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The Arturo Sandoval Diaries Part 1

Keeping up with the jazz master in Mumbai

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Sunil Sampat Nov 28, 2019

Arturo Sandoval. Photo: Courtesy of Perfect Relations

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Starry eyed fan following and adulation for a musical artist is reserved for the young – with their youthful energy. However, when one is 77 (that was the number doing the rounds when I last cut my birthday cake), there has to be a reason beyond the youthful zest for such behavior. In this case, my enthusiasm for one Mr. Arturo Sandoval, jazz trumpet player extraordinaire, the reason stems from sheer admiration for his class and achievements.

One sifts through the great from the very good and one gains proficiency in this exercise from long experience. Sandoval occupies quite a unique position in the hierarchy of all-time jazz trumpet greats. His journey has been a steep, dramatic uphill trek, and although 70 years old has been in the jazz limelight for just about the last 30 years.

Jazz listeners are very fortunate that Sandoval was born in Cuba because that region has the knack of producing some thrilling rhythms and sounds that are different from any other part of the world. However, being born in Cuba was a burden for the jazz musician growing up in the politics of Fidel Castro in the Sixties and Seventies. Sandoval was caught in the crossfire between the communist (read anti-American) ideologies and the free expression he sought through his trumpet. Such was the ferocity of the anti-American ideology that it was forbidden to play or indeed even listen to jazz music. While serving his compulsory stint in the Cuban army, Sandoval was once “caught” listening to jazz on the radio and jailed for three months.

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It is interesting to recall the pre-Castro days when Havana was full of music with bands like those of Xavier Cugat and Perez Prado regaling patrons till all hours of the night. In fact, the famous Cha Cha Cha dance has its origins in Cuba of this period.

Some terrific exponents of the famed Cuban percussions brought these sounds into jazz. Dizzy Gillespie, the fabulous jazz trumpet player, and composer inducted Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo into his band. They created such masterful compositions as “Manteca,” “A Night in Tunisia,” “Tin Tin Deo,” “Con Alma” and a few more that have become jazz standards. This Gillespie/Chano Pozo  Cuban-Jazz axis is the basis for Sandoval’s musical heritage.

To be continued…

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