Famous Jazz Trumpet Player Arturo Sandoval of Hidden Hills, California
Arturo Sandoval - Famous Trumpet Player
Interview with Jens Lindemann
Arturo Sandoval - Montreal, Canada (1991)
Arturo Sandoval with The Airmen of Note
Famous Trumpet Player Arturo Sandoval of Hidden Hills, California was born on November 6, 1949, in Artemisa, a small town east of Havana in the Pinar Del Rao province, home of Cuba's finest tobacco growing region, the Vuelta Abajo. Arturo's family was poor, existing on an income from his father's mechanics business. By the age of six, Arturo had a strong desire to be a musician.
Arturo Sandoval began playing the congas and put together a mini-circus act with a cat on a high wire. He charged the neighborhood kids a penny to see his show. When his village organized an orchestra for local events, he joined and tried out a bunch of instruments, including the trombone, bass drum and the flute, which he didn't like because it made him dizzy. Arturo started looking at the trumpet and decided that's what he wanted to play.
The band didn't have an extra trumpet, and the family had no money to buy one; however, his Aunt bought him a Cornet. Arturo states that he started to blow the cornet and just figured it out. Arturo sought out a respected local trumpet player for some training and was rebuffed and told not to waste his time. Arturo left that meeting in tears but more determined than ever.
Amazingly, Arturo never received formal trumpet lessons. He played and practiced, but that was it. One day in 1963, Arturo saw a flyer for a scholarship program offering classical music training at the National School of Arts. He applied, and secretly went to Pinar Del Rao for an aptitude exam that was mostly gauged to test his musical ear. When the telegram arrived with his acceptance, he announced to his parents that he was going to go to Havana to become a full-time musician.
Arturo continued his education and musical training until he was about 16, when the government formed a big band, known as the Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music. The first trumpet in the national symphony, Luis Escalante, also was chosen as lead trumpet in the big band. The announcement energized Arturo, who had begun to chafe under the restrictions that he could only play classical music at the school.
"I was dying to meet Luis Escalante," says Arturo. Escalante's hobby was fixing cars, and because of Arturo's experience helping his father, he established a connection with the vaunted trumpeter. They became friends, and finally Arturo told Escalante that he was a trumpet player, too. They started playing duets, and one day, Escalante asked if Arturo would like to take his place in the big band group. "I was speechless," Arturo says. "I told him they wouldn't let me play." But after Escalante intervened, the young Sandoval became the last chair in the trumpet section. Three years later, at the age of 20, he became the first trumpet in the orchestra, which in big band parlance meant he really became the band's leader.
On January 24, 1971, Arturo Sandoval received his induction notice into the Cuban Military, a mandatory service for all young men. "It was the worst three years of my life," Arturo says. He was required to clean barracks and build latrines, but the worst part was that he didn't have the time, or the place, to play his trumpet.
Nonetheless, when his three years were up he expected to resume his former duties as first chair trumpet. But the band director relegated him back to the sixth chair and reduced his salary from the 450 pesos a month he'd been earning as first chair to the 120 pesos he had received at the age of 16. "That was the first time I really wanted to leave Cuba," says Arturo. "I decided to leave music and go back to my village and work."
The big band conductor sought him out in Artemisa, telling him he'd talk to some people and get him back his old job. Within a short time, Arturo was back in his first chair. "But we were playing for the national circus, and we were all disappointed. That wasn't why the orchestra had been created," Arturo says. A small group of musicians in the orchestra decided to start playing jazz. "When the government found out, they threatened [us] by saying, 'Whatever you're doing, it's not good for the government or the country.'"
Arturo and his fellow musicians prevailed and he formed an Afro-Cuban band called Irakere (the Yoruba word for "forest") in 1978 with saxophonist Paquito De'Rivera and pianist Chucho Valdes. By the early 1980s, it had become one of the premier Cuban musical groups in the world, fusing elements of rock, jazz and Cuban folk music, and even won a Grammy award. The government relented a bit, too, and let the band play on television in Cuba and perform public shows. But Arturo couldn't shake the conviction that he wasn't allowed to pursue music the way he wanted to.
One of Arturo's biggest inspirations came from a man named Willis Conover, who did the "Jazz Hour" on Voice of America, every day at 3 p.m. Mr. Conover played the latest records and had news about the world of jazz. It was dangerous to listen to the show, and when Arturo was serving in the military, a sergeant heard him listening to VOA, and he was imprisoned for three months. The combination of the jazz world outside and his own conflicts with the government led him to begin plotting to leave Cuba.
Irakere began to tour worldwide, and Arturo knew it was his ticket out of Cuba. But there were complications. He had met and fallen in love with a bureaucrat named Marianela Gutierrez, whom he married in 1975. Families were not permitted to travel together, and Marianela's son, Leonel, from her first marriage, and a son, Arturo Jr., whom she had with Sandoval, were never permitted to leave the country with him. Although Marianela did not originally share Arturo's disillusionment with Castro's Cuba, she listened to her husband's complaints and eventually began to share his desire to leave.
