ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The Varied Musical Talents of a Cuban Musician
CDs of Sandoval’s Music
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Arturo Sandoval in Baltimore
By Amin Sharif
We need to be careful what we share with our sons and daughters. What we share with them, whether we know it or not, reflects what we think is important. What we share with our children reflects our ethical and cultural values. If we share nothing with our children, then we are as good as saying that we believe in nothing. And this lack of sharing our values will be our inheritance for the generations to come. I dont mean to preach. But this is simply how it is.
I have a son Ahmad of whom I am very proud and whom I love very deeply. One of my greatest pleasures is to share his company at ball games, concerts, and other activities. Over the years, Ahmad has come to share my appreciation for what I believe is the finest music in the world, namely, jazz. And I was glad when he pulled up at my door last Saturday evening (May 3, 2003) to accompany me to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to see one of the truly great jazz musicians of our times — Arturo Sandoval.
I wanted Ahmad to see and hear Arturo Sandoval not only because he is a great musician but because he is a man of integrity, one willing to risk all for freedom to play the music he loves. My son had already seen a movie based on the life of Sandoval, For Love or Country. So he was well aware of the sacrifice Arturo made to play his music. Now, he would have a chance to hear and see this man for himself.
What I love about Arturo is his spirit. Arturo plays fiery and passionate notes. There is no holding back for Arturo. Yet Sandoval is always in control when he plays. And, it is his respectful interpretation for the melody of the music which separates him from so many young guns now on the Jazz scene. Sandoval, like all great musicians, is also a great teacher of the music. At this concert, Sandoval played not only his own compositions but also those of Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Fats Narvarro, and Duke Ellington. Too many jazz artists today simply play the standards and nothing more. Thus the jazz fan is left to his own devices when it comes to discovering less popular, more interesting, music and artists.
I related to Ahmad all the details that I knew about the music Arturo was playing. There was some confusion on my sons part when Arturo played a swinging version of Ellingtons Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me. The composition was originally called a Concerto for Cootie (Williams). But the rocking way that Sandoval played Ellingtons song made one think more of the great dance halls of the Big Band Era than the concert halls where Mozart or Bach are heard. I told Ahmad that jazz compositions often undergo changes from time to time. What may start out as a ballad may be played up tempo as time passes. The reverse is also true. It is this wide range of continuous interpretation that makes jazz the wonderful music that it is, I told Ahmad.
While we were sorting all this out, Arturo was hard at work astounding the crowd with his varied musical talents. He sang My Funny Valentine, scatted, played the mouth harp, accompanied the rhythm section on percussion instruments and played his usual impeccable flugelhorn and trumpet. Then after an hour, or so, of playing some of the best jazz I ever heard in my life, Sandoval sat down and played piano. In doing so, Arturo made an already great concert spectacular. To say that Sandovals piano playing was impressive is to do it a severe injustice. At the piano, Sandoval seems stripped of his more cosmopolitan jazz influences. He literally and musically seems to have gone home to Cuba when he is at the keyboards. And the delightful, playful music that Arturo presents to the audience from this place evokes the Cuba of his childhood so strongly that one feels that he has passed through the streets of Havana or stopped to watch waves break upon the coastline of his forlorn homeland.
There were, of course, many standing ovations for Sandoval during this concert. But none was as thunderous or prolonged at that which followed Arturos piano playing as the concert ended. And shouting and clapping as loudly as anyone were Ahmad and I-father and son-Jazz lovers sharing it all together.
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A Biographical Sketch of
1949 (6 November) — Born in Artemisa, a small town on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba.
1961 — Began studying classical trumpet.
1962 — Started playing music in a village band, where he learned the basic of music theory and percussion. Finally settles on trumpet after playing many instruments
1964 — Began three years of serious classical trumpet studies at the Cuban National School of Arts.
1965 — Earned a place in the country’s all-star national band. By this time, he was totally immersed in Jazz with Dizzy Gillespie his idol.
1971 — Drafted into the military. Play with the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna and continues his daily practice regimen. After his discharge, he co-founded Irakere, which became Cubas most important Jazz ensemble, with saxophonist Paquito DRivera and pianist Chucho Valdes. Irakere, only permitted to play music approved by the government, since Fidel Castro views American jazz as the music of the enemy. Despite his fervent opposition to the revolution, agrees to toe the party line in order to gain permission to travel outside the island in state-sanctioned bands.
1977 — Meets in Cuba Dizzy Gillespie, a longtime proponent of Afro-Cuban music, whom Sandoval calls his spiritual father. . “I went to the boat to find him. I’ve never had a complex about meeting famous people. If I respect somebody, I go there and try to meet them.” Dizzy wanted to visit the black neighborhoods where musicians play guaguanco and rumba in the street. Sandoval offered to take Gillespie around in his car, and only later that night when he took the stage with Gillespie did Sandoval reveal himself as a musician.
1978 — Irakere becomes a worldwide sensation. Its appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in New York introduces them to American audiences and results in a recording contract with Columbia Records.
1981 — Leaves Irakere in search of new musical possibilities and forms his own band, which garnered enthusiastic praise from critics and audiences all over Europe and Latin America. Continued to tour worldwide with his group, playing a unique blend of Latin music and Jazz, and also as a classical trumpeter, performing with the BBC Symphony in London and the Leningrad Symphony in the former Soviet Union.
1982-1984 — Voted Cuba’s Best Instrumentalist.
1990 (July) — Granted political asylum while touring with Gillespie’s Grammy Award-winning United Nation Orchestra in Rome. Made new home in Miami, Florida with wife and teenage son. Became a full professor of Trumpet and Artist in Residence within the School of Music at Florida International University. and soon records his American debut Flight To Freedom on GRP. Arturo has lectured at the Conservatoire de Paris, the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in the Soviet Union, the University of California in Santa Barbara, the University of Miami, the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University and at many other institutions.
1991 — Editions Birn Publishing, in Switzerland, releases Brass Concepts, a method book with original exercises by Sandoval, a
1992 — Dizzy Gillespie dies. Sandoval, a featured artist on Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra Grammy Award winning album, Live at Royal Festival Hall. Records his second GRP album, I Remember Clifford,” his tribute to trumpet legend Clifford Brown.
1995 — Wins a Grammy for his recording Danzon. Hal Leonard Publishing releases three more books with recorded CD’s that include Arban as well as more original exercises by Arturo Sandoval.
2000 (November) — HBO released the long awaited For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story. This movie was received with rave reviews around the world, has garnered many nominations and has received several prominent awards. It recounts the struggles and hardships of being a musician in Cuba, his historic meeting with the legendary Dizzy Gillespie and the love story between he and his current wife, and his eventual defection to the United States.
2002 — Records My Passion for the Piano (Crescent Moon Records/Columbia).
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 3 July 2008