Jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval

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The Cuban trumpet virtuoso and composer chats about his current tour and demonstrates why he’s one of today’s most influential musicians.

Known for bebop-influenced Afro-Cuban jazz, Arturo Sandoval is equally renowned as a classical musician, performing regularly with the world's leading symphony orchestras. Among his many awards is an Emmy for his composing work on the HBO film based on his life, For Love or Country, 10 Grammys and six Billboard Awards. The Cuban-born legend began studying classical trumpet at the age of 12, was later mentored by his idol, Dizzy Gillespie, and is a founding member of the Grammy-winning group Irakere. Sandoval also maintains one of the most extensive educational programs in the industry and is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Tavis: Imagine this. 1977 in Cuba when two great trumpet players, Dizzy Gillespie and Arturo Sandoval, get together for a bit of improvisation. The best, they say, is history. Some 10 Grammy wins and one Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Later, Arturo Sandoval is still recording, still touring. And before we begin our conversation tonight, let’s take a look at Arturo performing “A Night in Tunisia” which was, of course, co-written by Dizzy.


Tavis: I probably shouldn’t confess this to you, but I come see you as often as I can, as you know, for two reasons. One, because I just love you, but, two [laugh], I’m checking to see if there’s any slippage in your sound. Your horn is as big now, Arturo…

Arturo Sandoval: Well, you know what? I’ve very lucky, man, because I gonna be 65 very soon and I feel like I still have a lot of energy, man, and a desire to still blow and play music and touring and the whole thing, you know.

Tavis: Do you hear – I don’t want to say slippage again – do you hear any difference in your sound now at almost 65?

Sandoval: I think it’s a little bigger now [laugh].

Tavis: Love that [laugh]. It’s a little bigger.

Sandoval: I just lucky, I just lucky. I don’t know.

Tavis: Why do you play so big?

Sandoval: No, no, not necessarily, you know. I really have a big passion for the instrument, but mainly for the reason of the sound because the trumpet is one of the few instruments that really don’t put any limitation in your expression, you know.

The trumpet give you a possibility to express any kind of feeling in any kind of dynamic or volume or something. Trumpet can whisper, so…

[playing notes]

It’s very difficult to play that pianissimo even in the violin. And a trumpet can go from zero to 60 in three seconds. You can express any kind of feeling, you know, without a restriction.

Tavis: Every time I see you, though, you’re still as much on the move. You’re here at the Playboy Jazz Festival, you’re everywhere.

Sandoval: Man, I…

Tavis: You’re not tired of all the ripping and running yet?

Sandoval: No. No, no, no. I have no choice. That’s my passion. That’s my life. Music is the engine who move my soul, you know, and I’m happy when I’m working. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t say that. I shouldn’t say that, the working. That’s wrong [laugh]. When I’m playing, when I writing, when I practicing, I’m happy.

You know, you want to see me unhappy is when I no have nothing to do. And then my wife notice that and she tried to find something to entertain me.

Tavis: Get you out of the house, huh?

Sandoval: Yeah, to entertain me somehow because I know I get a little cranky when I no have nothing to do.

Tavis: Speaking of writing, you been scoring lately?

Sandoval: Yes!

Tavis: You’re always…

Sandoval: You remember the first time I came here with you, we talk about I just moved to Los Angeles…

Tavis: L.A. from Miami after all those years, yeah.

Sandoval: Yes. And at that point, I didn’t do any score yet. But now I did a few. In the last three years, I been doing a few. All of them beautiful projects, but independent and low budget. I know that kind of – but it’s okay, it’s okay. That keep me entertained because I love that thing. I love that…

Tavis: You like the scoring?

Sandoval: I love that probably as much as I like to play. I love that.

Tavis: That’s a lot of love.

Sandoval: Oh, yeah, yeah. I enjoy that. And the process I do that we got a producer and a director, I’m saying, and we see the movie and I start to play things. We spot the cues, you know, and then I start to play immediately and don’t stop until the director and producer and everybody smile.

When they smile, okay, next. And then we move on and I wrote on the spot, you know, looking through the scenes.

Tavis: I was about to ask how busy – with Playboy and everything else you’re doing this summer – how busy you plan to be. You don’t get much busier in the summer since you’re moving all the time anyway.

Sandoval: No. I really don’t do like a touring…

Tavis: A tour, exactly, yeah.

Sandoval: Like a tourist, but a tour.

Tavis: You’re always on tour.

Sandoval: Exactly. That’s the idea. I really don’t like any more like long tours I used to do for three months or something like that. No, no, no, I don’t do that anymore. No, no, no, no. I got two beautiful granddaughters at home, you know. I want to be around them.

And what I do is do three, four, five days, a week max. Go away and come back. Stay a week or something and then like this, you know, all year long, all year long. Tomorrow I’m playing in Detroit.

Tavis: Right. You’re on the move.

Sandoval: Tomorrow morning.

Tavis: The last time I saw you, your “Dear Diz” project had just come out.

Sandoval: Yes, sir.

Tavis: I love that record.

