Interviews / Music News & Info: Rock, Jazz, World Music, etc.

A chat with Arturo Sandoval about tonight’s holiday concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Arturo Sandoval returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall tonight to help everyone get into the holiday spirit in his own Latin-infused jazz style. Last week, funk/jazz musician Matt TC Lucas and I had the pleasure to chat with the legendary trumpeter about the concert and more. Here is much of that conversation:

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CK Dexter Haven:  It’s great to talk to you again after almost four years. The last time we had a conversation, the world was in a very different place.  How has it been for you since the Covid-19 pandemic started?

Arturo Sandoval:  I’ll tell you that the 18 months that I was without playing a gig was horrible.  That was the worst time of my life.  I couldn’t believe it.  I’ve been playing music for 50 years non-stop, and to be 18 months without playing a single gig?  That was a pain in the butt!

But I didn’t waste that time.  I used it.  I was here in the studio, starting to do new compositions and I did around 500 videos of new music I wrote and I shared it on new media for free for everyone.  I also did covers of tunes I never had the opportunity to record before. 

I also did a new album that’ll be out very soon with twelve new pieces.  I’m looking forward to the release to see how the people embrace that.

CKDH:  Is that going to be with your regular combo or a big band?

AS:  That recording will be with my regular band, seven piece, that I usually use for my gigs.  But this thing at Disney Hall is gonna be like a 20-piece band, a beautiful big band.

I got a few guests coming as well, including Esteban Batallán, the Principal Trumpet of the Chicago Symphony who’ll be flying in to play a song I wrote for him just for this occasion.

CKDH:  He’s a beast of a player!

AS:  It’s so hard following in the footsteps of Bud Herseth, the best orchestral trumpet player ever, in that job.  He’s fantastic.

CKDH:  That’s awesome that you’ve got such great relationships with principal trumpets at big orchestras.  You and Tom Hooten of the LA Phil have become good friends.

AS:  Oh yes!

You know, I’m gonna tell you something:  Tom Hooten, another three members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and I were gonna put together a brass quintet.  We were planning on playing a couple of pieces in the show, but unfortunately, the union interfered with that.  We have no budget to pay them and they were willing to do it for free, but the union doesn’t permit that.  That’s a shame.

CKDH:  I had a chance to talk to Tom recently, and he made a point of saying how you helped him loosen up and play with more freedom.

AS:  Really?  Wow.  When we get together we talk about so many different things, and I’m surprised that he’d say that I helped him to loosen up.  Me help him?  He’s the master!  He’s amazing, you know.  He’s got such an ability to play the horn.

He’s helped me more than I’ve helped him.  He’s really helped me with my approach to classical music.

CKDH:  There are obvious differences in trumpet playing between classical and jazz players, but what are the things you took from him or from classical musicians in general?

AS:  My approach to practicing is [taken] from classical music.  After that, music is music.  I don’t care who wrote it, when, or how.  [He laughs].  To be prepared to work music wise, for me the classical approach to practicing is the best.  It works for me even though classical music isn’t what I do most of the time.

But I do it once in a while.  For example, in February, I’m going to do four concerts [with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra] in the New York area, one of them at Carnegie Hall.  I’m very excited about them.  I’ll be playing the premiere of my new trumpet concerto along with other pieces that I’ll play.

Matt TC Lucas: Sounds exciting.  You aren’t a stranger to playing big halls like Carnegie or Disney.  The last time you played Disney Hall with your big band, it was also for a holiday concert.  How do you approach putting together a holiday program and keeping it fresh and interesting when you’ve done so many of them in the past?

AS:  That’s a good question.  I try to mix it up a little bit; don’t leave out anything you can do.  I’m going to do some standards mixed with some Cuban music.  On this occasion, 70% of the music will be Christmas music but arranged specifically for this band.  The rest, we’ll mix it up a little bit to have some fun, so if people want to get up and dance, that’d be nice! 

I try to entertain them as much as I can. . . . My approach is to try give the people a little joy, especially since times have been a bit sad, to try to motivate them to get ready for the season. 

CKDH:  You’ve played so many performances of music that people know, whether it’s Christmas music or other jazz and pop standards.  What makes a particular arrangement interesting to you?

AS:  When I do a well-known piece that someone else wrote, I strictly play the melody straight.  I don’t like to mess with it at first.  Later, when you have the chance to do the improvisational part and open up for a solo, you have the freedom to do something else but always respecting the original melody.

MTCL: So how important is it to you to do reharmonization or to create something more abstract?

AS:  That’s always valid to do reharmonization without affecting the melody.  You can do different approaches, that’s okay, that’s part of creativity — as long as it doesn’t affect the original melody.

MTCL:  In terms of how the melody comes through, is it a different approach in arranging the melody when there are vocals — like when you decided to record with the Notre Dame ensembles with different vocalists and choirs — than when there are just horns playing? 

AS:  Oh, you know, when you have the possibility to use a choir or singer, that’s much better because you have the ability to project the full meaning of the piece.  When we have just instrumentalists, we are a little more limited in that way.  It’s important that they do it in a way that develops the whole range of emotions that the song has. 

CKDH:  So to help you achieve that in this concert, how many different horns will you be playing?

AS:  Just two, both B-flat.  One of them has a huge bell and a big bore, like a 0.470” bore, made in England by Leigh Mckinney.  A great guy there.

I’m also gonna play my regular horn, the one I call “Frankenstein.”  I put it together years ago from three different horns.  When I came up with the idea in Miami many years ago, the guy I asked to do it said, “You’re crazy, you’re gonna screw up three good horns for this experiment.”  And I said, “Okay, now go ahead and do what I want.” 

When I first picked it up, it was still rough and soldered, but I played a few notes and said, “Yes!”  I love that horn!

The big one is to play more mellow, and I use a different mouthpiece, a big and deep mouthpiece.  I call that my fluffy sound.  I love it for ballads.  The other one is for the rest of the stuff.

CKDH:  Well, we’ll look forward to hearing both horns Tuesday night.  Thank you so much for your time! AS:  Thank you too — great talking to you again!

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Photo credits:

  • Arturo Sandoval: Steve Parent care of the artist’s Facebook page
  • Tom Hooten and Arturo Sandoval: YouTube screen capture

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