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Days With Dizzy: Arturo Sandoval On His Trumpet Mentor
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Days With Dizzy: Arturo Sandoval On His Trumpet Mentor


And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And it's time now for music.


RAZ: Dizzy Gillespie was an inspiration to generations of musicians, including our next guest, Cuban-born trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.


RAZ: Arturo Sandoval first met Dizzy Gillespie in Havana in 1977 when the American jazz man came to Cuba to play a concert. Sandoval showed him around the city where the two men listened to sounds of rumba music echoing through Havana's black neighborhoods. That night, Arturo Sandoval managed to play his trumpet for Dizzy Gillespie, and the Cuban jazz man blew Dizzy away. It was the start of a friendship that lasted until Gillespie's death in 1993.

Arturo Sandoval's latest record pays tribute to Dizzy Gillespie as a mentor and a friend. It's called "Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You)." And Arturo Sandoval joins us now from our studios at NPR West. Welcome to the program. Great to have you.

ARTURO SANDOVAL: Yes. Hello, how are you? Thank you so much for having me here today.

RAZ: Thank you, indeed. First, Havana that night in 1977, he didn't know you were a musician at all, right?

SANDOVAL: I was embarrassed to tell him I was a musician. Actually, somebody called me - let me tell the whole story, because it's very interesting. Somebody called me from the musician union. He called me: Arturo, I'm calling you because I know you're a big fan of Dizzy Gillespie. He's going to come this afternoon to Havana. And he was doing a jazz cruise through the Caribbean. I went to the harbor, and I was waiting there, finally, I saw my man coming downstairs. I said to myself, I said: Oh, my goodness. And now, what I'm going to do? I cannot say a word in English. At that time, I couldn't speak any English, zero, nothing. It was nothing.

But I was so lucky because a guy was behind him and started to talk to me in Spanish. It was a percussionist by the name of Ray Mantilla, and he was playing Los Tangas(ph). He started to talk to me in Spanish, and he asked me: Do you know this man? I say: Of course, yes. I never met him in person, but I know who he is. And he said: Are you a musician? I said: No. No.


SANDOVAL: And then he say right away: Do you have a car? I say: Yes, I have a little car. At that time, I have a Primus, 1951. I just paint it with a brush with tar and gasoline because my father had me to do it. And that car was horrible. And the passenger door doesn't open and he have to get through the driver door. And then he said: This car is horrible. This is Russian car? I said: No. It's a Primus. And then he said: OK. Show me Havana. I never been here before. That was his very first visit to Cuba. You know, a lot of people, we thought he went there so many times before. But, no, that was the very first. It was May, '77.

RAZ: And so you played for him that night. What did he say? What did he think?

SANDOVAL: Oh, he was laughing, because I knew a bunch of his lines, you know, his phrasing and things like that. And he was laughing and laughing and laughing because he was so surprised, because he saw me as his driver, you know, the guy who was showing him the city.


SANDOVAL: And not only was I a musician, I was a trumpet player, you know? And the whole day, we spent together, I felt embarrassed to tell him I was a trumpet player. But I was so lucky because we became such a close, close friend, and he was my mentor, my - he encouraged me so much. He gave me so many opportunities over the years. And actually, when I have the opportunity to came to live here forever, he was really crucial, instrumental in that move.


RAZ: Talk about taking this music, the music of Dizzy Gillespie, and putting your stamp on it, rearranging it. How did you, sort of, think about how to do that and still, you know, pay tribute to him but also showcase what you do?

SANDOVAL: It's 11 tunes. Ten of them, they're Dizzy compositions. There's only one I wrote - it's a ballad - I wrote for him. The rest is his music. But the thing which is very particular in this record is the arrangement. It's - I really say the arrangers and everybody put their effort on the 100 percent to really pay tribute to one of our biggest hero in jazz.


RAZ: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with trumpeter Arturo Sandoval about his latest recording. It's called "Dear Diz." And it's a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. Arturo Sandoval, so much of Dizzy Gillespie's performance was human and fun-loving. It was uplifting. It was something you could feel, you know, even if you weren't familiar with music at all. How much of that did you sort of take with you in the way you perform as a musician and a band leader?


SANDOVAL: I really paid so much attention to everything in detail, little things he used to do, you know? And the most important thing I learned from him is love for music. He really loved music, and he have such a great time every time he get an opportunity to play and to perform for people or talk about music with you and then sit down at the piano and try to put some chords and some things together. He enjoyed every second of it, you know, and that's the best thing, it's the most important thing that I took from him, you know, the passion and love for music.


SANDOVAL: (Singing) Every day of my life, I think of you. And when I blow my horn, I think of you. If I could say how much you mean to me, I have no words to express my love for you. Your music plays inside my head...

RAZ: Every day you think of him. And when you blow your horn, you think of him. It's been almost 20 years since Dizzy Gillespie died, Arturo...


RAZ: ...and yet every day, you think of him.

SANDOVAL: He died January 6, 1993.

RAZ: And every day, every day.

SANDOVAL: That's very true, because, you know - also, it's funny, because when I put the horn on my mouth and try to improvise or do something, I always look up, you know, and I say this, what about that? It's OK, or I should change that? Or give me something, please.


RAZ: Does he ever answer you?

SANDOVAL: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, in my dreams and - yeah, of course, man. Yeah. You listen to him again and again and again.

RAZ: As a child in Cuba dreaming about what your life would become, could you ever have imagined that not only would you know your hero but he would become your friend and you would become who you became?

SANDOVAL: That was probably only a dream, but not - no more than a dream. I couldn't imagine anything because I grew up in the middle of the countryside of the island. I mean, in the middle of nowhere, you know? My family, nobody have nothing to do with music at all. My father was a car mechanic. And it was a very, very, very extremely poor family. And I couldn't see the horizon in front of me at all, at all. But, you know, it doesn't matter what you think when you try. And I have a strong belief in God, and I think God have plans for you.

RAZ: Well, Arturo Sandoval, thank you so much for talking with us.

SANDOVAL: Thank you.

RAZ: That's the jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. His new record, a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, is called "Dear Diz." You can hear a few tracks at our website,


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