B y Y v o n n e E r v i n
ARTURO SANDOVAL HAS paid a big price for jazz. As a youth in Castro's Cuba, he played classical and Cuban music on trumpet. A friend turned him on to a bootleg bebop recording of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and he was hooked. His addiction resulted in a four month prison sentence when, while in obligatory military service, he was caught listening to Willis Conover's Voice of America Jazz Hour, the music of The Enemy.
At that time, he could never dream that he would someday be Gillespie's protégé, and tour with Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra, or that Dizzy would make calls to government officials to open the U.S. Embassy in Rome on a Sunday in 1990 so Sandoval could defect.
Despite the musical oppression in Cuba, Sandoval, along with fellow countrymen Paquito D'Rivera and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, have become three great gifts to jazz.
"It's a very strong combination of rhythm and music," Sandoval said of the Cuban influence on jazz. "When you combine that in the proper way, it's very exciting, it's full of energy and changes and music and a lot of tradition."
Sandoval and his band, The Latin Train, will headline at Jazz Sundae XVIII on Sunday, October 15, at the Reid Park DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center. Also on the bill will be the Tucson Jazz Orchestra with Bob Belden, local and high school bands and the Tucson Latin Jazz Orchestra.
Jazz Sundae typically features Latin jazz, which has recently gained popularity. Sandoval is at the top of that popularity, having won the Latin Jazz Grammy Award this year. It's the rhythmic power of Latin jazz that attracts people who aren't involved in jazz, Sandoval said. "Even the people who enjoy jazz get another injection of more rhythm and more things happening. It's made the music more attractive, it's true. Some people also call this kind of combination 'fusion.' Some people call it salsa now, in the '40s they called it Afro Cuban jazz. Nowadays, people call it Latin jazz. Anyway, it's a combination of different kinds of things that have made jazz more international.
"We are kind of blessed...because there are a great many musical people who come from Cuba. People there without the best school of music or the best teacher or the best kind of information or background have a lot of musicality," Sandoval said from his home in Miami. "Our concept of rhythm is very, very strong.... You don't have to push to get involved with the music and to let the people know that the music you're playing is part of your soul, part of your mentality, part of your blood. It's something we've had in Cuba for years and years."
A major influence in Latin jazz, one that can certainly be heard in the music of the Tucson Latin Jazz Orchestra, is from Puerto Rico. Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians have a major difference in their approach to Latin jazz, according to Sandoval.
"(The music) in Puerto Rico is a little more involved in the American music. It's not as authentic as that music in Cuba, you know, because our connection with American music is not as strong as in Puerto Rico. I don't want to say it's better or worse, it's just different. Different approach, different feeling, different background."
An integral part of that background is that it isn't easy to become a jazz musician in America when you're from Cuba. Sandoval started out with D'Rivera in a popular Cuban fusion band called Irakere. The band remains in Cuba and Sandoval and D'Rivera are the only ones who've defected. D'Rivera defected nine years before Sandoval. He's now touring with the Caribbean Jazz Project, which will make a stop at Centennial Hall on November 5. The others in Irakere stay for "personal reasons" Sandoval said. He was 40 when he permanently left his homeland. He waited until his wife of 21 years and his son were able to travel, and defect, with him. His parents made it over in a boat two years ago. His mother suffered in a wheelchair for months with broken vertebrae.
"I spent my first 40 years having to fight and fight and sacrifice so many things and it has been so difficult," Sandoval recalled. "I was poor, and my parents didn't make school at all. I remember wearing my first pair of shoes when I was 12 years old. I came from the bottom and I'm ready to do whatever I have to do to keep my family together."
He still feels he's struggling. He recently recorded a classical trumpet album. When asked if, like Wynton Marsalis, he separates classical and jazz engagements by months, he laughed and said, "I don't have that opportunity to be that selective! I'm Cuban and I have to fight for every single little thing I find in my life. When I did that recording, a lot of people started to tell me, 'Hey you are doing what Wynton did!' I would tell them, 'When he was born, I was doing this!'
"As a Latino, as a Cuban, I don't want to be rude, but you should know for us it's a little more difficult... A lot of people put the word before, "Latino," even to look at you. And that's something horrible, because I believe there's two kind of people: good and bad. I don't care if you're yellow, green, black or blue, if you're good, you're good; if you're bad, you're bad. And sometimes it's difficult for me... I can't complain about American people in general because they have been so nice and friendly and they have given me a lot of recognition, but there are some people with that kind of problem. But anyway, I'm ready to accept the challenge."
An interview the day after his arrival from Madrid proved to be too much of a challenge to Paco De Lucia, who will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 19, at UA Centennial Hall. Suffice it to say the concert of flamenco played by De Lucia, his brothers and other gypsies, will be a fiery show with lots of fancy finger- and footwork. For tickets, call 621-3341.
Jazz Sundae XVIII sweetens the Reid Park DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, October 15. Admission is free. Arturo Sandoval will also offer a trumpet clinic at 10 a.m. Monday, October 16, in Crowder Hall on the UA campus. Call 743-3399 for information.
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