All-round music man

Veteran trumpeter Arturo Sandoval received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year and was described as an "astonishing trumpeter, pianist and composer" by US President Barack Obama.
Veteran trumpeter Arturo Sandoval received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year and was described as an "astonishing trumpeter, pianist and composer" by US President Barack Obama.PHOTO: ESPLANADE

Jazz musician Arturo Sandoval will play the trumpet and piano and sing and dance at his gig here

He was born in Cuba and is one of only four jazz musicians to be honoured with the American Presidential Medal of Freedom, but do not call veteran trumpeter Arturo Sandoval a "Latin jazz" musician.

"I love music, man," he tells Life! in a telephone interview from Miami, where he was on holiday. "When I went to London and recorded with John Williams for the concerto, I wasn't playing Latin jazz. When I was playing on Frank Sinatra's album, I wasn't playing Latin jazz. I don't want any kind of sticker, I really don't like that. When I write for movies, I am not playing Latin jazz."

As if to underscore his musical versatility, the 64-year-old multiple Latin Grammy award winner says that he will do more than just play the trumpets at his gig at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Wednesday.

"I'm gonna play some piano, I'm going to sing, I'm going to dance, I'm going to play some percussions, the trumpet, as many things as I can. My mission, as always, is to entertain the people, make them have a good time and enjoy themselves, that's the idea."

He last performed here at the The Ritz-Carlton in 2000, a gig that was part of that year's Singapore Arts Festival.

Sandoval's gig on Wednesday, on the other hand, kicks off the Esplanade's new Mosaic Music Series after the arts centre organised the last edition of its decade- long, stand-alone music festival, Mosaic Music Festival, in March this year.

As a child in communist Cuba, Sandoval studied classical trumpet but secretly tuned in to the banned Voice Of America radio station to listen to jazz trumpet greats such as Clark Terry, Clifford Brown and Dizzy Gillespie.

"I got a big impression, I remember very well. I'm still in love with jazz, I love it and I am so grateful that I played and recorded on a lot of jazz albums over the years and I really have a big passion and respect for jazz."

While he was doing his mandatory military service in his early 20s, he was jailed for almost four months for listening to American jazz on the radio station.

In the early 1970s, he was a founding member of acclaimed Cuban group Irakere, which famously mixed jazz, traditional Cuban music, classical and rock, and won a Grammy for Best Latin Recording in 1980 for the self-titled album.

He came under the tutelage of one of his idols, Gillespie, well-known for popularising the Afro- Cuban jazz genre. After meeting in 1977, Gillespie brought the Cuban trumpeter along for his shows in Cuba and Europe.

In 1990, in the middle of a European tour with Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra, Sandoval defected at the American Embassy in Rome and eventually settled in Florida with his wife and son, who were in England when they defected. They are now naturalised American citizens.

"I never thought about going back to Cuba. Those people there are communists, I don't have any intention of going back, I don't want to. I haven't been back in 25 years," says Sandoval, whose first album after he moved to the US was titled Flight To Freedom (1991).

The story of his defection was made into an HBO biographical drama, For Love Or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story (2000), in which acclaimed Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia plays him.

A prolific artist who has also released classical albums, Sandoval has six Billboards awards to his name and has won an Emmy award for his score on For Love Or Country.

His latest album, Un Siglo De Pasion, won him Best Traditional Tropical Album at last year's Latin Grammy, while his tribute to Gillespie, Dear Diz

(Every Day I Think Of You), won him Best Latin

Jazz Album and Best Engineered Album at the 2012 Latin Grammys.

Last year, he picked up one of his most significant accolades yet, when US President Barack Obama handed him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, describing him as an "astonishing trumpeter, pianist and composer who inspired audiences in every corner of the world and awakened a new generation of great performers".

Sandoval says of the medal: "I'm so grateful and really excited and happy because there are only three jazz musicians in the history of the medal - Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald. For me, it's a huge honour to be in such company."

When he is not busy touring or making albums, Sandoval, who has two grandaughters, lives in Los Angeles and confesses to spending a lot of time on Twitter.

"No, I do it myself," he replies, when asked if the tweets from his official account, which counts 48,000 followers, are written by a publicist. "I feel like Twitter is my companion. I enjoy it so much, Twitter is so good man. I keep in touch with friends and family and fans and people want to know what I'm doing, where I'm going."

Asked about the future, he says that he has not made any plans to retire.

"It's in the hands of God. If God gives me the health and the desire to keep doing, I would keep on doing it."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg

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