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Trumpeting legend Arturo Sandoval to play at the Alex Theatre

Sandoval pays tribute to his mentor Dizzy Gillespie in concert

January 12, 2013|By Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com
  • Trumpet master Arturo Sandoval at his home in Tarzana. Sandoval is standing near a portrait of himself in his 20's with Dizzy Gillespie. He's been playing trumpet for 53 years.
Trumpet master Arturo Sandoval at his home in Tarzana.… (Raul Roa/Staff…)

No one taught a young Arturo Sandoval more about the mysteries of bebop and how to approach a life in music than Dizzy Gillespie. At times during their long friendship, the jazz trumpeters referred to each other as father and son. “He was more than a teacher,” Sandoval says of the bop originator. “He was my hero first, and then he became my mentor. He helped me so much, man. Since the first day.”

That first day came in May 1977, when Sandoval volunteered to drive the visiting American musician around Havana and the Cuban countryside, before revealing to Gillespie that he also played trumpet in an inspired young Latin fusion band called Irakere. They performed onstage together that same night and many nights after, and remained close friends until Gillespie's death in 1993 at age 75.

The lasting impact of their 17-year relationship can be heard on Sandoval's newest album, “Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You),” a tribute to the old master that reinterprets 10 Gillespie compositions, including several the duo occasionally performed together over the years (“Bebop,” “And Then She Stopped” and “Birk's Works”). Sandoval and his Big Band will perform songs from the album Jan. 19 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

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The album has been nominated for three jazz Grammys (the awards will be handed out at Staples Center on Feb. 10), and begins with an old recording of Gillespie's voice introducing Sandoval from stage as “one of the younger grand masters of the trumpet.” Later, “Dear Diz” closes with an emotional title song, a new ballad Sandoval composed for the album and sings himself over strings and his own delicate trumpet lines: “You saved my life / Diz, you set me free.”

Gillespie wasn't just a musical mentor but was directly involved in the defection of Sandoval and his family from Cuba in 1990 — the younger trumpeter was on tour abroad with Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra that year. But Sandoval never considered an album tribute for him until now.

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