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Arturo Sandoval Sounds His Horn

Arturo Sandoval Sounds His Horn

Story published in The Austin Chronicle.

“I gotta tell you,” begins Arturo Sandoval during a break from his morning espresso, cigar, and practice routine. “It’s impossible to fight the lack of support of our beloved music.”

His words sparkle through the phone with the effervescence typically permeating from the 10 time Grammy winner’s trumpet. Each sentence, like each note, illuminates candid projections of the Cuban-American’s lively conscious.

“I’ve lived in this country for 30 years and I’ve never seen one minute of jazz on television,” continues Sandoval’s diagnosis for why jazz free fell from mainstream popularity. “I really consider that a crime. It’s impossible to fight the lack of media support of our beloved music.”

The trumpeter says it takes deep concentration to appreciate such an improvised art form. Jazz has struggled to shake its classical canonization, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t evolving in exciting ways.

Just look at Sandoval.

The artist transformed trumpeting with high note virtuosity in the 80's, and since Dizzy Gillespie’s most vivacious protege has worked with countless icons from Tito Puente to Alicia Keys.

It wasn’t until this past year that Sandoval, at 69, put out his first duets project, Ultimate Duets. From Stevie Wonder to Pharrell, legends old and new reimagined their favorite classics under Sandoval’s tutelage.

The maestro gets most giddy reflecting on his newest passion, scoring films. He says he knew such was a calling when he’d repeatedly get shushed at the movies for humming the sounds swirling his head.

“I can’t help it man, every time” he says giggling. “I always do because I imagine melodies, sequences and things in my mind when I watch.”

The tick led Sandoval to score Clint Eastwood’s 2018 mystery, The Mule. Perhaps working on an Oscar nominee will keep him quiet, which at least he is when asked about what lies ahead.

“I don’t make plans for the future,” Sandoval says. "If you want to see god laughing very hard, tell him about your plans because at the end, he’s got plans for you.” -

Full Q&A Below:

Austin Chronicle: You’re coming off a busy year. How are you doing today, Arturo? 

Arturo Sandoval: I’m doing beautiful. I’m happy that I got up this morning and I’m still breathing without any machines. That’s a reason to be happy. 

AC: Let’s take things back a bit. Can you recall the moment in your life when you first fell in love with jazz?

AS: The first thing I did was play traditional Cuban Music. I was 11 years old. When I was 14, I got a scholarship to get classical training at the Conservatory of Music. I started playing in a big band, but I had never heard of any jazz music until a journalist asked me if I was aware of jazz.

I said, “No, no, I’ve never heard of that.” Then he played me a Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker record. Wow, that was it, man [laughs]. That turned my head upside down and since that day I’ve been trying to learn jazz. I’m still learning! It’s an endless career.

AC: How’d you go about listening to jazz and progressing as a player when it was such a restricted art form in Cuba? Is it true you were arrested once for listening to jazz?

AS: That’s correct, yes. You know, I listened to the The Voice of America Jazz Hour, which was a radio program broadcast every day from Washington and hosted by the late, great Willis Conover. That was the only way we had to listen to jazz and that’s what I did every day for so many years.

Jazz is a language. It’s something you have to put in your soul, your blood, and in your brain. I believe there’s only one way of learning jazz, and that’s to listen. A friend of mine used to say three words that have been very good to me. He said, “Imitate, emulate, create.” In that order.

You have to start imitating your heroes and then when you really feel you've grown up, you start to emulate your heroes, which is normal. Then you start to feel a little more confidence in your ideas and skills. The end of the process is to create – create your own voice, create your own style, create your own music.

AC: You lived through some of jazz’s golden age and were so instrumental to growing the genre. Why do you think jazz fell out of popularity and what will it take for it to return to its former status?

AS: I gotta tell you... It’s impossible to fight against the lack of support of our beloved music. I’ve lived in this country for 30 years and I’ve never seen one minute of jazz on television. I really consider that a crime, because I am positive that jazz is the most profound and incredible art form that has been created in the United States. There are people, young people, who are not aware of that and it’s not their fault, because they don't have a way to know that information.

AC: What advice would you give to a young music fan who’s interested in jazz but isn’t sure how to listen and appreciate it?

AS: You have to really pay attention to the stage and what the musicians are sharing with you. It’s not music you can be talking during or thinking about something else. It's like listening to Mozart or a symphony. You have to really concentrate to start to understand what’s going on, what improvisation means, and the value of creation on the spot.

The musician is giving the audience their soul, their feeling, their way of thinking, the message transmitted to them from the bottom of their heart. That’s something you have to learn how to listen to.

AC: You recently scored Clint Eastwood’s film The Mule. What makes scoring appealing to you at this stage of your career? Is it true you can’t go to movies without humming along to the film?

AS: Haha, where’d you get that? You know what? That's very true. I can't help it, man – every time. I always do it, because I imagine melodies, sequences, and things in my mind when I watch. I enjoy scoring so much you can’t believe it. I am so grateful and happy, because working with Clint was such an honor. 

You know, when you start looking at movies without music and you create something and include it, you start to realize what the music is capable to do. The magic of the music when you add it to the film; it's amazing how it can make such an incredible difference. It’s so rewarding when you play it back and see how the movie gets enhanced from the music.

AC: Are you interested in scoring more films in the future? What else are you curious to do that you haven’t yet?

AS: I gotta tell you my way of thinking. I don’t make plans for the future. I concentrate on these 24 hours. I enjoy very much what somebody told me once. They said, “If you want to see God laughing very hard, tell him about your plans.” Oh man, I love that one because at the end, he’s got plans for you.

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