Legendary Cuban Trumpet Player Arturo Sandoval Tells His Story, Live in Concert with the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

“For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story” is a love story that tugs at your heartstrings. The film, starring Andy Garcia, Gloria Estefan, Mia Maestro, and Charles S. Dutton, plays in the background as Arturo Sandoval performs live in concert with Frost School of Music students and faculty at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on October 1.
Arturo Sandoval, legendary Cuban jazz trumpeter.

Arturo Sandoval didn't have freedom in his life. So, he played his way out of Cuba and into the heart of America. The legendary Cuban trumpet player brings his story to the stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, where we celebrate and recognize his many contributions and influence on the culture, history, and achievements for his adopted country.   

The concert lines up nicely with Hispanic Heritage Month [September 15 – October 15]. So, who better than Sandoval to represent Miami’s Hispanic history and heritage presence? In an exclusive interview with Frost School of Music, Sandoval opens up about his own journey from Cuba to America. How he met the great jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba, who went on to become his mentor and friend. And how that chance meeting would change Sandoval’s life forever.  


You’ve traveled, played, and partnered with some of the best musicians in the world. Your music has been featured and showcased in many compilations, albums, and films, including “For Love or Country: the Arturo Sandoval Story,” starring Andy Garcia, Mia Maestro, and Gloria Estefan. You received an Emmy Award for that score. You’re a 10-time Grammy Award winner. So, what ignited this passion for music? 

It started in Cuba. I came from a very poor family, but my passion for music was always strong. I was ten years old when I started playing music but was told I would never be good at it. Well, that is all I needed to hear. I joined a marching band and picked up the trumpet as my instrument. 

And what was it about the sound of the trumpet that you liked?

The trumpet has a peculiar sound. You can whisper or play extremely soft or hard. I can put a bell on your ear and whisper there, so it doesn't bother you. The trumpet doesn’t give you any kind of limitation in terms of expression. You can say whatever you want in the way you want, and that's what really fascinates me about the sound of the trumpet. 

So, how were you introduced to the sound of jazz music?

I got a scholarship to attend the National School of Arts in Cuba to get classical training. I was in my third year, when a journalist friend of mine who played the saxophone and knew a lot about jazz asked me one day, “Hey, ever heard of jazz music?” I said, “No, what is that?” He said, “Come with me.” He played an album of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and that turned my head upside down! That compilation was made in 1946, so those musicians were ahead of their time. They created a new style of music.

It's interesting how Dizzy Gillespie came into your life totally by chance, and then went on to become your friend and mentor. How did the two of you meet?

That day was like a gift from God. We met in 1967 at a nightclub in Cuba, where he was playing. I offered to be his driver. Later that night, I went onstage to perform with my band. I didn’t tell him that I was a musician and of course, he was shocked to see his driver on stage playing the trumpet! [laughs]. We ended up playing together that night, and that was an unforgettable moment. The day when I met my hero and the guy who later became my mentor and dear friend. We played together from 1978 until he passed away in January 1993. 

Your friendship was well portrayed in your movie, “For Love or Country,” particularly in that dramatic scene when he helps you and your family defect from Cuba, to have the freedom to pursue your passion. Tell us about that.

Leaving Cuba was difficult, as any Cuban immigrant knows well. I was traveling everywhere but my family was back home suffering. Castro’s Cuba was not the country that I knew anymore. I, our people, had no freedom. During mandatory military service, I was put in jail for listening to American jazz on the radio! Dizzy and I were playing for the United Nations, and in one of the trips, he helped me and my family defect from Cuba through the American Embassy in London. After that, I discovered a whole new world that I didn’t know existed. He gave me so many incredible opportunities. He trained me and encouraged me to continue to play and practice.  

Is your approach to jazz improvisation part of that training?

Yes. Jazz improvisation is synonymous with freedom of speech. It's something you create in the moment, and you cannot repeat. It's something a musician uses to express his feelings through his instrument in terms of that specific tune that you're playing and sharing with your audience. It’s a beautiful thing. 

Where do your ideas come from?

It's not only one thing; it's a bunch of different things that converge in your brain. It's memories of things that you compile over the years. That’s what Clark Terry, one of America’s best swing and bebop trumpeters did. He was a pioneer of the flugelhorn in jazz, mentoring Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock . . . He was one of the most recorded jazz musicians, whose career in jazz spanned more than 70 years! He always said, “Imitate, emulate, and create.”

We all start imitating our heroes, people, musicians. First, you become very familiar with their sound. You love the way they play, so you start imitating them. And then, when you gain confidence, you begin the process of emulating these heroes. If you're lucky, and you have some kind of special talent, you create your own language, your own vocabulary, your own way of expression. 

So, how do you hope to inspire our young Frost musicians that will be playing with you on October 1?

I hope to inspire them with my passion for music. That's the most important thing. When you have that passion, dedication, and discipline, you're going to see some results. I’d tell them, take your career seriously. Now, there are two different ways to approach music. If you’re like an aficionado who plays music for fun, and you have your day job, that’s one thing. But, if you want to become a professional musician, there are also two different ways—you play what you can, or you play what you want and how you want. 

That's a big difference. So, how do you get from point A to point B?

You need a strong discipline, commitment, and a passion that drives you to practice with a very strong dedication. Never believe you reach any point in your life. Because we’re always in the middle of the road, every single day. Especially with the trumpet. It doesn’t give you a grade. It’s a rural instrument. It doesn't matter how well you played the night before. You must prepare for the next show, every day. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to play the way you want. 


To purchase tickets for “Love or Country: the Arturo Sandoval Story” Live in Concert, visit events/Miami.edu.