Musician Arturo Sandoval

Legendary jazz artist explains his move to Los Angeles after living in Miami for 20 years.

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. The Cuban-born legend began studying classical trumpet at age 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.



Tavis: Arturo Sandoval is a Grammy-winning Afro Cuban jazz artist who defected to the U.S. from his home in Cuba back in 1990. He’s out now with a new project called A Time for Love. Arturo, good to have you on the program.
Arturo Sandoval: Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you.
Tavis: You doing all right?
Sandoval: Yes.
Tavis: Good to see you.
Sandoval: Nice to see you.
Tavis: When you walked on the set – some of the best parts of this show happen off camera. So Arturo walks on the set and asked me to see the CD. The CD is just coming out. He hasn’t seen it, so I hope you approve.
Sandoval: Yes. Looks good (laughter).
Tavis: If you don’t, it’s too late (laughter).
Sandoval: Actually, it’s not too old kind of picture. You know, sometimes you see the people who put a picture there like –
Tavis: – it’s the wrong picture.
Sandoval: Yeah, when it was 20 years old. That was a few months ago (laughter).
Tavis: How was that possible, though, that something comes out that you haven’t seen in its final form?
Sandoval: You know, because what I really care is about the sound.
Tavis: Not the music, yeah.
Sandoval: About the music. Also, I check all the dates and that. They send me all the cam fans, line years and all the kind of things inside, you know, all the details of who did the arrangement, who played this, that and that. I check all those things. But the actual CD, that’s the first time I see it.
Tavis: But what’s fascinating about that for me, when you told me that you hadn’t seen the actual CD, what’s fascinating for me about that is that this was not an easy project for you to get made, I’m told. It took you a while to get somebody?
Sandoval: Yeah. The tape did a lot of years, a lot of years. You know, sometimes difficult because all record labels have their own ideas, their own mortality, and some of them have a kind of formula. They got to stereotype kind of things and you’re a Latino and most well-known because of the Latin jazz kind of thing.
Also, the first thing was classical music and then I get into jazz and then [unintelligible] come even later. But this is the kind of project that I want to do for many, many, many years because I don’t want to be only identified like a guy who blow the horn, play harsh and brassy and aggressive kind of things.
This record is all the way around. There’s something very romantic, very tender, beautiful, lot of strings and something to meditate, to really enjoy the nice moment.
Tavis: You really pushed the envelope on this, to your earlier point, because you started out with Latin, then jazz. Then you mixed the two, Latin and jazz. But these are American standards.
Sandoval: You know what I call that music? Music. Music is only one. Good one.
Tavis: Yeah. Either good or bad (laughter).
Sandoval: No, the bad we don’t even consider. The bad is an abortion, you know. When you say music, it has to be good. Otherwise, don’t put it in [unintelligible].
Tavis: (Laughter) If it’s bad, it ain’t music. I got it.
Sandoval: No. It’s something else (laughter).
Tavis: So how did you figure out what to put on here? Are there certain standards on here that you’ve liked obviously for many years?
Sandoval: For many years.
Tavis: Yeah.
Sandoval: Actually, I gonna tell you what happened. A year ago, I was sick and tired already of trying to do this project and no record label get interested in this. I talked to my wife and I say, “You know what? I don’t want to wait any longer. I gonna do it myself.” Then I was ready, I was about to do it.
I put a demo at home. It was me, my home recording studio, and I put a demo of 20 different pieces in the way I really liked to. Then I went to see a piano player which was then of the University of Miami, Mr. Shelly Berg. He was at USC, Dean of the School of Music for many years.
I talked to him because I want him to play in the record. He said, “You got any label involved with this?” I said, “No. I’m sick of that. I want to do it myself and I want to do it now before it’s too late for me.” Because the trumpet, you can’t wait too long. You have to do it when you have to.
Tavis: When you can still blow, yeah (laughter).
Sandoval: Then he said, “You know what? Let me show this to a record label. I go to Los Angeles in a couple weeks. Let me show it to them and let’s see what they say.” Then he brought it here and showed it to a good friend of his who became the producer of this record, which is Gregg Field. He’s one of the executives – besides being a great musician and a great drummer, he’s one of the executives for the Concord record.
