Sunday, August 10, 2014

Arturo helps a father and son bond

"My father was a car mechanic. We lived with a dirt floor; we were literally dirt poor. But, it was good. It makes me appreciate everything in my life." — Arturo Sandoval

DEAR indulgent reader: If you read anything I write, you are a patient friend. This post is a bit long, but do read all the way to the bottom for the pay off.

August 2 was the second day of Des Moines' first-ever jazz festival, and it really was a "day" of music — a full eight-plus hours.

First up was the Steve Grismore trio. Steve is a lecturer at the University of Iowa School of Music. He's been playing the guitar for over 45 years and has degrees from the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles and the University of Iowa. 

Chris Merz and his Hands of Time Quartet followed. Chris is a professor of jazz studies at the University of Northern Iowa School of Music. Both Steve and Chris are long-time jazz pals of Paul.

Chris Merz and The Hands of Time.

The Des Moines Big Band was next in line. Directed by Jim Oatts, this band has existed for 52 years, and Paul has been playing in it for 21 of those years.

The Des Moines Big Band with Paul and Dave Bohl dueting.

Paul soloing with Steve Charlson on bass.

Following the Des Moines Big Band was jazz vocalist and pianist, Patricia Barber, whom neither Paul nor I had heard or heard of before. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about her:

Patricia "was born to parents who were both professional musicians; her father is Floyd "Shim" Barber, a former member of Glenn Miller's Band. Raised in South Sioux City, Nebraska, her music is centered on her singing in a fairly low register and a traditional blues-jazz style, and her piano playing is technically accomplished. Her repertoire includes original compositions and standards drawn mostly from classic rock. She is known for imbuing her songs with intelligence and a wide and unusual vocabulary, which results in complex and witty lyrics."

The penultimate act was sax-man Damani Phillips backed by organist Pat Bianchi, drummer Byron Landham and trumpeter Greg Gisbert. Damani, who has played with the Des Moines Big Band in years past, now lives in Iowa City where he's an assistant professor of jazz and African-American studies. He's not only a first-rate sax player, but a great scat singer as well. 

Pat Bianchi is based out of New York City, and in 2010 Downbeat magazine named him one of the 10 best jazz organists. Paul thought Philadelphia drummer Byron Landham was the bomb, and I really enjoyed Greg's Gisbert's classic, clean and as Paul described it, "big fat trumpet" sound. Greg has played with Buddy Rich, Woody Herman's band, John Fedchock, Maria Schneider, Gary Burton, Lew Anderson, Mingus Epitaph, Clark Terry, Chuck Bergeron and other big names.

Damani's group played Saturday and Sunday, and below are pictures from both nights.

Damani singing scat.
Damani and Greg Gisbert.
Philly drummer Byron Landham.
Greg and organist Pat Bianchi.

Ah, then the piece de resistance: the master — Arturo Sandoval. Arturo has been nominated for Grammy awards 19 times and won 10, received six Billboard Awards and one Emmy, and in 2013 he was honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the United States, presented to him by President Barack Obama

If you don't already know, Arturo is a polymath. He plays the trumpet and flugelhorn — jazz as well as classical — piano, percussion, and he sings both regular voice singing and incredible scat. 

You might not guess that Cuba has a robust and rigorous musical education system. As an FYI I've included the below short excerpt taken from an Ontario, Canada music school's website:

"Cuba is unique in their music education. Students begin their professional training in the third or fifth grade depending on the instrument. A large amount of sight singing and ear training is employed from an early age, and a lot of rote learning and movement is used in their teaching methodology. Schools have very high curricular standards and expectations for their music students. Although supplies for music are extremely difficult to obtain including printed music and quality instruments, Cuba continues to produce incredible musicians."

Rather than me doing a bad job of trying to summarize Arturo's life, read the below August 12, 2012 article from Fox News Latino written by Rebekah Sager. (I promise this will be the ONLY time I ever quote Fox News about anything, but it's most revealing.) It's followed by excerpts from an August 20, 2013 NPR interview with Arturo

With a new album and tour dedicated to the musician he idolized, legendary trumpeter Arturo Sandoval recalls being 28 years old and meeting the man who would change his life.

The Cuban-born trumpet master heard Dizzy Gillepsie was coming to Cuba as part of a tour in 1977, and he offered to drive Gillespie around while he was on the island.

“When I met him, it was like a gift from God.  He changed my life with his friendship and support,” Sandoval said recently. “He encouraged me to always keep trying, practicing, and learning.”

With Sandoval’s latest album titled "Dear Diz, (Everyday I Think Of You,)" he wanted to show just how much he was in awe of Gillespie and of HIS art form.  

