a quartet led by Chucho Valdés, Sandoval performs a piece he has revisited many times in his career, Valdés's "Mambo Influenciado." Sandoval infuses freshness into this recording by double-timing the piece, moving from a mambo to straight-ahead swing feel, in one of many examples of execution at unparalleled speed and range that have come to define his career.

In his recording of "Mack the Knife" with Clark Terry on the album Swingin', Sandoval demonstrates in miniature how he consistently maintains a fresh approach and personal style on the most familiar and often recorded pieces. Ever conscious of his musical roots in the Afro-Cuban tradition, he will at times achieve this originality by reframing jazz standards in an Afro-Cuban light, as with his recording of "Stella by Starlight" from his all-piano album My Passion for the Piano.

Sandoval's 2003 album, Trumpet Evolution, celebrates the legacy of the jazz trumpet from its beginnings. On "Blues for Diz," from his 2004 release, Live at the Blue Note, Sandoval demonstrates the showmanship and joy in performance for which Gillespie was famous. Moving between tempos, feels, compositions and instruments, the audience is drawn in with sheer amazement at the rapidity of his ideas.

His sense of history also leads him to present pieces in a more traditional light, as can be heard on most of the tracks on Trumpet Evolution show. His recordings of the Cuban lullaby, "Duerme Negrita," including the one included on the soundtrack to For Love or Country,are a prime example of this.

Sandoval has also been known to recast familiar pieces with new instrumentation, as with his use of electric guitar on the Gillespie standard, "Tanga" from Flight to Freedom. This use of electronic instruments as a means of updating or innovating his performances dates back to his tenure with Irakere; the group's recording of Sandoval's composition "Iyá" fuses use of electronic instrumentation and effects with traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms. Sandoval continues to use his own composition as platforms for experimentation, including the entire 2008 album, Rumba Palace.

In 1999, Sandoval was granted U.S. citizenship. The Miami branch of the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) had initially denied his application for citizenship, because Sandoval had been a member of Cuba's Communist Party. While he benefited to a certain extent from his former status as an official artist in Cuba, Sandoval ultimately prevailed in his claim to the INS that he had accepted Party membership only so that his family could accompany him on international tours, and eventually defect.

The story of his family's life in Cuba and defection to the United States was the subject of a 2001 HBO movie starring Andy García, For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story. Sandoval, also served as producer, and won an Emmy award for the score he composed for the film.

In 1997, Sandoval became a tenured professor at FIU, and he has founded a scholarship named in Gillespie's honor to support students at the University of Idaho, the University of Central Oklahoma, and FIU. He is active in the Grammys in the School program, through which he lectures and performs around the country. He also serves on the Board of Directors in the Educational Committee at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Sandoval was the first inductee into Walt Disney World's Jazz Hall of Fame, received the Hispanic Achievement Award in 1994 and the ASCAP Founder's Award in 2001. He has also been received the Heroes Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) for excellence in music education. He also won an Emmy Award for his score to the 2001 HBO movie based on his life.

Sandoval was nominated for a Grammy for his composition "Mambo Caliente," written for the score of the 1992 film adaptation of Oscar Hijuelos' novel, The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love. Sandoval also composed the score to a 1995 feature film, The Perez Family. In 1996, Sandoval was commissioned by the Kennedy Center to write the score for a ballet adaptation of the Eugene Fern children's book, "Pepito's Story, " choreographed by Debbie Allen.

In 2006, he opened a jazz club on Miami Beach, The Arturo Sandoval Jazz Club at the Deauville Beach Resort, which operated until March of 2008. He recently pulled out of talks to lend his name to a new jazz club at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Sandoval's career exhibits an air of balanced contrast: ever probing forward and seeking to expand boundaries. His albums show a keen knowledge, appreciation and sensitivity to his predecessors. One of the most technically accomplished trumpeters, he performs ever more frequently on piano, and continues to challenge himself as a composer and arranger with a variety of musical settings. Resistant to labels as a "latin jazz" musician, Sandoval demonstrates facility among genres within the jazz and classical musical worlds.

Select Discography

2007. Live at the Hotel Nacional Havana 1986.

2007. Rumba Palace.

2005. Live at the Blue Note.

2003. Trumpet Evolution.

2001. L.A. Meetings.

2001. My Passion for the Piano.

2001. For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story.

2000. Ronnie Scott's Jazz House.

1999. Americana.

1998. Hot House.

1996. Just Music.

1996. Swingin'.

1995. Y El Tren Latino.

1994. Classical Album.

1993. Danzón.

1993. Dream Come True.

1992. I Remember Clifford.

1991. Flight to Freedom.

1988. Straight Ahead.

1986. Tumbaito.

1986. No Problem.

1983. Breaking the Sound Barrier.

1982. To a Finland Station.

Contributor: Mark Lomanno