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Arturo Sandoval: Scoring Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule”

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Trumpet legend and 10-time Grammy winner, Arturo Sandoval was recently personally selected by Hollywood legend—and noted musician and composer—Clint Eastwood to compose the soundtrack for Eastwood's eagerly-awaited and newly released motion picture, The Mule. Both the film and soundtrack have received rave reviews. The Maestro joined All About Jazz to discuss the project.

All About Jazz: Maestro, on behalf of All About Jazz, thank you for taking time to speak with us about your composing the soundtrack for Clint Eastwood's movie, The Mule.

Arturo Sandoval: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

AAJ: How did you become involved with this movie?

AS: Andy Garcia, you know is an actor in the movie and Clint mentioned to him that he needed a composer to write the music. Andy suggested my name. Clint agreed and called me directly. Clint then invited me to visit him at his office at Malpaso Productions. We talked and we started working on the soundtrack right away.

AAJ: How did you go about composing the soundtrack score?

AS: The way I always do. I put the movie in my studio and I sat down at the keyboard with my engineer there at the mixer. I watched the movie and, as I did, I started playing. He had instructions to record everything I played. And, as I did this, I made some suggestions to the director. If he liked them, then we would move on to the next cue.

AAJ: So, Clint Eastwood was with you when you did this?

AS: Not when we did the cues at first. But, later he was there most of the time.

AAJ: So, the process you did was from the piano keyboard to Pro Tools?

AS: Exactly.

AAJ: What was the most challenging aspect of this project for you?

AS: Clint wanted the music to be extremely simple. He didn't want to complicate things and he didn't want big or distracting movement in the counter lines and so forth. So, as I played, my right hand played simple lines and my left played simple unobtrusive harmony and accompaniment underneath.

AAJ: Mr. Eastwood is a fine musician and composer in his own right. He's composed scores to some of his own films, for example, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. And, he has worked with other great film composers such as Lalo Schifrin, Ennio Morricone, and, of course, Lennie Niehaus and now you. What was it like working with such a screen legend?

AS: I'm going to tell you that it was such a huge honor and a privilege to have this wonderful opportunity. And I really treasure it close to my heart, especially because Clint Eastwood is such a great icon of American culture. Plus, he was such a warm person and beautiful guy to work with. He also has a tremendous sense of humor. To call him now a friend is truly overwhelming and very special to me.

AAJ: I know you personally conducted the orchestra at the soundtrack recording session. What were your emotions as you did that?

AS: Oh, the emotions were amazing. But, to tell you the truth, in the very beginning I was a little nervous. But, thank God, after two or three minutes of recording, I couldn't believe how great it felt. I was relaxed and confident—I felt like I was doing that that all my life. I had great fun. I made a few jokes and it was a happy, beautiful experience. The wonderful orchestra encouraged me and gave me great confidence.

AAJ: Maestro, you also play trumpet on the soundtrack, correct?

AS: Oh, yes. I played with both the orchestra and with a big band. The first day recording was with the 82-piece orchestra and the second day was with the big band. Also, guitar and B3 organ. There was also a Mariachi band scene over which I composed and played. That was so much fun.

AAJ: Were you under time constraints to compose the soundtrack for The Mule?

AS: I didn't have a lot of time. However, I tend to work very fast and enjoy the challenge. After I developed the initial ideas, I did the arrangements and orchestrations. It's like improv. So, as a jazz musician the creative process is easy.

AAJ: I recently saw the added feature, "Scoring 'The Mule.'" It provides interesting insights to this project.

AS: Yes, my assistant, Keith Fiala—who is also an outstanding trumpeter—created that feature using in-studio video with "Final Cut" He did a terrific job on that, as well as being actively involved with Mr. Eastwood and me as we did the project.

AAJ: Do you plan to do more film scoring work in the future?

AS: That's my dream! That's one of the reasons why Marienela and I moved to Los Angeles. Scoring films is such a huge passion for me. I've done over a dozen score so far. Some were demos or low-budget films. I really enjoy the process tremendously.

AAJ: This has been a very big year for you with this project—which has been getting great reviews—your Ultimate Duets album—which garnered rave reviews -and your worldwide touring. What's coming next for you?

AS: Well, I want to repeat that I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity and feel greatly Blessed to have been asked by Mr. Eastwood to score this film. Later this month on December 21st, I'll be performing at the Disney Hall in L.A. with and orchestra and 50 children's choir that Notre Dame University is sending.

AAJ: Any last thoughts before we close?

AS: Yes, I want to repeat that I am extremely grateful to have this wonderful opportunity and feel greatly Blessed to have been asked by Mr. Eastwood to score this film.

AAJ: Maestro Sandoval, this has been wonderful. Thank you!

AS: It has been my pleasure, Nick. Thank you and All About Jazz.

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