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12

Arturo Sandoval: Two Counties, Two Lives, One Trumpet de Oro

Jim Worsley By

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When they caught me listening to jazz, they put me in jail for three months. They said that I was listening to the voice of the enemy. —Arturo Sandoval
Arturo Sandoval is widely considered the world's premier living trumpet player. You will get no argument from me. After a tumultuous life in Cuba, he and his family successfully sought political asylum in the United States. His story is well documented in For Love or Country (HBO, 2000). Andy Garcia portrays Sandoval in this movie that accurately depicts the human side of his difficult, yet fascinating life and the events leading up to his escape from Cuba. It, however, tells only half the story. The other half spanning the thirty years that he has resided in, and become a citizen of, the United States. Sandoval has brought much to the jazz world and given back much to a society that he feels blessed to be part of. In a recent conversation with this humble, kindhearted, and genuine man, he spoke candidly about both of his lives. He passionately expressed his feelings about the state of jazz in today's world, family, his music of today and the past, Cuba, the United States, and much more.

All About Jazz: This is an off-the-cuff way to start an interview with one of the great musicians of our time, but as an animal lover, I just have to ask you about Coco and Chanel. You clearly adore your beautiful pups. I'm guessing they are much loved and part of the family.

Arturo Sandoval: You know what, those two dogs are a son and daughter to us. We love them so much. There are no words to tell you how much we love them. They are both part of our family.

AAJ: What kind of dogs are they?

AS: They are both Pomeranian.

AAJ: Nice.

AS: Yes, I will tell you that Coco sleeps by my side every night. They are both very special to us. The only problem is that when I am on the road, I miss them so much.

AAJ: And you have been on the road extensively of late, including a one-week residency at the Blue Note in New York City. How did that go? What kind of reception did you receive?

AS: You know, the Blue Note is very famous and there are a lot of tourists from all over the world. It's a place everybody wants to go. We played eight shows at the Blue Note, and eight shows at Blues Alley in Washington, DC. All the shows were sold out. All of them. We really enjoyed it very much.

AAJ: I've had some musicians tell me that they can't quite blow like they used to back in their twenties, and conversely, others say that they are now playing better than ever due to all the many years of experience. Where do you weigh in on that conversation?

AS: I am seventy years old and to be honest I was told that after sixty-five that I was going to slow down a lot and play a lot less gigs. But it has been the other way around. I've got more gigs than ever. I'm working so hard. I am overwhelmed at the amount of gigs that I have at my age.

AAJ: That's terrific. And you still feel good and as strong as ever playing?

AS: It's unbelievable, man. Yes, I am very lucky. My health is very good. I am one hundred percent. I have no health problems at all.

AAJ: It isn't uncommon to hear a musician say that they need a new horn, or different mouthpiece, or whatever else to get new sounds or the sounds they want. You have said that, and I quote, "The sound is made in your head." Could you expand on that?

AS: You must imagine the kind of sound you want to produce. If you can imagine that sound, then you will be able to get it. You practice a lot. I still practice a lot. I have no choice. I have to practice a lot. The dedication is a daily mission. I'm happy because I am doing what I love. I still feel very strong. Sometimes I can play higher than when I was thirty or forty years old.

AAJ: Wow. That's pretty amazing in your case. I mean you can really take it up there.

AS: Also, I use much bigger equipment than before. A few years ago, I changed my horn and my mouthpieces. I'm using a much bigger horn and bigger mouthpieces that are the same ones they use in symphony orchestras.

AAJ: What made you make those changes?

AS: Because more and more I enjoyed a fat big sound. I'm not talking about the volume. I am talking about the quality of the sound.

AAJ: You're talking about the tone.

AS: Exactly. I enjoy that fat sound. It's warm. When I play a ballad it's like a singer. I love that warm sound.

AAJ: The first day he met you Dizzy Gillespie once said, in reference to you, "What the Hell is my driver doing with a trumpet in his hands?" Could you share that story with us?

AS: I picked him up at the harbor in Cuba. He came there on a jazz cruise through the Caribbean. They stopped in Havana for a couple of days. I picked him up and showed him Havana for the very first time. He had never been there before. I drove him around for a few hours. That night they organized kind of a jam session with a bunch of great musicians. There was Stan Getz, Earl Hines, and many more. We all played together. I was warming up back stage and when he saw me he said, "What the Hell is my driver doing with a trumpet in his hands?"(it should be clarified here that at no time while Sandoval was taxiing Gillespie around did he mention anything about being a musician). Someone than told him that I was a trumpeter and well known in Cuba. Dizzy still said, "Hell no, he's my driver!" (a good laugh is now shared). We ended up jamming together that night. That was such a beautiful night for me.

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