Written by Grant Jackson from NPR
Trumpeter, pianist and composer Arturo Sandoval is one of Cuba’s best-known musical exports. He’s won multiple Grammys, including one for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album in 2013, and his life inspired the film For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story, starring Andy García. On this episode of Piano Jazz, Sandoval performs his original tunes “Surena” and “Romantico,” as well as Johnny Green’s “Body and Soul,” with host Marian McPartland.
Sandoval was born on Nov. 6, 1940 in Artemisa, a small town outside of Havana, Cuba. He was a protégé of Dizzy Gillespie, the first jazz musician to incorporate Latin influences into the American idiom. Sandoval was a founding member of the landmark group Irakere, which won the 1978 Grammy for Best Latin Album. In 1981, he left Irakere to start his own band, and from 1982 to 1984 was consecutively voted Cuba’s Best Instrumentalist. With a total of 12 Grammy nominations and three wins, it’s easy to understand why.
Sandoval defected to the U.S. in 1990, and was granted political asylum in July of that year. Though travel was strictly regulated at this time in Cuba, especially for a family, Sandoval jumped at a chance while touring with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra to defect — he had been granted travel outside of Cuba with his wife and teenage son.
Sandoval is a tireless music educator who helped establish the music department at Florida International University, where he is tenured. He has three trumpet endowments associated with him; one is at FIU, while the second and third are at the Universities of Idaho and Central Oklahoma. He’s also lectured internationally, including at the Conservatoire de Paris and the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow.
His struggles in Cuba have given him the drive to succeed, while helping others to learn from jazz. He specializes in high notes, lyrical ballad improvisation and, of course, virtuoso technique. Sandoval entered a new phase of his career in 2013 by releasing his first piano album, My Passion for the Piano, composed of standards and original compositions. On this installment of Piano Jazz, Sandoval proves to McPartland that his talent on the trumpet crosses over to the piano.
Originally broadcast on Oct. 29, 2002.