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Find out what jazz great Arturo Sandoval believes is the 'most important thing in life'

Arturo Sandoval receives the Medal of Freedom award from then-President Barack Obama.
Arturo Sandoval receives the Medal of Freedom award from then-President Barack Obama.
Jeff Metcalf

SALT LAKE CITY — On Jan. 6, award-winning musician and composer Arturo Sandoval brings his explosive mixture of bebop, classical jazz and traditional Cuban music to the Capitol Theatre in celebration of Jazz SLC’s 23rd season.

“Having Arturo Sandoval open the new year is such a coup for the Salt Lake jazz series,” said Gordon Hanks, founder of the Jazz SLC series. “We began working on this a couple of years ago and when Arturo finally had an opening, we jumped at the chance to bring him to the state. It’s a gift on so many levels.”

With 10 Grammys, six Billboard Awards, the 2015 Hispanic Heritage Award, an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the University of Notre Dame and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, it would be hard to deny that Sandoval is one of the most talented and multifaceted jazz musicians in the world. It’s all pretty heady stuff but Sandoval takes it in stride — and remains humble.

“The fact I’ve had this tremendous success is because I was able to come to this great country," said Sandoval in a phone interview. "(But) it almost didn’t happen.”

“I loved the sound of the trumpet," he said. "It whispers and can be very soft and tender, but it can also create some big powerful noise.”

By the time he was 12, Sandoval was busking and playing the trumpet with street musicians in Havana. Ultimately, his curiosity about the potential of expanding his musical universe led him to help establish the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna featuring contemporary Cuban music.

Sandoval’s continuous exploration of the roots and heritage of Cuban music was the impetus for him establishing his own band Irakere. Immediately successful for its fusion of genres, the band began a worldwide tour. It was during these early tours that Sandoval’s life changed.

“Dizzy was always one of my idols. He came to Cuba in 1977 to play a concert and I got a chance to meet him and show him around town," Sandoval recalled. "As it turned out, I got to play my trumpet for him that night and it surprised him. He thought I was just his driver because I never told him I played the trumpet. We connected instantly and I eventually got a chance to tour with him. It became a lifelong friendship.”

Later, Gillespie invited Sandoval to be part of the United Nations Orchestra and when he arrived in Rome in 1990, Sandoval approached the American Embassy and asked for asylum. He became an American citizen in 1998. Now, looking back at almost 60 years of playing his trumpet, Sandoval feels grateful for his life in music.

“I feel very lucky to be able to make a living at what I love doing," he said. "That’s the most important thing in life, isn’t it?”

If you go …

What: GAM Foundation/Jazz SLC presents the Arturo Sandoval Sextet

When: Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South

How much: $32.50 for adults, $10 for students with ID


Phone: 801-355-2787