"My hero was Dizzy and he embraced everybody," Sandoval said. "He gave everyone an equal opportunity. The last thing he did was the United Nations Band, and there were players from all over the world in that band.”

Sandoval’s Start

Born in Artemisa, Cuba, in 1949, Sandoval started his musical career playing the snare drum in his school’s marching band.

"My father was a car mechanic," he said. "We lived with a dirt floor; we were literally dirt poor. But, it was good. It makes me appreciate everything in my life."

When he heard the trumpet the first time, he knew he had to play it. 

At 15, he began his classical music training at the prestigious Cuban National School of Arts. A year later, he earned a place in Cuba’s All-Star National Band. The day Sandoval met a young Cuban journalist was the day he says everything came together for him.

“He asked me if I’d heard of Jazz music. I said ‘no’. He played me Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. And that was it. I thought I have to learn that so bad. I taught myself,” says Sandoval.

But listening to foreign music had its costs.  

 “They put me in jail for three months for listening to the voice of the enemy,” Sandoval says. At the time, Sandoval was serving his military service.

Sandoval ended up defecting Cuba in 1990 from Spain while he was touring with Gillespie, a heart-wrenching decision for him. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1999.

Ironically, it was Gillespie, who he had met decades before on the island, who helped him leave his country. The documentary, “For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story,” which starred Andy Garcia, dramatized Gillespie’s role in helping Sandoval arrive in the U.S.

He lived in Miami for 20 years to be close to his parents, but Sandoval and his family eventually moved to Southern California.  

“I can never go back to Cuba," he says. "I’m not allowed to go back.”

The iconic musician says that for him it’s hard to understand and difficult to explain the repression of Cuba. 

"No one loves this country more than me--the same maybe, but no one more," he said. "I’ve said it again and again, no freedom no life.”          

A Lost Tradition

Sandoval, considered one of the legendary Cuban jazz artists in recent history, now teaches at universities and privately, but worries about losing his beloved music over time.

“We are losing this musical tradition—it’s at risk of disappearing. The greats are mostly gone—Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown. Fewer and fewer media outlets cover jazz," said Sandoval. "I believe it’s the most important art form created in this country." 

He said it would be a crime if music is not preserved.

These excerpts from an NPR interview tell more about his imprisonment and his devotion to Dizzy Gillespie.

On growing up loving jazz in Cuba

"We used to listen every day, every single day, [to] Voice of America. [It] was a shortwave radio program, and they play everything in jazz music. That was the only way we have to hear that kind of music and to be connected with the music we love. I was in the obligatory military service for three years when the sergeant [caught] me listen[ing] to the Voice of America, and then they put me in jail because I was listening to the voice of enemies."

On meeting Dizzy Gillespie for the first time

"I was dying to meet him. Finally we get together and [at] that time I couldn't speak any English at all ... but we connected so well since the very first moment that I drove him and I showed [him] the city for the first time. I never told him I was a musician myself. When he saw me with a trumpet in my hand and he said 'Hey! What [is] my driver doing with a trumpet?' Somebody said, 'No he's a trumpet player.' He said, 'No no, he's my driver.' That was the very beginning of our friendship and collaboration."

On the legacy of jazz

"I always say that jazz is the most important art form created in this country. We have to really be aware of that — that we have to carry that legacy and let everybody, [the] younger generation, that this is a beautiful music created in this country [with a] wonderful legacy and also big recognition and prestige [from] all over the world. You know the people love and admire and respect jazz immensely. [There] isn't any place on earth where the people don't know about jazz.

And last, but so definitely not least, here's a text message that Paul received a few days after the jazz festival. It's very touching.


I wanted to send a quick note to say thanks for your work associated with the Jazz Under the Canopy last weekend. I was able to catch the last three concerts on Saturday, and it was very enjoyable.  

Since you're the guy who I think did much of the booking, I thought I would share an anecdote with you. I went to the concerts with my father who is not a jazz guy at all. His familiarity largely begins and ends with listening to Glenn Miller. As the Arturo Sandoval performance unfolded, he continued to nudge me and ask what I could tell him about Arturo. He was mesmerized. My 77 year old Dad and I have been talking of little else since that concert. I downloaded all of the Sandoval stuff I could find on his computer, and he is listening to it day and night. We had one of the most memorable nights of our lives at that concert. It is thanks to people like you that Des Moines provides these types of opportunities.   

I would be interested in pitching in on future of events of that type if you could use any help. Again, thanks for your part in a great night between a father and son and for helping turn a 77 year old guy onto some great music.


P** K******

Arturo Sandoval.

 As you would expect, all of the musicians in Arturo's group were absolutely phenomenal, but even so, 
I'm not sure his sax player is of this planet.
Arturo was generous enough to call Greg Gisbert, the trumpeter in 
Damani Phillips' group, up on stage to play with him.

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