Born November 6, 1949, in Artemis, Cuba; defected from Cuba, 1990; father was an auto mechanic; married; wife's name, Marianela; children: Arturin. Education: Studied classical trumpet at Cuban National School of Arts, 1964. Addresses: Home--Miami, FL; Record company--GRP Records Inc., 555 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019; Publicity--Carolyn McClair Public Relations, 410 W. 53rd St., No. 128C, New York, NY 10019;

The 1994 release Arturo Sandoval Plays Trumpet Concertos may have marked contemporary jazz label GRP's first foray into classical music, as Paul Verna commented in Billboard, but for trumpeter Arturo Sandoval it is a revisiting of the repertoire he studied as a youth in Cuba. There, according to Sandoval, "I never had a chance to perform with the symphony orchestra because it was always busy playing with Russian violinists and pianists. So I had to wait until I was free to be able to do it."

Born in 1949 in Artemis, a small village in the province of Havana, Cuba, Sandoval started playing at age 13 in the village band, where he learned the basics of music theory and percussion. After playing many instruments, he settled on the trumpet and the flugelhorn; with both he would eventually dazzle listeners throughout the world.

As a child Sandoval had little exposure to jazz. In a 1993 interview with Down Beat he commented, "The only thing I used to hear was traditional Cuban music, what we call son, which was played by a septet with a trumpet and bongos." But one day, a trumpeter in Artemis played Sandoval a Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker record from 1946. Sandoval recalled that, upon hearing the album, he exclaimed, "'Oh, man! This is so weird. I don't understand nothing about what they're trying to play.' But that changed my mind completely. And I'm still trying to find out what they were doing." In 1964 Sandoval entered the Cuban National School of Arts, where he studied classical trumpet for three years.

Drafted into the military in 1971, Sandoval was able to play with the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna. During that time he affirmed his ability daily. After his discharge he continued playing in the well-known group Irakere, which he cofounded in 1973 with fellow Cuban greats Paquito D'Rivera and Churcho Valdes. The group would continue to play for many years in Havana under Valdes's leadership. Irakere toured North and South America, Europe, and Africa, and Sandoval appeared at festivals in Berlin, Germany; Newport, Rhode Island; Montreux, Switzerland; and Warsaw, Poland, throughout the 1970s. In 1981 Sandoval started his own orchestra and continued touring worldwide.

Sandoval's talent has led him to associations with many great musicians, but perhaps the most important was with the great bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, a longtime proponent of Afro-Cuban music, whom Sandoval calls his "spiritual father," according to Juan Carlos Coto in Down Beat. As Sandoval noted, the two musicians met in Cuba in 1977 when Gillespie was playing impromptu gigs throughout the Caribbean with saxophonist Stan Getz: "I went to the boat to find him. I've never had a complex about meeting famous people. If I respect somebody, I go there and try to meet them."

As Coto reported, Gillespie wanted to visit the black neighborhoods where musicians play guaguanco and rumba in the street. Sandoval offered to take Gillespie around in his car, and only later that night when he took the stage with Gillespie did Sandoval reveal himself as a musician. Their friendship remained strong as they continued to play and record together. It was while touring with Gillespie's Grammy Award-winning United Nation Orchestra in Rome that Sandoval requested political asylum.

Gillespie's greatest tribute to Sandoval was also perhaps the most embarrassing for Sandoval. Gillespie often asked Sandoval for trumpet lessons, Sandoval remembered in Down Beat. "I'd say, 'Oh, Diz, please,' and he'd say, 'Come on, man.' So I would give him some exercises and advice about embouchure and things, and he would come back and say, 'You know, man, that worked.' Nobody [could] give Dizzy advice about music, but he asked me about technique, because he didn't have any classical training."

According to Kazimierz Czyz in Jazz Forum, "Latin American jazz has a decidedly dance character," and some of Sandoval's recordings provide an extreme example of this assessment. Czyz further pointed out, "The jazz element (architectonics, sound, phrasing) here occurs only as decoration to a well crafted kind of 'easy listening music.'" This can perhaps be explained for Sandoval by his early influences and the Cuban government's labeling of jazz as imperialist music.

