AS: Yeah, I was playing for quite a number of years, and the first thing that that I did was play a lot of traditional Cuban music in my village with some local bands. Then later on, I got a scholarship for three years to get Classical training to learn how to play Classical music. So far, I never heard Jazz at all… never before. When I got out of that school I started to play in a big band in Havana, that was my first visit to the Capital, and a journalist, who was an Aficionado-of-Jazz and he played a little bit of saxophone, he talked to me once and he said, “Did you ever hear Jazz Music?” I said no, what is that? Then he said, “Come with me,” and he played for me a record of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. That was it! That was the thing that really changed my way of thinking of music completely. From that moment on, I start to think about how to learn how to play that kind of music. I still have that mission of how-to-play-Jazz. How to: understand Bebop, how to play those chords, and be able to handle your instrument, and say something when you are inventing and putting together those phrases. It still fascinates me! I enjoy playing that music so much; I full believe that to play Bebop correctly you have to really be very dedicated. You have to really, at least try to master your instrument because it is such a challenge for any instrumentalist… but that challenge is good for you… because that pushes you and forces you to keep practicing and keep improving, keep growing and learning, studying… which is a daily mission, you know.
Jazz Monthly: You know Arturo, Garcia Lorca said, “Arturo Sandoval’s greatest skill is, and I’m going to ask you to translate this is to what he refers to as the “duende.”
AS: Duende is like a ghost, like a leprechaun, like a ghost.
Jazz Monthly: So, Garcia Lorca said that your greatest skill, Arturo Sandoval’s greatest skill is the duende – a difficult-to-define phrase in the Spanish arts that means emotion and authenticity!
You know Arturo, you can’t mention the name Arturo Sandoval without saying in the same sentence and mentioning of course Dizzy. This was kind of a life altering relationship. All of the videos that I’ve seen, with you playing, you could see that Dizzy was so proud of you, you could see Dizzy looking at you like a father would look at a son.
AS: Oh, he was so good to me. He always helped me so much and always gave me a demonstration of that kind of protection. He was very paternal to me you know he protected me all of the the time and tried to give me the opportunity, give me the chance to get some exposure and he always tried to in general, help me a lot in my life. When I met him I was almost doing nothing and he said, “You know what. You have to keep trying, you have to keep trying because you have to do something with your career you know.” He encouraged me a lot.
Jazz Monthly: Yes, that was the exact opposite of what the guy in Cuba said when you first blew the trumpet right?
AS: Oh, of course, of course.
Jazz Monthly: But you can see it in his eyes, you know, there was one, I think you were playing “A night in Tunisia.”
AS: He was such a great human being you know, he was so sweet and he always helped a lot of people you know, and he was very much in love with music… and everything related to music. That was the most important thing in life for him: To be in love with music and that kind of passion and a kind of hungry necessity to learn and to develop things, and to improve… and as a human being he was an incredible human being, a beautiful person.
Jazz Monthly: When I was watching you and Dizzy play his tune, “A Night in Tunisia” and you were taking off on an incredible solo, you know incredible high notes and just blowing away and really cooking, he looked at you kiddingly, jokingly, as if to say you SHOW OFF! But you know that he was joking.
AS: (Laughing) He would get a kick out of that and when I tried to play like a “backup” you know or doing “less” of something, he always said “Hey, What’s wrong with you are you sick or something.” (Both laughing)
Jazz Monthly: But there was such a great humor, a great simpatico between you and Dizzy…
AS: We had a lot of fun, a lot of fun always.
Jazz Monthly: In fact you know when he passed away in 1993, you were one of the first persons I thought of. I said I know Arturo was like a son to Dizzy and I’m sure you remember that day too.
AS: Yes, that was January 6th. But I have to tell you something, I think of him every day of my life… everyday…and I’ve got pictures all over. I’ve got a picture on the license plate of my car of him. I’ve got the only big picture in my house is him; he’s everywhere, He means a lot to me.
Jazz Monthly: I mentioned that you are a tenured professor at the Florida International University, and I know you established, speaking of Dizzy, the Dizzy Gillespie Trumpet Scholarship in Dizzy’s honor. I think Dizzy would have liked that, wouldn’t he?
AS: Oh yeah, of course. He liked to share things with people all of the time and to help you to understand the music better; always was teaching someone how to learn something in music.
Jazz Monthly: You know, another great hero of yours was of course Clifford Brown and you know I have that album. I’ve had that CD in my collection for about ten years and it’s the “I Remember Clifford” album. What a great, great CD.
AS: Oh, thank you.
Jazz Monthly: You played that great tribute of him, “I Remember Clifford” written by Benny Golson. By the way, Benny Golson is still around, I think he’s 80 years old.
AS: Absolutely, you know what, a couple years ago we did a week together in George’s, a Jazz club in San Francisco. It’s a well-known Jazz club in Oakland, and now they opened another one in San Francisco. But the one in Oakland, we did a week there, was a tribute to Clifford Brown and I played together with him, with Benny Golson.
Jazz Monthly: Well you know I have to tell our readers here at Jazz Monthly.com to go out and get Arturo’s CDs but the “I Remember Clifford” CD, Arturo plays that tune so beautifully and so sensitively. It was just you on the trumpet and the piano player, and it was kind of a tribute to Clifford and Richie Powell, the pianist, Bud Powell’s brother, who also died in that accident. That was so poignant, so touching, the fact that you did it with only piano as a tribute to Clifford and Richie Powell.
AS: That’s true.
Jazz Monthly: The other thing about that CD that I absolutely love, I just love it and I think you know what I’m going to say. The last cut on the album, was written by you and its called “I left this space for you” where you play in a very understated way. You’re holding back deliberately. In other words you were – on purpose – leaving the space for him; leaving it for Clifford. I get chills just thinking about it.
AS: That was the idea. I didn’t do any solos. I just played the melody I wrote for him and I left like a hole there where there was supposed to be a solo… and I didn’t play anything.
Jazz Monthly: That was so touching. I mean, just the thought of that because if you wanted to you could have just blown a whole spray of notes and yet you held back in reverence to Clifford, how beautiful!
One thing that we have to mention, of course, is the HBO movie “For Love or Country” which really was the Arturo Sandoval story. One of the things that you said just made me laugh. You were saying that you were really glad that Andy Garcia was playing you because you said that he would be your first choice because: “First of all he’s Cuban, he’s a musical guy, he’s very good looking and that makes me look even better in the movie.