Sandoval’s love of music goes beyond the sound
Last year, musician Arturo Sandoval opened a nightspot in Miami Beach, the Arturo Sandoval Jazz Club. More recently, he added a second club, the Rumba Palace, on Ocean Drive in Miami’s happening South Beach neighborhood.Sandoval certainly didn’t need more projects to occupy his mind. As an instrumentalist, Sandoval is most often branded as a Latin jazz trumpeter, but he is also a singer and pianist, and he plays classical and pop in addition to jazz. Since the turn of the millennium, he has released nine CDs. Among those is “For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story,” an Emmy Award-winning soundtrack to the well-reviewed TV movie, and the recent “Rumba Palace,” emphasizing hot Latin sounds. Sandoval keeps an active touring schedule with his regular sextet; the next few months have them traveling through Texas, Canada and Europe. And when the occasion calls for it – as with the Jazz Aspen Snowmass benefit gig JASummerNight Mambo, Saturday, July 21 – Sandoval can work up his “Mambo” act, featuring 18 musicians and dancers. He is also a professor at Florida International University.And the clubs were not opened for financial gain. “I never, ever see that place as a business,” Sandoval, speaking from the Miami International Airport, said of Arturo Sandoval Jazz Club. “If you see it as a business, you better get into something else. It’s a pleasure, my contribution to a city where my kids grew up, where my grandchildren were born.”Miami, said Sandoval, has had little recent tradition of jazz clubs. And if Sandoval sees a way to serve music – especially in his adopted hometown – he’s going to jump at it.
Sandoval grew up with next to nothing. A native of Artemisa, a small town on the outskirts of Havana, Sandoval says he came from a “very, very, very poor family.” His father was a car mechanic, while his mother took care of the kids. “I was a completely helpless kid in the middle of nowhere,” he said.Into this forlorn landscape came music. When he was about 10 years old, a small brass band was put together for the kids of his village. Sandoval was handed several instruments. “But I heard the trumpet calling my attention,” he said. At first, the bandleader had to inform him that there were no trumpets left. But eventually, Sandoval got his hands on one. Within two years, his ability on the instrument had led him to the Cuban National School of Arts; several years later, he had a spot in Cuba’s all-star national band. In the early ’70s, he co-founded Irakere, a Cuban supergroup that brought Latin jazz to the world.In 1977 came the biggest turning point since he had discovered music: Sandoval met Dizzy Gillespie, a fellow trumpeter and the pioneer in folding Afro-Cuban music into American bebop. “He’s my hero, my biggest musical influence,” said Sandoval. “He gave me so many opportunities. He said, ‘Don’t give up, don’t give up.'”Sandoval pushed forward in his music career. In 1981, he left Irakere to launch his own career. In addition to leading his own combo, he has backed such artists as Tony Bennett, Patti LaBelle, Frank Sinatra and Herbie Hancock, and has appeared with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Leningrad Symphony. Gillespie’s words also resonated on the personal side for Sandoval, who confronted the limitations imposed by Castro’s regime in Cuba. In 1990, while touring with Gillespie, he defected to the U.S., and became an American citizen in 1998.
At 57, Sandoval retains the fascination he had for the trumpet as a kid. “Still, the sound of the trumpet is amazing,” he said. “You can make a whisper sound, a big, big sound. That instrument has been relating to humankind for a long time.”But Sandoval prefers to think in bigger terms than one instrument and one style. “Music came in and gave me so many opportunities,” he said. “If someday people remember me, they will remember me as a lover of music. I love music for the rest of my days.”Sandoval’s Mambo Big Band headlines Jazz Aspen’s annual benefit event on Saturday, July 21, at the Atlantic Aviation Hangar at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. The evening will also include the six bands currently participating in Jazz Aspen’s JAS Academy Summer Sessions. The party continues later that night at Belly Up, where New York-based, Pan-Latin band Yerba Buena performs.Mo’ hornSandoval is not the only celebrated horn player from a foreign land to visit the valley this week. Hugh Masekela, a fluegelhorn player who has mixed American jazz with various styles of his native South Africa, appears Thursday, July 26, at Belly Up. Masekela’s biggest stateside moments came decades ago – first in 1968, with the hit song “Grazin’ in the Grass,” and in 1986, when he appeared on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” CD and tour. But his career has carried on; this year, the 68-year-old released “Live at the Market Theatre,” a two-CD set celebrating the prominent Johannesburg venue.
The chatter following Thursday night’s concert by Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer wasn’t along the lines of, “Gosh, what those two guys can do with the bass is amazing.” It was more, “Dang, what amazing music!”It is a significant difference. The concert, the first time the two aces of bass performed together, wasn’t a showcase of the crazy things the bass is capable of. This was no novelty act, but the exact opposite. This was about two superior musicians opening up a dialogue using the essentials of music – melody, rhythm, harmony, tone and the deeper realm of communication that encompasses all of that.The anticipation hovering over the concert wasn’t what otherworldly things the bassists would coax from their instruments, but what common ground they would settle on. The two come from different musical places. McBride is a jazz man, who also has a huge taste for the funkier side, both old-school R&B and modern, hip-hop-edged styles. Meyer is rooted in classical and bluegrass, and brings a unique sensibility – McBride aptly termed it “Appalachian funk” – to both.It’s nearly impossible to pin down the spot where the two met Thursday night, other than to say there seemed endless shared terrain to explore. The instruments were all acoustic; both bowed their basses often through the evening. The stage talk, centering around their obvious mutual respect, with a good amount of bass history tossed in, was a welcome relief from the customary silence that seems expected from performers in Harris Hall (and the Benedict Music Tent).
There were a handful of American standards, including “Stella by Starlight” and “My Funny Valentine.” Both were vehicles for the enormous inventiveness McBride and Meyer have developed. A take on Miles Davis’ “Solar” was so fast-paced that McBride quipped that their version had been “allegedly” written by Davis. It was a thrill ride. Meyer’s “Green Slime,” the opening number, was a wonderful demonstration of Meyer’s unique composing sensibility. A sequence of solo numbers showed the range of styles at their combined command. McBride threw everything into the barrel: funk, counterpoint, sliding notes; Meyer came from a different world, as he dug into a straight-up Celtic fiddle groove that had you almost convinced there was another musician backing him. For an encore they returned to Miles Davis, but a different sort of Miles, with a grooving take on “All Blues.”It was hard to pick a highlight from among this. But certainly one of the more encouraging moments was when the two referred to this debut of the duo as “chapter one.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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