'Save the Music'
Arturo Sandoval and his Big Band visit Glendale’s Alex Theatre Saturday
By Carl Kozlowski 01/17/2013
Not many people can say they’ve had their lives saved by legendary trumpet master Dizzy Gillespie. Combine that anecdotal detail with a slew of awards that have included eight Grammys (among 17 nominations), six Billboard Awards, and even an Emmy for composing the score to an HBO biopic about his life that starred Andy Garcia, and Arturo Sandoval has lived the kind of life that he could barely imagine while growing up under an oppressive communist dictatorship in Cuba.
On Saturday, the world-famous musician and his band will appear at Glendale’s Alex Theatre in “Arturo Sandoval & His Big Band Save the Music,” aimed at raising money for the Glendale Arts and the Glendale Educational Foundation. Part of the proceeds will also be used to help the Arturo Sandoval Institute, which provides musical instruments and classes to children who cannot afford them.
Combining soulful jazz, trademark Afro-Cuban rhythms and classical pieces, the night should offer both potent musical entertainment and a glimpse at the myriad of musical influences on Sandoval while growing up in Cuba.
“When I was little, I started banging on everything in my house, trying to make music on everything, and my grandmother said, ‘He is crazy. He thinks he is a musician or something,’” says the 63-year-old Sandoval, who performs more than 100 shows a year. “Time passed, and my very small village in the countryside of Cuba put together a band, like a marching band. Of course, I wanted to join, and they first gave me a trombone, which I didn’t like, then a bass drum, which was too heavy to carry. Then they gave me the flute, and the flute made me feel dizzy. Finally, I started to eye the trumpet.
“My aunt bought me a pocket-comet style of trumpet, and it was recommended to me to visit an old man in the village who played the trumpet,” Sandoval continues. “He asked me to play something. I played what I could, and he said I would never amount to anything. I left, became angry, and it became a challenge to me to prove him wrong, and that has been what I have been doing for the past 51 years.”
Those recollections stem from his childhood in the rural Cuban village of Artemisa — a youth marked by musical joy tempered by disdain for the freedom-crushing Fidel Castro administration. Since the only way to play abroad and escape his impoverished surroundings was to represent Cuba as a cultural emissary, Sandoval co-founded the band Irakere, along with Chucho Valdes and Paquito D’Rivera, when he was in his early 20s, quickly becoming popular worldwide and landing a Columbia Records deal after a groundbreaking performance at the Newport Jazz Festival.
While he is professionally known as a trumpeter and pianist, Sandoval also plays percussion and the French horn. He doesn’t have a favorite style of music, saying that he doesn’t limit himself to one type or style because as a musician, “there is only one music — ‘the good one.’”
Yet, even among all the luminaries he’s known, Gillespie stands out for discovering Sandoval in 1977 during a tour of Cuba and hiring him to be part of his band. Emboldened by his growing success and possessing a passion to raise a family in a free society, Sandoval defected to the US, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1999, a decision that prevents him from being able to return to his homeland.
“I owe my career to Dizzy, my life, he saved me,” Sandoval says of Gillespie, who died in 1993. “He gave me the opportunity to perform and tour with him, which led to my immigration to the USA. He set me free from the oppression of a dictatorship where you could be sent to jail for listening to jazz on the radio.
“Dizzy was a genius of music and my hero because he created bebop,” Sandoval continues. “Besides being an incredible trumpet player, he created a musical style in an era when people were playing something else. He came out with a new way of musical improvisation, and I miss him very much.”
“Arturo Sandoval & His Big Band Save the Music” is performed at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tickets are $20 to $125. Call (818) 243-2539 (ALEX) or visit alextheatre.org for more information.