Arturo's talent has led him to associations with many great musicians, but perhaps the most important was with Dizzy Gillespie, a longtime proponent of Afro-Cuban music, whom Arturo has called his spiritual father. The two musicians met in Cuba in 1977 when Gillespie was playing impromptu gigs throughout the Caribbean with saxophonist Stan Getz: Says Arturo, "I went to the boat to find him (Stan). I've never had a complex about meeting famous people. If I respect somebody, I go there and try to meet them."
Because of the political situation in Cuba, the country was isolated from American musicians for nearly twenty years and during this first trip back, Dizzy wanted to visit the black neighborhoods where musicians play guaguanco and rumba in the street. Sandoval offered to take Gillespie around in his car, and only later that night when he took the stage with Gillespie did Sandoval reveal himself as a musician.
In 1990, Arturo was scheduled to tour with the United Nations Orchestra, which had been formed by Dizzy. "I went to the vice minister of culture and told him that I was going to be on the road for four months and it was too long to be away from my family," Arturo says. After much back-and-forth, the government finally agreed to give Marianela and their young son permission to join him in London, but because her first son was of military age, his visa was denied. Nonetheless, the Sandovals went ahead with their plan to defect, and once his family arrived in London, Sandoval explained his plan to Gillespie, who helped set it in motion with American authorities at the U.S. embassy in Athens.
Although the defection was successful, it wasn't until 1993 that the family could get Leonel out of Cuba, along with Sandoval's mother and father. They now all live in Hidden Hills, California and Arturo became a U.S. citizen in 1999.
No matter where he lives, Arturo says that he will live and die a Cuban. And that means he takes special pride in one of the country's great symbols: the cigar. "I started smoking when I was 14 years old, and I haven't stopped smoking them in 39 years," Arturo says, a lit Punch double corona in his hand. He says his aunts worked as tobacco leaf strippers in a factory in Artemisa. He used to walk by the factory sometimes and stop to listen to the lector read the news or read from a book. "A cigar is a kind of style, a way of living, and it's a great feeling, especially after a good meal to have a great cigar. When I finish, I'm dying to burn a good cigar. It's like a vice. A little Cuban coffee. A little brandy. And after a sip of coffee, I love the taste of tobacco."
For now, Arturo is content to keep exploring the frontiers of his musical creativity. Says Arturo, "We have a saying, 'Don't go to sleep in the top of a tree, because if you fall asleep, you fall and hit the ground.' That's like my career. When I go to a concert tonight, no one cares how you played last night. You have to do your best in that moment. People don't have to come see you. It's a privilege that they do. You must keep yourself in shape and practice and keep learning.â€
"I've heard people say, 'I don't have anything to prove," says Arturo. "I don't agree with that. We always have something to prove. If you don't, you'd better quit. For me, every day is a challenge."
Arturo has played with Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton, performed on stage from Tokyo to New York and recorded 14 solo albums since arriving in America. He has won four Grammy Awards, six Billboard Awards and has more plaques for Grammy nominations in his Los Angeles home than the walls can accommodate. He won an Emmy for his soundtrack to "For Love or Country" (his life's story.) Music is his first love, but Arturo also has a deep love of his homeland; although, he doesn't like to talk politics or delve too deeply into the situation in Cuba. I am a simple man, a musician who is trying to give my family the best life possible," he says when the subject of Cuba comes up.
Arturo a tenured professor at Florida International University, and he works nationally and abroad with innumerable institutions and their music departments offering several scholarships, exercise books, clinics and seminars.
Arturo has conducted clinics from the high school level to the professional level, having attendances as large as three thousand people. The clinics are varied and tailored to the institutions needs. They may be as specific as trumpet techniques, as general as music composition for jazz, Latin jazz, contemporary jazz, and classical or as broad as the life of a touring musician. A number of these and other topics are included in the typical 60-minute clinic. Some of the clinics are more interactive and include working with the institutions big band followed by a concert. He conducts his clinics with his trumpet flugelhorn, and requires a grand piano. We rarely do stand alone clinics since he has such a high demand for concert appearances. Most institutions bring the artist in with his touring band while others rather he work with his touring band and their big band or in combination with any of the following; concert band, wind ensemble or symphony orchestra. Sandoval was awarded the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) Foundation Awards for Music Education for the most extensive educational program in the entire music industry.
Arturo has lectured at the Conservatoire de Paris, the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in the Soviet Union, the University of California Santa Barbara, the University of Miami, the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University and at many other institutions all over the world.
Hal Leonard Publishing has released Arturo's Trumpet Method books with recorded CD' s (that include original exercises by Sandoval) as well as various big band, combo and marching band charts from his award winning albums. Arturo is also a renowned classical musician, performing regularly with the leading symphony orchestras from around the world.
The perfectly restored 1957 Chevy Bel Air is a rolling monument of Arturo's life. It recalls his childhood in Cuba and his love of cars. It's a reminder of his young adulthood in Cuba when he couldn't afford a car, but envied the aging relics from Detroit's heyday chugging along the streets of Havana. And it's a symbol of how far he has come since he fled Cuba with his family.
"I owe so much to my music," he says between puffs on one of the four to five cigars he smokes every day. "It saved my life. And, when I play today, it is from my heart, 100 percent."