Sandoval: That record is probably the better received record I ever done. I have 43 records, but that one was the last year the most played jazz album for all jazz radio stations in the country. And also, it’s the record of every record I ever done that got seven nominations. One of them was Album of the Year which was competing with all the pop stars and all of that.

And out of those seven, it won three Grammies. I never got a record that won three Grammies. And then the other one I did afterwards won a Grammy too. And the other one – my last three records…

Tavis: All Grammy winners.

Sandoval: Was the eighth, ninth and tenth Grammy.

Tavis: But your love for Diz, though, is so profound after all these years.

Sandoval: Yeah, and still, man, because some people ask me why you didn’t do it before? And I say, you know what? I didn’t feel a necessity to do that as a specific title or album because every note I play and everything I have been doing since I met him is him there somehow, you know.

Somehow I tried to preserve his style, his music, his legacy as much as I can. And it’s my daily tribute to him. It is not only because I did an album I gonna remember him. I remember him every day of my life.

Tavis: So it’s a daily tribute.

Sandoval: Exactly, exactly.

Tavis: Are there other – I mean, there’s only one Diz, of course. Are there other folk at this point in your life that you would like to collaborate with on certain projects that you haven’t gotten around to as yet?

Sandoval: I always am open for collaboration. It has been – you know, I working all the time and doing things for people. I, for example, have been collaborating with Hans Zimmer in the last…

Tavis: Oh, yeah, Hans Zimmer, yeah.

Sandoval: In the last bunch of movies he has been doing. I did all the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the “Iron Man,” the “Lone Ranger,” the “Rango,” the animation that won the Oscar.

And later on, we did a “Lone Ranger” and now you go to the movie and watch the “Spider Man 2,” you’re gonna hear my horn [laugh]. You’re gonna hear my horn from the beginning to the end.

Tavis: Yeah. Those are some serious collaborations. Hans Zimmer’s one of the best, though.

Sandoval: Unbelievable.

Tavis: That guy is…yeah.

Sandoval: And there’s Pharrell Williams too.

Tavis: Yeah, Pharrell, yeah. The happy song.

Sandoval: I gonna tell you something. I never met Pharrell in person, but I got so much love for him besides all this I been doing because what he has been doing with my youngest son which, by the way, today is his 38th birthday.

Tavis: He and Pharrell are collaborating.

Sandoval: Pharrell is a partner in my son company.

Tavis: Oh.

Sandoval: He do design and all kind of art installation and those kind of things. They’re in New York now signing a new book. His company’s FriendsWithYou. It’s a wonderful company.

Tavis: Speaking of books, didn’t your wife just do a book with…

Sandoval: I brought a copy for you, my friend.

Tavis: I didn’t even see that sitting there. Thank you.

Sandoval: And it’s dedicated to you. I hope the thing of you…

Tavis: Thank you. I appreciate that. “To my dear friend, Tavis, respect and admiration, Arturo Sandoval.” I appreciate that. This is, wow.

Sandoval: Yes. It’s like a testimony, you know, of all the things we – the personal connection that my wife had was, you know, saving for so many years since we met. And Rob Simon which is a very dear friend of mine, write it together with my wife. And Quincy wrote the…

Tavis: Foreword by Quincy Jones. Don’t get much better than that.

Sandoval: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tavis: I can’t wait to get into this.

Sandoval: It’s a lot of wonderful photos, man, of moments in your honor, stories about the many different things that happen in our life, you know.

Tavis: I celebrate your artistic genius.

Sandoval: Thank you, man, thank you.

Tavis: I celebrate your daily tribute to Diz and I can’t wait to get into this.

Sandoval: There are these.

Tavis: Thank you.

Sandoval: The album. This is something which is completely different than I have been doing. This is a tango album I did in Argentina with the National Symphony Orchestra of Argentina.

Tavis: Will this help me learn the tango?

Sandoval: Absolutely, absolutely.

Tavis: Okay. I need to work on that.

Sandoval: This is the latest, latest one which is dedicated to the Fuente family, which Carlos Fuente, Jr. is my best friend. They celebrate two years ago the 100th anniversary of the brand, you know, the Arturo Fuente Cigars, which are the best cigar in the world.

Tavis: Message to future guests. If you show up with gifts, I’ll like you more [laugh]. And speaking of gifts, the greatest gift that Arturo Sandoval could ever give is to play his horn. And I think I’ve talked him into playing just a couple of minutes, just a couple of minutes, of a song that I think will be appropriate for summertime. I’ll just leave it at that.

The latest text from the Arturo Sandoval family is called “Dizzy Gillespie: The Man Who Changed My Life: From the Memoirs of Arturo Sandoval.” He’s got all kind of product, but this “Dear Diz” project, if you don’t have his record, “Dear Diz (Every Day I Think Of You),” the one that won a number of Grammy awards, I highly recommend that along with this other stuff.

Can I talk you into playing just a couple of minutes for me of something that might be good for the summer?

Sandoval: Yeah. Are you ready for that?

Tavis: I’m ready for it, man.

Sandoval: Plug your ears [laugh].

Tavis: I’m plugging my ears. I’m gonna sit right here. I’m gonna sit right here [laugh].


Tavis: Woo! That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: August 22, 2014 at 1:22 pm