Jazz Monthly: You know that there’s an expression that a person is a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of -none meaning that someone does a lot of things but really none of them on a high level, well our guest; Arturo Sandoval is a jack of all trades and a MASTER-OF-All! He is a renowned Jazz and classical trumpeter, a brilliant pianist, a stellar composer and arranger – a fine vocalist in his own right, a bandleader, and a tenured university professor of music. Arturo has won four Grammy awards, six Billboard awards, and an Emmy, this for his scoring of the HBO movie based on his life “For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story.” The protégé of the legendary trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, Dizzy was a huge supporter of Arturo and proudly features featured Arturo in his United Nations Orchestra. Mr. Sandoval has performed at the White House also with the Boston Pops Orchestra, and at the Super Bowl. In fact I think it would be easier for me to list who Arturo hasn’t performed with, but just to mention a few, Arturo has performed with his great pal and kind of his adoptive father Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, Michel Legrand, Johnny Mathis, Celine Dion, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, Woody Shaw, Tony Bennett, and recently with Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake. We here at Jazzmonthly.com feel that if God did not create and give us Arturo as a musical gift on this earth than an Arturo Sandoval would had have to have been invented. Welcome to Jazzmonthly.com Arturo.
Arturo Sandoval (AS): Thank you very much. Wow, I’m very overwhelmed with such a beautiful introduction, oh my goodness.
Jazz Monthly: Well you deserve all of it, every bit of it my friend.
AS: (Laughing) Ah, I work; I’ve been working hard all my life.
Jazz Monthly: Well let me just say we’re going to tell our people who might not know your background. Of course it all started musically for you when you were about twelve years old in the early sixties. How do you pronounce your province in Cuba?
AS: You say this really well Artemisa (ar-tay-MEE-sah).
Jazz Monthly: Artemisa in Havana province, Cuba, And I know you’ve played a lot of different instruments but you really fell in love with the trumpet, right, I mean when you first picked up a trumpet was it love at first sight?
AS: That was true, yeah. I started a little before; I think I was like ten years old, ten, eleven years old when I started music. They gave me a try in; it was a kind of marching band in my home village. Artemisa was in the province of Bernarde Rio. You know we were in the countryside of the island and the city hall started to put together like a kind of a marching band with a bunch of kids in it, and I joined those kids. I went to that place to learn to read the music and to play an instrument. They gave me few instruments to try but I always was looking for the trumpet with the corner of my eye.
One day I talked to the teacher and said, “Well I think I’ve made my final decision, I think I want to go to the trumpet,” and he said, “I’m so sorry I don’t think we have any trumpets left,” and I said “oh, my lord. What about if I find a trumpet, will you let me play it in the band?” and he said yes. Then my aunt bought me a cornet and I found someone in my village to teach me a little bit to play the instrument. One day I went to him and he said play something and I said, “no, I don’t know how to play anything I just got this instrument.” He was a cranky old man he said “I said play something,” I said okay and I played whatever came out of the horn and a few seconds later he said “You know what, don’t make me waste my time and I recommend you don’t waste yours; don’t even think about it, you should think about something else and don’t think about music or trumpet, you’re never going to make it.”
I was ten years old. Then I was walking home and I was crying all the way up until I get home. I was so lucky because when I got home I stopped crying and I got my little cornet out of the case and I went to the patio and I went down to the mango tree and I started to blow that thing until blood came out of my mouth and that was my cue. From then on, I tried to figure out how to make it sound better and I still try to figure it out how to make the sound out of that horn.
Jazz Monthly: Arturo, was part of it that you wanted to not prove him wrong, but he didn’t believe in you. I’m sure he’s lived that down many, many times after he heard of your incredible success.
AS: Unfortunately he passed away like kind of close to that, unfortunately he never heard me play, I was so sorry about it because I really was thinking about offering him a private recital you know, free and private recital dedicated to him.
Jazz Monthly: (Laughing)
AS: I learned a good lesson you know… nobody should say such a thing to a kid. You never know how the kid is going to develop. It’s unpredictable, you never know.
Jazz Monthly: Well we sure know how you developed. By the way, you mentioned how you’re still trying to figure it out and I think you’ll get a kick out of this quote by you’re long time friend and your mentor, Dizzy Gillespie. We’ll talk a little bit more about Dizzy in a little while, but Dizzy said this about playing the trumpet, “Some days you get up and you put the horn to your chops and it sounds pretty good and you win; some days you try and nothing works and the horn wins. This goes on and on and then you die, and then the horn wins.” (Laughing) That’s typical of Dizzy isn’t it?
AS: That’s very true, the trumpet is unpredictable, and it is a very tough instrument. That’s the reason he was an incredible trumpet player. He always said, “The mouth piece never smiles to your face.” (Both laughing)
Jazz Monthly: You know, you mentioned you’re still trying to figure it out – which is very humble of you and modest of you. But are there days… because remember it’s your body, it’s your lips, it’s your chops… are there days when you’re not as good as other days, when you can do no wrong Arturo?
AS: Those days don’t exist you know, because the horn is always going to win; we try to break even sometimes. (Both laughing) But in the end, it is impossible to win the battle to the horn because it’s a piece of metal, and you have to create a sound. If the horn doesn’t make any sound, you have to make the sound and the horn amplifies and organizes the sounds that came out of your mouth. You have to produce the sound with your lips.
Jazz Monthly: That’s right, it’s all you; it’s all your body. For good or for bad it’s you. That’s a good way of saying it Arturo. When you were about sixteen and still living in Cuba, and I know you were playing for the all-star national band, was it around that time when you became totally immersed with Dizzy – not knowing that Dizzy would become your adoptive father and you his adoptive son – and Charlie Parker, and Clifford Brown? Was it around your late teens when you really started loving Jazz in Cuba?