O, Arturo—O, Sandoval!
Walking into the World Music Institute’s recent concert at the 92nd Street Y, you knew right away that something BIG was going to happen. The stage was packed with things that go bang in the night: conga drums, snare drums, bongos, claves, maracas, three electric keyboards (with attachments for Latin bells and whistles), a piano, a few guitars and trumpets, and loudspeakers and wires. Many wires. If I’m leaving anything out, it’s because before the inventory was completed the lights dimmed, the applause began, and suddenly they were there in the shadows—sidemen and conspirators
—slipping into place among their instruments. Then he was there—Arturo Sandoval himself—undisputed trumpet, keyboard, guitar and percussion meister and, yes, a man of many moves.
From his personal space he dreamily played a few notes on the electric keyboard and, as seamlessly as they had appeared on the stage, the band was with him. Blowing, plucking, striking, fingering, their music flowed by. Standards alternated with Latin classics summoned by fans and countrymen calling out from the audience, joining in a collective swoon. Sandoval moved from genre to genre, from instrument to instrument like a Cuban Pied Piper; wherever he went, everyone followed. The sound of cooking rose from the stage as the evening’s gifts were built to a master plan of his devising. It was the building (as much as the cooking) that defined the program. Because it’s not just about being able to play virtually any instrument in any style or any key, or being able to dance nimbly ditto (often while playing one or more instruments), but about being a born entertainer. So Sandoval’s offerings were brilliantly calibrated between fast and slow, classics and cutting-edge, chestnuts and original compositions, as they shape-shifted to keep the audience close. And, like most great performers, he revels in the connection he spins and keeps alive until the last note of the last encore and the fervant applause.
Sandoval is no ordinary musical genius; born in Cuba in 1949, he studied classical trumpet, served in the Army cleaning barracks while making music at night, and trying every way he could to develop his musical ambitions. After meeting and bonding with Dizzie Gillespie in Havana in 1977, he joined Paquito De’Rivera and Chucho Valdez to found the Afro-Cuban band Irakere a year later. Gillespie continued to spread the word about Sandoval’s talent and to include him on many of his own international tours. On one of them, in 1990, Sandoval decided to leave Cuba and to live permanently in the United States. Since then, he has racked up astonishing numbers: a search of the Internet serves up over 40 albums; collaborations with pop and jazz icons of every genre; titles of 16 movie and TV scores (including one for the HBO biopic For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story, starring Andy Garcia); an original ballet score choreographed by Debbie Allen; and a trumpet concerto album with the London Symphony that includes his own classical concerto. Oh, and there’s the memoir (Dizzy Gillespie: The Man Who Changed My Life), the books on trumpet technique, the Oscars, Grammies, and Billboard Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That about sums it up.
Meantime, at the Y, he ran the gamut of his limitless repertoire, giving the adoring crowd a medley of seasonal favorites punctuated by a brief account of his first American gig at Carnegie Hall (straight off the plane and onto the stage) and a display of his monumental technique: first on the trumpet, with a tribute to Maynard Ferguson, then on the piano with a composition of his own, smiling as he scorched the entire keyboard and—somewhere in between—launched the sassiest. most original, anarchic and exhilarating version of Peanut Vendor, ever. There were, of course, a few encores (part of the master plan) and, finally, a valedictory to the audience: “When you go home tonight,” he implored, “instead of watching TV, download the lyrics to this song and you will sleep so well! And you will smile when you wake up…”
Then he raised his trumpet to his lips one last time and played Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”, pulling out all the stops. Shameless? Yes, but it did the job, moving everyone out into the street smiling, their tears mingling with the falling rain.
Arturo Sandoval will be on the road, coming back this way at the Blue Note in late spring: http://arturosandoval.com/home/tour/. And the World Music Insitute and its new artistic director, Par Neiburger, will have some surprises up their collective sleeve for the rest of their 30th anniversary season:
http://www.worldmusicinstitute.org/. It’s a win-win situation.