Interview with Arturo Sandoval - Trumpet Legend
In our candid talk with trumpet legend, Arturo Sandoval, he reveals the #1 key to mastering improvisation, his amazing perspective on life's challenges, and... whether he prefers brunettes or blondes.
Leonardo. Pelé. Prince. Cleopatra. ....Arturo. One-name wonders due to chronic legendary-ism. There could hardly be a more legendary guest for this, the inaugural episode of our new monthly series known as Brass Chats. Arturo was extremely generous with his time on the morning of a gig in Boston, and we hope to meet him again!
P.S. - Pelé, if you're reading this, we'd love to have you on Brass Chats also.
Do you still get nervous when you're playing a big show?
With the trumpet, you never know. The trumpet is unpredictable. You can not take anything for granted. You're going to be as good as you are today. Nobody cares what you did yesterday. Nobody pays attention to that because that's history and they weren't there. They want to hear you today, and then, of course you always have some kind of pressure. Especially when you know the people are expecting something. If you don't give that something, you know you're going to be in trouble.
Dizzy Gillespie was a huge influence and mentor for you. Would you tell us a Dizzy story that people might not have heard before?
There was one that was really funny. We were playing in London in a big theater and he took the mic out of his trumpet and clipped it over here in his pocket, and then he ran to the toilet in the middle of the gig. Everybody in the whole audience could hear.
Oh man that was something so funny.
I don't know if that is recorded. I don't think so, but I remember that happening.
He was a funny man you know. He had a great sense of humor. When we told him what had happened he said "Oh yeah?" He didn't care. He was just laughing.
Apart from Dizzy, what was your biggest and most important musical influence?
To be honest, I love and respect every good musician. Every one. Whoever has a good career and a strong dedication and really loves music. I enjoy listening to them because you have to respect what it takes to get to that level. Any instrument... it doesn't matter. Of course, I have specific people who really made an influence and who I really respect so much. People like Oscar Peterson or Clifford Brown or Clark Terry. There's a lot of them. Freddy Hubbard was a great one too. Woody Shaw. I like Woody Shaw very much. I like Art Tatum. I like Keith Jarret. Chick Corea.
Also, I listen a lot to the classical's. I'm a big fan of the impressionist composer - Ravel, Debussy, Satie. All those great great composers. I love that kind of music. One of my favorite composers of all time is Sergei Rachmaninoff. I love all those piano concertos and the orchestra concertos of Rachmaninoff. Oh my goodness.
What wonderful music. What great, great melodies. Music is melody, harmony, and rhythm. It's three ingredients. If you got wonderful harmony and wonderful melody. Wow. On top of that the rhythm is good too. You got it all.
For professional musicians there's a point, maybe it's one point, maybe it's over a span of time, where you decide that this is the direction that your life is going - this is your life's goal. Did you have such a moment or such a span of time? Describe how that happened for you.
I didn't have that specific moment, but when I was a boy I thought already - I knew - that I wanted to be a musician. I was actually sure that that's exactly what I want to do with my life. Nobody in my family understood that in the very beginning because my father was a car mechanic. Nobody in my family was involved with music at all. When they saw that my decision was so strong and I wanted to be a musician no matter what, everybody was surprised. Everybody was - "What's wrong with this boy?", "What's going on here?" Later on of course, when they found out that my decision was 100% sure, I got all the support I could have from an extremely poor family. I had to quit school when I was in fifth grade to help my family. I had to start working in some business as a helper in a machine shop.
I always say music saved my life and also helped me to support my family as well.
You've played with a ton of famous people over the years. Who was the most fun to be around? Whether it's on stage or hanging out afterwards?
Oh Dizzy. No doubts about Dizzy.
His sense of humor. He was a very smart man too. You could talk to him about anything. He was a guy who really ... We shared a lot of things. He smoked cigars too. He liked Cuban food. There's a lot of things that we shared beside music.
This is always an interesting question to ask with many jazz musicians and you always get a different answer: Do you think it's more effective to sit down and study and analyze chord changes when you're learning a tune or is it better just to listen and learn?
That's what the old timers say. Listen listen. It's like a language. It's something that you have to put in your blood. It's a way of living.
