In the late 1970s, legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie was on a musical tour of Cuba when he met a young man named Arturo Sandoval who offered to show him around.
Gillespie, a longtime proponent of Afro-Cuban jazz, took Sandoval up on his offer and spent the day visiting the local music hotspots. It was not until that night, when Sandoval took to the stage, that Gillespie learned of the young man’s musical abilities. Impressed by his trumpet and piano playing, Gillespie took Sandoval under his wing, providing musical mentorship and friendship to the young artist who was to become one of the brightest stars of Afro-Cuban jazz.
As a young boy, Sandoval knew that he wanted to be a musician. By the age of 13 he had joined the village orchestra where, after trying his hand at the trombone, bass drum and flute, he settled on playing the trumpet. He soon began classical studies at the Cuban National School of Arts and within a few years had earned a place in Cuba’s all-star national band.
Capable of playing just about any style of music, Sandoval’s focus, much to the disapproval of the Cuban government, was on playing jazz. Despite pressure to stick to classical music, Sandoval along with Chucho Valdes and Paquito D’Rivera, formed Irakere, an Afro-Cuban jazz band that became a global sensation and established the founding members’ place on the international radar.
In 1981, Sandoval left Irakere to start a band of his own. Under Castro’s Cuba however, he was restricted in his music and performances and in 1990, while touring with Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra, Sandoval defected to the United States. He has since released 30 albums and established his place as a unique musician and visionary composer.
Celebrated as a legend of Afro-Cuban jazz, a cultural ambassador, a dedicated educator and a musical virtuoso, Sandoval is a prolific and award-winning artist committed to sharing his creations. “I owe so much to my music,” he once said. “It saved my life. And, when I play today, it is from my heart, 100 percent.”
Arturo Sandoval performs at the Heritage Theatre on Friday, May 20.