PITTSBURGH - Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval just returned from playing a jazz cruise, where he was working with, among others, Kurt Elling and Marcus Miller. "We have a lot of fun," he says. "I like it because (on the cruise) everyone loves jazz."
A 64-year-old native of Artemisa, Cuba, outside Havana, his first exposure to music was playing in a village marching band, but he was unsure which instrument to commit to. As a teen he finally settled on trumpet, on which he was originally self-taught because "there weren't any trumpet teachers." Eventually he studied at the Cuban National School of Arts.
His first exposure to jazz came in the early 1960s when someone played him a record with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and he was hooked. Trouble was, post-revolutionary Cuba didn't take kindly to jazz, which he could hear only through Voice of America broadcasts, and he suffered for his art.
"When I was in obligatory military service, (I was accused of) listening to the voice of the enemy - I was in jail for 3 1/2 months," Sandoval says. "They called it the music of the imperialists. They don't even know, you know, the real history of jazz."
In the 1970s Sandoval formed the group Irakere with saxophonist/clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera and pianist Chucho Valdes. In 1977 he finally got to meet Gillespie, long an aficionado of Latin music who had come to Cuba - "He was like my father," Sandoval says.
That relationship gave him the opportunity to leave Cuba for good.
In 1990, while on an European tour with Gillespie, "I went to (an) American embassy and asked for political asylum," he says. Perhaps not surprisingly, his first album after his defection was 1991's "Flight to Freedom," and the ordeal would lead to the 2000 HBO movie "For Love of Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story," for which he wrote the score and received an Emmy award.
Sandoval, now of Calabasas, Calif., in the Los Angeles area, has a new CD set for a spring release - a tribute to Mexican singer-pianist-composer Armando Manzanero, considered the world's top bolero artist.
"Last November the Grammys gave him a special tribute," San-doval says. "He's in on three tracks as a special guest as well."
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