Characteristically, Sandoval revels in the diversity of his music. After moving to Havana as a teen, he was introduced to the playing of Luis Escalante, the first trumpeter in the National Symphony Orchestra. As Sandoval told Down Beat, Escalante played classical, jazz, and Cuban music. "I never forgot that, and it has been my goal all my life to play as many things as I can. I don't want any sign on me that says 'jazz' or 'salsa' or 'blues.' I'm a musician, man."

Sandoval, by his own admission, is no innovator. Down Beat's Larry Birnbaum termed him "a mainstream stylist whose forte is a mind-boggling technique that eclipses even Maynard Ferguson's for triple-tongued flash and high register razzle-dazzle." Indeed, according to Coto in Down Beat, Sandoval's music seems that of an ever-open emigre, resurrecting the ghosts of Cuba's great trumpeters while embracing U.S. jazz harmonies. And the influence goes both ways. Sandoval has observed that American musicians are learning to discard traditional 1-2-3-4 jazz lines and are beginning to play around the clave, Cuban music's rhythmic heartbeat of 1-2-3, 1-2, sometimes known as the "Bo Diddley beat." The trumpeter asserts that the Cuban influence has also been felt in late-twentieth-century pop music, which, with the ever-increasing trend toward world sounds, has appropriated Cuban percussion.

Sandoval's own performances, in the opinion of Jazz Forum's Czyz, exhibit "faultless technique, beautiful, clear trumpet tone, an uncanny precision and good chops." In addition, Down Beat's Birnbaum, reviewing a 1983 performance, pointed out the trumpeter's "machine-gun flurries, squawks, smears, growls and flutters." At the same performance, Birnbaum recounted, Sandoval explained in Spanish that the piano had been his first love and then proceeded to play a long, polished, piano solo. Later, Sandoval played timbales, scat-sang, and twanged the jaw harp, before picking up a shekere, an African calabash rattle, for a percussion interlude that almost stopped the show.

Since his defection from Cuba in 1990, Sandoval has lived with his family in Miami, Florida, where he prizes, above all, his creative freedom. He is not altogether dismissive of his old country, noting in Down Beat that "there are good, bad, and regular human beings everywhere, in all social classes and all professions. In every country, too." Miami serves as a vital connection for Sandoval to his past, a place where he can be near his culture and food, what Cubans call El Cubaneo. "I can't live far from my people," Sandoval explained. "I couldn't live in Alaska or Switzerland." Sandoval was granted U.S. citizenship in November, 1998, after a three-year struggle with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Sandoval's desire to keep close ties with his Cuban heritage is reflected in his career moves as well. Though he has played with musicians all over the world, including jazz stars Billy Cobham, Woody Herman, Woody Shaw, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Jon Faddis, and Stan Getz, as well as symphony orchestras and military bands, one of the first things he did after moving to Florida was to form a band. "I like to work with the same people and have a repertoire," he told Down Beat. "I don't like to play with them now and then, inventing things randomly. I like to work with musicians who can create a wide range of sounds and who like to play a lot of different things." Since his arrival in the United States, Sandoval has performed on the soundtrack for Robert Redford's film Havana with fellow exile and former associate, saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, and on pop singer Gloria Estefan's Into the Light. Whether playing with percussionist Tito Puente at the Village Gate in New York City or in the concert halls of Europe, Sandoval has proven himself a foremost a musician of the world.

by John Morrow

Arturo Sandoval's Career

Jazz trumpeter and flugelhornist; while in Cuban military, member of Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna; cofounded band Irakere with Paquito D'Rivera and Churcho Valdes, 1973; recorded and toured with Dizzy Gillespie; started own orchestra, 1981.

Arturo Sandoval's Awards

Elected to Cuba's National Hit Parade as best instrumentalist, 1982-84; named by Cuban Ministry of Culture to highest professional school; Grammy Awards for best Latin jazz performance, 1995, for Danzon and 1998, for Hot House; Emmy Award for outstanding music composition for a miniseries, movie, or special, 2001, for the soundtrack to the HBO movie of his life, For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

May 24, 2005: Sandoval's album, Live at the Blue Note, was released. Source:,, May 30, 2005.

April 27, 2006: Sandoval won the Billboard Latin music award for Latin jazz album of the year for Sandoval: Live at the Blue Note. Source:,, April 30, 2006.

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

almost 15 years ago

Was he ever able to get his stepson out of Cuba and the rest of his family?