We talks to the Cuban-American trumpeter Arturo Sandoval about smoking cigars from the Dominican Republic rather than from his home country, about needing to practice at least two to three hours every day to keep up his embouchure, about being picked as a tour guide for his idol Dizzy Gillespie when he visited Havana for the first time, and how Dizzy eventually invited him to join his orchestra, as well as about the lack of appreciation for jazz he feels when in the US as compared to elsewhere in the world.
One of the foremost trumpet blowers in modern jazz is also skilled at puffing away at his daily cigars.
Arturo Sandoval grew up in Cuba, but he touts the superiority of brands from the Dominican Republic, which he said surpassed the cigar quality of his native country many years ago.
He prefers the Arturo Fuente variety, a third-generation company whose owner, Carlito Fuente, is Sandoval’s best friend.
Sandoval acknowledges his habit isn’t healthy, but he isn’t about to quit.
“I don’t want to say it’s good for a trumpet player to smoke,” he said. “But I started smoking cigars at 14 years old and now I’m 69, and I’m still smoking. And I love it.”
Sandoval practices two to three hours every day that he doesn’t have a gig. If he didn’t keep up a rigorous regimen, he said, he would start to lose his skills within a few days.
Coming of age in Fidel Castro-era Cuba, Sandoval’s music education came from several smuggled records, including “Bird and Diz,” a collaborative jazz album between trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker.
“I still remember that day as a big impression, when I listened to that kind of music I never heard before,” Sandoval said.
From there, he listened to U.S. international radio broadcast Voice of America, which kept him updated on the latest jazz in the States.
Tuning into the program was illegal, however, and Sandoval ended up in jail for several months.
After performing with the Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music at age 16, where he started at sixth trumpet and moved up to first, Sandoval and several of the orchestra’s musicians formed Irakere, a Cuban-jazz band that won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Album in 1980.
While with Irakere, Sandoval was picked to play tour guide to his idol, Dizzy Gillespie, when the famous trumpeter visited Havana for the first time. Sandoval, who spoke no English at the time, drove Gillespie around the city, never telling him about his own musical achievements.
When Gillespie saw Sandoval at a gig that evening, trumpet in hand, he couldn’t believe his driver doubled as a world-class musician and invited the young trumpeter to join his orchestra.
“I always considered that a gift from God, to be able to play with your hero and the guy you admire so much,” Sandoval said.
With more than 30 albums as a bandleader, Sandoval — who became a U.S. citizen in 1998 — often collaborates with younger artists, both live and on his records.
On his latest album “Ultimate Duets,” Sandoval enlisted youthful pop singer Ariana Grande in the steamy Cuban dance tune “Arturo Sandoval” and Spanish television star David Bisbal for the soaring pop ballad “El Ruido.”
Jazz vocalist Jane Monheit, 40, will join him for the Jazz & Rib Fest performance.
Sandoval sees the genre as the most important art form created in the United States and has taken it upon himself to ensure its longevity.
“When you travel around the world you see how much the people love jazz and how much the people appreciate it and enjoy (it),” he said. “It’s outrageous, you know, because it’s not the same thing over here. That’s not nice.”
In 2012, he founded the Arturo Sandoval Institute to give financial aid and performance opportunities to music students.
A year later, then-President Barack Obama awarded the musician the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to jazz and Cuban music.
As long as he can blow into his instrument, Sandoval plans to continue raising a ruckus in support of the music he risked his safety to play.
“It’s our obligation and mission to get it promoted, (to) let everybody know how important it is to share our music as a cultural contribution to the world,” he said.