This interview is taken from The 40th Anniversary Salute to Arturo Sandoval that appears Nov. 17 issue of Billboard. The full text of the special section is available in the Billboard.com members section.
To purchase a copy of the in which the Arturo Sandoval salute appears, click here.
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On a Thursday morning, between a trip to Santo Domingo-to play a jazz concert with his big band-and a trip to Los Angeles — where he finished shooting several episodes of “The Bold and the Beautiful” — trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is spending his time doing something he rarely does: not think about music.
Instead, the 52-year-old Sandoval is waiting for his father, a former mechanic, to come help him restore the vintage 1966 white Cadillac convertible that’s parked in front of Sandoval’s unassuming home in Miami Lakes. It’s the same house Sandoval, his wife Marianela and their 14-year-old son Arturo moved into more than 10 years ago, barely eight months after defecting from Cuba to the U.S.
Once inside, however, there’s no denying the music. Barely past the front door sits a nine-foot Beusendrofer grand, the instrument Sandoval plays for a couple of hours every single morning. To the right is Sandoval’s home studio; next to the console sit four Grammys and the Emmy award he picked up in September for the score to “For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story,” the HBO bio-pic based on his life. It’s a film that ends with Sandoval’s defection in 1990, a year in which arguably his life started anew. In the Billboard interview, Sandoval fills in the blanks.
For Love or Country has been critically acclaimed, and, for many, it offers the most comprehensive view of Arturo Sandoval. Do you feel this film is your legacy?
I would say no. I’ve been playing music 40 years, but I sometimes think I’ve only been playing the 10 years since I’ve been here. Everything else was a preamble for a later development. My stage in Cuba was very limited in many things. Here, I’ve had opportunities I never dreamt of.
Ever since you arrived here, you’ve been immersed in U.S. society and an American way of life. One of the first things you did was expand the music department at Florida International University (FIU), where you teach.
It’s going to be 11 years. They had a very small music department, with very few resources. I taught in this room [he points toward his studio], because there weren’t enough classrooms. We used to have a small combo and three or four teachers and a dozen students. Now, there’s a symphony orchestra and two big bands. And, about four years ago, it became a [bona fide] school of music.
Why did you choose FIU?
Because they came to me. I had just arrived. And I truly value that. Likewise, my favorite orchestra, until the day I die, will be the London Symphony. When I was living in Cuba, I was not known. I was a nobody. And that was the first big orchestra — the first orchestra, period — that said, “We want you to play with us.” I played twice with them, way before I came to the U.S.
Going back to your very beginnings, as a child, why did you choose to play the trumpet of all things?
It’s a very peculiar instrument. It’s one of the few instruments that truly allows a human being to fully express everything the way you want to say it. For example, if you get on a horse in the middle of an infantry and play the violin, well, even the horse won’t hear it. But the trumpet has always been used in battle. It’s the instrument that’s played when people die. It’s an instrument that can transmit joy. It’s mentioned in the Bible. In a symphony orchestra, there’s dozens of cellos and violins and maybe two trumpets. But when that trumpet speaks, people listen. Even if we’re saying nothing of consequence.
Do you remember when you first heard the trumpet?
I was 9 or 10. And, in my town, they created a little band to teach the kids how to play instruments so we could perform at the town’s political functions. They taught you solfge, theory, and an anthem. And that’s where I came in. They gave me several things to try out, and I chose the trumpet.
And would your mother say, “Please kid, stop making so much noise?”
Not only my mother. My entire family. They thought I was nuts. “You want to be a musician? What’s that?” No one in my family had anything to do with music. My dad was a mechanic, and he wanted me to do the same.
I understand your teachers weren’t particularly effusive either.
No! Anyway, they weren’t “teachers.” He was a little old man who played the clarinet, and he more or less helped us, grosso modo. But he couldn’t play the trumpet. So my lessons were zero point zero zero.
What trumpet did you play?
Ah, that was something else. When I went to the teacher — his name was Delfin Fleitas, he was a good man — and said I wanted the trumpet, he said, “I’m sorry, but we’re out of trumpets.” And I said, “If I get a trumpet, can I play?” And he said yes. And my aunt, poor thing, she worked in a sewing shop, she gathered a few pesos and bought me a used, tattered trumpet. And that’s what I started playing on.
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