Improvising is inventing things. The easy way or the most fluid or organic way happens when you have musicianship - the musicality to hear ideas before you start playing. You have to imagine some other melody on top of the original melody. This is what improvisation is all about. Come out with a new melody on top of the other one and a new one and a new one and a new one. It's a cycle. To really let your imagination flow you cannot be dealing at the same time with lack of command of your instrument. Any instrument.
When you see people like Charlie Parker, Dizzy, Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson - you hear no limitation at all. What you hear is people who are doing exactly what they want to do. The skill they have allows them to do anything they want at any moment. Some people in the jazz business are very confused about the word technique. Technique is something we need on any instrument to be able to play well, to play in tune. Technique is not synonymous with speed. Some people believe that technique is facility or something like that - as if you are so virtuosic just by playing fast. No. A long tone with a good sound and with a perfect pitch - that's good technique also. The position of your finger on the piano. That's a good technique. It's so many things, but all those things help you when you want to improvise. To don't even think about what you have to do to do with the phrase. You do it because it's easy for you.
Listen to a lot of music. Listen and listen all the time. Listen listen. Copy people - yes. Yes, copy their phrases and learn the phrases and learn the language. Of course, later on you don't necessarily need to be a copy cat of somebody else because that's boring. That's stupid. That's not gonna give you a good reputation. As much as I love Dizzy, I don't spend all my life trying to play like him.
You've said before that sound is something that is your foremost priority. What do you do everyday to work on your sound quality?
Long tones. You have to cultivate the sound. You have to really take care of the quality of the sound, and listen to every single note, and make sure that's the best note you could play until you are not positive about it you have to keep working on it until you hear the purity of the sound. Sound which is big, I'm not talking about loud, I'm talking about big sound, and good in tune, and you hear all the harmonics and all the things around that specific note that are there.
What have been some of the biggest struggles of your career?
I know that a lot of things happened to me, but I don't remember. I don't want to remember.
Because history... we have no control over. That's gone. Whatever we're doing in this moment now... we have a certain amount of control. Whatever is gonna happen tomorrow... we have no control of. It's in the hands of God.
THE MONSTER ROUND
A series of rapid-fire questions that must be answered with quick, short answers.
Best conductor you've ever worked with?
I don't recall.
Least favorite instrument?
Least favorite? Oh my goodness..... contra bassoon.
If I could give you any car in the world right now, which one would you pick?
Porsche 911 Turbo.
Blondes or brunettes?
Either way. Either way.
One and two or third valve?
G of the second line in the staff.
What was your best sport growing up if you played any sports?
Baseball. I played for years.
Mountains or beach for vacations?
Cigars or scotch?
What's your favorite cigar?
Fuente. Arturo Fuente.
If you could travel back in time to any concert that ever happened, which one would it be?
Any one of those concerts with Dizzy Gillespie.
How are you?
Me? Oh I think I'm doing okay. I'm fine.
Nicest hotel you've ever stayed at?
Fairmont here in Boston.
On a scale of one to ten, how handsome are you?
When I was young I used to be, but not anymore man. I'm 65 years old. So...
I don't know, three?
High notes or low notes?
Rhythm or intonation?
Oh my goodness. Intonation.
Super Bowl or World Cup?
World Cup of soccer? I prefer the soccer because American football, I'm sorry I don't even understand the game.
If you joined the circus, what would be your specialty.
If I joined a circus? Oh I would love to be the owner of the circus.
Maynard or Faddis?
Maynard 100%. No...150%.
What's your favorite movie?
Shawshank Redemption. All the way the music's beautiful.
What's your favorite jazz standard?
Body and Soul.
What's the best military band in the world? The United States Coast Guard Band or one of the other ones?
The United States Coast Guard Band is the greatest band in the history of man and will remain so until the end of time.
(Interviewers Note: Okay, okay. Arturo didn't ACTUALLY say this, but we're SURE that he was thinking it. Maybe he was thinking it... possibly thinking it. Probably not.)
Favorite cartoon character?
Name one musician alive or dead who you've never collaborated with, but you would like to.
Oh I really would love to play with Oscar Peterson.
What's the most amount of cigars you've smoked in one day?
Location of your first kiss?
My home town where I grew up.
All right pop quiz. Who has released more albums, you or Herb Alpert?
(Interviewers Note: We informed him that Herb Alpert actually has more albums. 50 to be precise and that he has 32. At which time he responded as follows...)
How many albums he released? 50?