Arturo Sandoval - Biography
By Nick Castro
Arturo Sandoval has proved to be one of the most enduring and famous Cuban trumpet players of the salsa and latin jazz scene. He has gotten much attention from the American press, since his abrupt departure from Cuba. Sandoval was born in 1949, in Artemisa, Cuba. He started playing music when he was a young teen. He went through a litany of instruments before deciding on the trumpet and flugelhorn as his weapon of choice. He excelled quickly and was soaking up music theory all the while. He studied at the Cuban National School of Arts and this earned him a place with the national band of Cuba. Although Sandoval had only been exposed to Cuban son music thus far, he was soon played a Charlie Parker record and that event changed his musical perspective forever. In 1971, Sandoval was drafted into the army and ended up playing with the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna. During his time with this group he got the final polishing he needed to become a truly competent player. Once dicharged from the army Sandoval was ready to join a working group and he began playing with Irakere.
Irakere was a latin jazz group, which featured many important player in its ranks during the years of its existence such as Chucho Valdes, the group's pianist and leader, and Paquito D"Rivera. The group was popular in not only Cuba, but in the United States with jazz audiences as well. Sandoval was featured on the album Irakere (1979 - CBS), which was recorded live while the band was on tour of the US and Europe. The two concerts recorded for the album were Switzerland.s Montreux Jazz Festival and New York's Newport Jazz Festival. With elements of rock music as well, this group was hugely successful on their tour. This album is a wonderful display of the players' virtuosic abilities as well as the cohesive structure of the group, who were even tighter than most American groups of the time. The band would also have live engagements in South America and Africa, as well as invitations to play many of the prestigious jazz festivals of the 70's.
By 1981 Sandoval had enough support to start his own group, which was soon touring the world themselves. The next year Sandoval would release the solo album called To a Finland Station (1982 - Pablo), with the aid of trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie, who would be both an inspiration and collaborator of Sandoval's for years to come. They had met years earlier, when Gillespie was touring the Caribbean Islands with Stan Getz. The two formed a bond and it was while playing with Gillespie's band, The United Nation Orchestra, in Europe that Sandoval sought political asylum from Cuba. He soon immigrated to the United States where he later became a citizen in the 90's.
Sandoval would go on to release the albums Breaking the Sound Barrier (1983 - CCAA), which was a live album and finds Sandoval trying his hand at a more straight ahead latin jazz set, and the album No Problem (1986 - Jazz House), which featured a great version of Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia". Sandoval was continuing to establish himself as a formidable player in the latin jazz scene in the US. He continued on with the album Tumbaito (1986 - Messidor), was a session Sandoval had recorded years before, in Madrid, Spain. On this disc, Sandoval in joined by musicians Jorge Chicoy on guitar and Hilario Duran on piano as well as Jorge Reyes on bass. The album is one of Sandoval's most frenetic and is not for the faint at heart. Once again the set is rounded out by the classic Gillespie composition, "A Night in Tunisia", which would become a staple for the live set of Sandoval as much as it was for Gillespie.
The album Straight Ahead (1988 - Ronnie Scott's Jazz) found Sandoval playing with his ex-band leaderValdes once again. By this time Sandoval had established himself as one of the premiere players possessing a superb technique, unrivaled by even most of the well trained classical players in the world. His mastery over his instrument is diplayed beautifully over the course of the album, which covers some traditional jazz material like "My Funny Valentine" and "Blue Monk, by Thelonius Monk. The quartet is rounded out by drummer Martin Drew and bassist Ron Matthewson.
Sandoval went on to release a slew of albums but it was his time with GRP that was his most controversial, both in terms of music and politics. Some have said that the label tried to market Sandoval with the use of anti-Cuban sympathies in mid and other critics have said that his musical integrity was compromised during this period due to erratic albums and material. The first album for the label, soon after Sandoval's request for asylum, was conspicuously titled Flight to Freedom (1991 - GRP). Sondoval of course includes a number by Gillespie on the album, "Tanga", as well as his own composition, "Caribeño". His next for the label was I Remember Clifford (1992 - GRP), which may have been Sandoval's most straight ahead jazz album, consisting of material either written by or performed by trumpet player Clifford Brown, who had died very young but was still recognized as an indisputable genius of jazz.
Over the years Sandoval has also worked in the classical music world, performing with the London Symphony and composer John Williams. He has also been a featured sideman on countless jazz albums by players like Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Woody Herman, Stan Getz and Frank Sinatra. Although Sandoval has displayed contempt for his mother country, he continues to display its influences in his music on albums like Arturo Sandoval and the Latin Train (1995 - GRP) and From Havana With Love (2003 - West Wind).
Some of Sandoval's most recent works include And His Group (2007 - Malanga Music) and Rhumba Palace (2007 - Telarc). The latter album finds Sandoval going back to the roots of his orchestra days, utilizing large horn sections as well as Sandoval's voice. Standout tracks on the album include "El Huacan del Caribe" and "Sexy Lady", both written by Sandoval.