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Born in 1949 in a town outside Havana, Sandoval started playing with street musicians as a 12-year-old boy. He dabbled in percussion and piano, but his love for the trumpet took over. Along with others in Cuba’s fledgling jazz community, he helped establish the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna in 1967. Orquesta members including Sandoval eventually founded the jazz-rock group Irakere.
A not-so-chance meeting in 1977 with jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie — Sandoval offered to drive the virtuoso around town — launched a mentorship that shaped both his bebop and Afro-Cuban sound and his life.
Sandoval discovered the percussive innovations of bebop when he was 13 after listening to a Charlie Parker-Gillespie collaboration. But after they met, Gillespie provided a rigorous “listening” list for his protégé. Sandoval considers bebop one of the most important movements in jazz history.
Arturo Sandoval - Peanut Vendor (El manisero)
“I’m still in love with that kind of music,” Sandoval says. “It’s not easy. It’s very difficult. You need to think very fast. The chord changes very quickly. It takes a lot of skill.”
It was while on a tour in 1990 with the United Nations Orchestra at Gillespie’s invitation that Sandoval, his wife and teenage son were able to defect.
At the time, he was considered Cuba’s Louis Armstrong, but Sandoval felt stifled, his performances limited by the whims of Cuba’s communist government. Once he settled in America, Sandoval set out to break those bounds, playing with famous and obscure musicians alike and recording at a brisk pace, sometimes releasing multiple albums a year.
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