A blazing, technically flawless trumpeter from Cuba, Arturo Sandoval has been dazzling audiences all over the world with his supercharged tone and bop-flavored flurries way up in the trumpet's highest register. In slower numbers, he sports a golden, mellow tone on the flügelhorn, marked with a sure, subtle sense of swing. Apparently he is capable of playing anything, proving it more than once by tackling classical repertoire as well as jazz in the same concert, and he has enough curiosity to search far beyond his Cubop base for repertoire. Yet he often lets his desire to please the crowd with high-note displays get in the way of musical values, and he has yet to make a great record that can stand with those trumpet giants that have preceded him.
The son of an auto mechanic, Sandoval took up the classical trumpet at 12 and was enrolled in the Cuban National School of the Arts at 15, studying with a Russian classical trumpeter. Early in the 1970s, he became one of the founding members of the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna, which by 1973 had evolved into the Afro-Cuban, rock-influenced band Irakere. Sandoval met his idol Dizzy Gillespie in 1977, who promptly became a mentor and colleague, playing with Sandoval in concerts in Europe and Cuba and later featuring him in the United Nation Orchestra. After recording an album with David Amram, Havana/New York, and a couple of high-profile Irakere albums on Columbia, Sandoval left the group in 1981 to tour with his own band and record in Cuba. Occasionally, the Castro government would allow Sandoval to appear in various international jazz festivals and with orchestras like the BBC Symphony and Leningrad Philharmonic. Though he chafed under a regime that restricted his touring, Sandoval bided his time until he could get his wife and son out of Cuba, and only then, in July 1990 during a long European tour, did he defect at the American Embassy in Rome, settling in Florida.