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The Arturo Sandoval Diaries Part 3

The trumpet player’s accomplishments

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Sunil Sampat Dec 02, 2019

Arturo Sandoval. Photo: Jeremy Lock/Courtesy of Perfect Relations

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It is hard to overstate the artistic caliber of Arturo Sandoval, not just in contemporary jazz but in the entire 120-year span of this music. In my estimation, Sandoval must rank among the top five to 10 trumpet players in jazz history. This is a huge statement considering the glittering array of stars that have played jazz trumpet.  Just a partial list of great trumpet players in jazz reads… Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, Buck Clayton, Chet Baker, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Woody Shaw,  Art Farmer, Maynard Furguson,  Wynton Marsalis, Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton… the list goes on. And Sandoval ranks very highly in this August company.

The exceptional factor at work here is the odds that contrived to work against Sandoval. While the other legendary trumpet players (listed above) grew up in the U.S. in an atmosphere of jazz (Furguson in Canada), Sandoval had to struggle with his craft in Cuba. He grew up in a village in Cuba and although from an impoverished family, got lessons in classical trumpet. Then someone asked him if he played jazz, which he had never heard of and played him an album of Charlie Parker with Gillespie. This changed his life forever and all he wanted to do after that was play jazz trumpet.

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It was not at all easy in his growing years to play jazz of any kind; the anti-American regime running Cuba banned the playing or even listening to jazz, seen as essentially capitalistic music!  Incidentally, this was also the case in the then U.S.S.R and other countries ‘behind the iron curtain.’ Yet Sandoval was single-minded in his jazz playing mission. One can only imagine his efforts to play a loud instrument underground with the fear of being caught and jailed!

From this background, Sandoval emigrated, at age 40, to the U.S. While most musicians have honed their skills considerably by this age, it was, in many ways a starting point for Sandoval in Miami. He must have struggled to support his family and yet made rapid strides as a jazz trumpet player. He did so wonderfully well and today is among the most sought after jazz musicians in America.

To give you an idea of how much the demand for Sandoval is, just look at his recent movements. The trumpet player and his band traveled to Brazil and played concerts in Sao Paolo. From there they traveled to Universal Studios in L.A. where they played and recorded a film score for a Clint Eastwood movie, Richard Jewell.  (A year ago he had done another movie score for the same director for a film The Mule).  Sandoval has also done the musical score for a play, Key Largo starring Andy Garcia, which he hopes “will be performed on Broadway. That would be so nice.” He played the theme song from the play. It created a pensive atmosphere without our even being in the theater!

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After Mumbai, they fly off to New York for a five-night stint at a jazz club. No time for jet lag or fatigue. The man is happiest when he is performing on stage. This is the source of his vitality at a very young, robust 70.

His main passion in jazz is bebop, the sound that got him hooked to jazz in the first place. His fast, dexterous trumpet licks make him perfect for the sound of bebop. It is not a piece of easy music to play and even more introspective players like Miles Davis struggled with its demands of up-tempo improvisation. Sandoval does it as if he were born into the tradition! Sample an original piece of his called “The Real McBop” to appreciate the impact of his virtuosity.

But, Sandoval is a one-off. He sounds like nobody else before him – the hallmark of the great jazz artists; although he was deeply influenced by Dizzy Gillespie he has his own sound.  He will also be very hard to emulate. He speaks of his own favorite trumpet players and jazz personalities. That will be next time.

To be continued…

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