Tavis: Right.
Sandoval: He presented to him the idea and he called me back and said, “Arturo, you know what? You were wrong. Concord is very interested in making this record.” I said, “Wow, that’s good news. Let’s talk.” Then, you know, I came here and we did the whole thing. We recorded the whole thing here in Los Angeles.
Tavis: They say timing is everything. For years, you’re trying to do this. Every label in town turns you down. Concord comes through at the right time.
Sandoval: I think, you know, it doesn’t matter how hard you try. Always God saved in Los Angeles. You could have your own plan, but in the end, he gonna say no, no, no, this is different than mine. Mine is this.
Tavis: You’ve lived in Miami forever, it seems.
Sandoval: For 20 years.
Tavis: They love you in Miami. You are like a favorite son of that city and you packed up and moved to Los Angeles. We’re glad to have you. What made you come all the way to Los Angeles?
Sandoval: We always want to come here for many reasons. But, you know, one of my dreams, to be honest, and the things in music what really fascinated me and excite me, made me feel more excited than anything is write a score for movies. I love that.
You have to be here if you want to get in that kind of business. You have to be here. There’s no choice. But beside that, to be honest, my wife and myself, we love living in California and we love it.
Tavis: So now that you’re here, you can get your friend Andy Garcia to take you to the Lakers games with him.
Sandoval: Oh, yes. Absolutely, absolutely. And also I looking for – in think it’s in June. Yes, in mid-June, the Marlins gonna come and play there.
Tavis: Oh, yeah. The Marlins and the Dodgers, yes.
Sandoval: I got tickets already.
Tavis: You’re a baseball fan?
Sandoval: Oh, yes. I like basketball, but, you know, baseball is number one on my list.
Tavis: So you’ll see Sandoval at the Dodger games and you’ll see Garcia at the Lakers games. They got this covered, man.
Sandoval: But I enjoy basketball too. No, don’t take me wrong. And I was a good friend of Pat Riley and his wife and I used to play for the Heat there many times. I played the anthem for them many, many times.
Tavis: When you walked on the stage, I told you how honored I was to meet you, but I felt like I knew you because I so loved the HBO where Andy Garcia played Arturo Sandoval on the HBO piece, The Arturo Sandoval Story. You were pleased with that movie? I thought it was a great movie.
Sandoval: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. They did a wonderful job. Actually, when they talked to me the very first time and they send me the first proof, I read that and I said, “What’s that? I have nothing to do” and I sent it back. Then that happened like two or three times.
Finally, I get to meet one of the guys with HBO and he said, “What’s wrong with the thing? You send it back. You don’t approve anything?” I say, “They’re talking about somebody else.”
The lady say, “Okay, let’s do it right now.” Then finally, they send the scriptwriter to Miami and spend some time with my family, with my friends. Even I think he went to Cuba and they interviewed a lot of my relatives there and people. Then he spent some time with me on the road even.
Then when he sit down, you know, finally they wrote something that had to do with me (laughter). Then they had me to write the score. I’m very happy because I won an Emmy for the score.
Tavis: You did indeed. It’s a great story. If you’ve not seen the HBO movie about his life, The Arturo Sandoval Story, it’s a great story of being a child prodigy, frankly, child prodigy in Cuba, hanging out with Dizzy Gillespie, defecting in the middle of the night to the United States and now having a movie done about him and here he is in Los Angeles scoring movies.
So I know there are a bunch of folk right now, with all due respect to Arturo Sandoval, who are disappointed that you are in Los Angeles because the competition just got stiffer for movie scoring in this town.
Sandoval: No, no. Is room for everybody, is room for everybody. There’s a lot of different projects, you know.
Tavis: We are glad to have Arturo Sandoval in this town. His new project is called A Time for Love. There are so many great American standards – pardon me. Mr. Sandoval just calls them music. There’s a lot of good music on this CD and I’ve asked Arturo if he would just play us out with something here tonight after I tell you that’s our show for tonight.
Catch me on the weekends on PRI, Public Radio International. You can access our radio podcast through our website at and I’ll see you back here next time on PBS. Until then, goodnight from Los Angeles, thanks for watching and, as always, and here is Arturo Sandoval.
Sandoval: Thank you.


Last modified: May 21, 2014 at 4:00 pm