A Moment With
by Mark Ruffin
On the early morning that JazzUSA bothered Arturo Sandoval for this month’s interview, the man was hard at work. From the moment his wife picked up the phone at their Miami home, the receiver was filled with lush symphonic music with Arturo’s trumpet piercing the top range. When she got his attention, the trumpet stopped, the strings faded out and the 50 year-old trumpeter came to the phone.
JazzUSA: How are you this morning?
AS: I’m doing fine. I’m working already
JazzUSA: Working already? What are you doing this early in the morning?
AS: I’m working on the score of a HBO movie.
JazzUSA: Is that the HBO movie on your life?
AS: Yes it is.
JazzUSA: So, you’re scoring the movie too?
AS: Yes sir.
JazzUSA: How did that all come about?
AS: It was HBO’s idea. They came up with the idea, they talked to my manager. That started like two or three years ago when they started to write the first script and then they wrote another one, and then another one, and then finally they came out with something every body was happy about.
JazzUSA: Before HBO came to you, did you think your life was worthy of a movie?
AS: (Laughs) What a question, man. I prefer if someone else would answer that question. I don’t want to talk about myself, it’s embarrassing, you know.
JazzUSA: Well, it’s a hell of a life.
AS: The thing that I can tell you for 40 years I dedicated all my life to the music with a lot of passion, very seriously, a lot of dedication, a lot for the music, a lot of respect for the music.
JazzUSA: What’s the name of the movie?
AS: “Havana Nocturne.”
JazzUSA: How do you feel about Andy Garcia playing you? A lot of guys would like Andy Garcia to play them in their lives.
AS: Especially when you’re Cuban. He’s Cuban you know. I think he was the best choice, because he’s Cuban, number one. Number two, he’s a hell of an actor, and number three, he’s very musical. He plays music himself and he’s written a lot of music. Sometimes he’s said he’s the kind of frustrated musician who has made a living acting. He loves music very much. And I think he did a hell of a job. He’s a great actor.
JazzUSA: So he’s a musician?
AS: Yeah, he plays percussion, he plays a little bit of piano, he’s a producer, he has been producing records. He has a good ear.
JazzUSA: So, did you have to show him fingering and all of that?
AS: That’s correct. And he looks good, man. He looks good. He looks really convincing. He looks like a trumpet player.
JazzUSA: Who else is in the movie?
AS: Charles Dutton.
JazzUSA: Does he play Dizzy?
AS: Yes sir, and he’s great, man. Wait until you see it.
JazzUSA: And when does the movie come out?
AS: Is going to air November 18th.
JazzUSA: Your current record is called “Americana,”
AS: Yeah, the record has been out about seven months already.
JazzUSA: Why did you do an album like that, of American pop songs? You could have done Americana, and you could have done be-bop.
AS: You know what, man, I love music, period. I enjoy all kinds of music. Whatever sounds good, if it’s well done, I love it. American pop music is very popular and has a lot of recognition all over the world, and I want to pay my tribute and respect to that.
JazzUSA: A lot of folks in the jazz world don’t know that you’re just as respected in the classical world. How long have you the playing classical music?
AS: Before jazz, long before. I was playing music almost 10 years, and never heard any jazz. The first thing I did was play the traditional Cuban music, and then I got a scholarship for three years to get some classical training at the school of arts in Havana, and started playing classical music right away, and I was, for one year in the national symphony orchestra there in Havana. What I was playing for almost 10 years, somebody played a record of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, that was it. It changed my life, and I started to listen to that as much as I could. And later on, less than 10 years later, I was so lucky, I met Dizzy when he was there for the first time.
JazzUSA: And did you go up to him and introduce yourself?
AS: Oh yeah. This is what I did, unfortunately, at that time, I couldn’t speak any English, but we communicated somehow.
JazzUSA: So he knew you were a great trumpet player?
AS: When we met? No, he didn’t have any idea. I drove him all over the city and we talked all day long. I showed him many places in Cuba. In the evening, we had a jam session together, that was the very first-time that he found out that I was a musician. I never told him I was a musician, I wasn’ t about to tell him I was a trumpet player.
JazzUSA: How many gigs do you play per year now?
AS: 370. (laughs) I don’t know, man, but sometimes it feels like it.
JazzUSA: And, Arturo, you are teaching too?
AS: I teach full-time at Florida International University.
JazzUSA: So you teach full-time and you play 370 gigs a year?
AS: At least. (Laughs)
JazzUSA: And you love it, don’t you?
AS: I have no choice, that’s my life and that’s what is keeping me alive. It keeps me awake and doing things. I’ve got my little studio here in Miami where I do all my things and my records, and I’m producing something else, and I also do all my compositions. I am working now on three different things. Debbie Allen, are you familiar with Debbie? We did a ballet together, and then we did a musical. It’s going to be in the whole month of August in Atlanta at the Performing Arts Center. Debbie wrote the book, she’ s a very talented lady. We got along very well. And now she’s putting together 10 shows for television. I think it’s going to be on A and E. (Arts and Entertainment,) and I’m writing the music for that too, I am working on two of those shows right now, and also they gave me another two projects for movies, I’m working on those scores too, besides the HBO ones.
JazzUSA: Back to the movie, there’s a couple of things I want to know. I heard this story about how your wife got away and defected from Cuba while she was in Italy.
AS: She was in London, I was in Italy.
JazzUSA: Is that episode depicted in the movie?
AS: Yeah, the whole thing. Actually, the movie concentrates on the defections. It starts with that, and it ends with that, and there is a lot of flash backs with my days in Cuba and stuff with different bands, with Irakere, with the big bands. And there are various depictions in the movie, the whole defection thing, and with Dizzy, and the American embassy in Italy.
JazzUSA: What about you getting your citizenship, is that depicted in the movie?
AS: Not really, because the movie ends when I get here.
JazzUSA: How did you feel getting your citizenship?
AS: Oh, I think it was very unfair, the problem with immigration in Miami. Actually, it’s a guy who is in jail now. He’s in prison now. He was a kind of spy for Castro. And his job in Immigration in Miami was actually deciding who became a citizen and who didn’t. He dealt with asylum in all kinds of things. And everybody has a suspicion that he had a lot to do with my case.
JazzUSA: You’re talking about the guy that was just in the news a few weeks ago.
AS: Yeah, his name is Fajes.
JazzUSA: What was with your case? Did he try to hold up your case?
AS: Yes! He accused me of being a member of the Communist Party, which is ridiculous, every body in Cuba is a member of the party. It’s nothing special to be a member of the party. It’s very common and absolutely necessary for doing anything. Actually, it wasn’t even true. There was never any proof, I never got any kind of ID from them, or got involved at all with any party. I am a musician, man, and that’s what I’ve been doing all my life. I don’t need that kind of trash.
JazzUSA: So, how did you feel about the politics that went on with Elian Gonzales?
AS: It was kind of disgusting. Especially, because a lot of people to do things, and I tell you, we were very disappointed with the whole process. The kid was used to do politics on both sides, and that was very unfair. The worst thing is his mother and stepfather, who really was raising him, died in the ocean to give him the opportunity to come here as the free and have a decent life. Elian’s father, this guy, for me, is a guy who doesn’t deserve any respect at all.
JazzUSA: On the other hand, how do you feel about the Buena Vista Social Club, and how much success those folks are having?
AS: That’s very beautiful. Those people were retired and they were nobody in Cuba. They were really starving and doing nothing, and it’s so beautiful to see them come out of nowhere and have wonderful recognition all over the world. The only thing that really concerns me is I don’t really want people to believe that that is the best example of Cuban music, because it’s not.