Cuba lost out on one of its greatest jazz talents when Arturo Sandoval defected from the Communist nation to the US while on tour in Spain in 1990. Sandoval has since gone on to receive numerous accolades for his music, including 10 Grammy awards, 6 Billboard Awards, and even an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Music Composition” for the biographical film treatment of his own life (“For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story”). In 2013, Sandoval received the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom,’ the highest civilian award one can receive in the United States where he resides and has been a proud citizen since 1999.
As a headliner for the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Sandoval filled the Vogue Theatre to capacity playing rapid-fire licks on the trumpet like few other trumpeters can—though many try to emulate his style and abilities. It’s a tall order because Sandoval is an immense jazz talent, both as a soloist, composer, and band leader, supported by a group of talented musicians from a drummer and double bassist, to pianist, sax player and another percussionist.
Sandoval entertained the crowd with foot-tapping works full of complex rhythms, revealing a great sense of humor in the process as he shifted seamlessly between banter about travel and his personal life with performances on trumpet, keyboards, grand piano, drums, and his own singing voice.
Cuban and Latin rhythms filled the evening in an energetic concert that kept members of the audience on the edge of their seats, with a few slower works to display Sandoval’s skills on the grand piano and to showcase his own vocal stylings. Sandoval’s musical versatility was unmistakable with advanced keyboard ability fused with percussion, trumpet, and vocalization in familiar jazz classics and his own compositions.
Although renowned the world over for his trumpet skill, he humorously revealed his actual preference for the piano and a love/hate relationship with the brass instrument that is his main claim to fame. Despite his love-hate relationship with the trumpet, few can play it as well as Sandoval, who hit notes with rapid-fire precision in all conceivable registers. Combined with the rest of his musical talents (keyboard, percussion, and vocal), Sandoval more than proved why he deserved all of those Grammy Awards and other accolades.
Sandoval closed off the evening with two encores—‘Smile,’ a melody composed by Charlie Chaplin and lyrics added by others years later, and an epic rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz classic, ‘A Night in Tunisia,’ with samples of what sounded very much like ‘Hava Nagila’ towards the end of the jazz standard composed by his former mentor, proving what hardly needed proving—Sandoval’s seemingly unmatched mastery of the trumpet and the consummate performer’s innate ability to leave an audience wanting more.
While Cuba may have lost a huge talent, the international musical stage—which included the Vogue Theatre on Monday night—ultimately derived the greatest benefit because Sandoval’s ability to entertain is undeniable.