In 1964, he began three years of serious classical trumpet studies at the Cuban National School of Arts and by the age of 16, he earned a place in the country's all-star national band. By this time, he was totally immersed in Jazz with Dizzy Gillespie his idol. Drafted into the military in 1971, Sandoval was able to play with the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna and continued his daily practice regimen, an absolute must for trumpeters.
After his discharge, he co-founded Irakere, which became Cuba's most important Jazz ensemble, with saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera and pianist Chucho Valdes. They quickly became a worldwide sensation, and their appearance at the 1978 Newport Jazz Festival in New York introduced them to American audiences and resulted in a recording contract with Columbia Records.
But Arturo Sandoval was in search of new musical possibilities and he left the group in 1981 to form his own band. He continued to tour worldwide with his group, playing a unique blend of Latin music and Jazz, and also as a classical trumpeter, performing with the BBC Symphony in London and the Leningrad Symphony in the former Soviet Union.
Sandoval's talent has led him to associations with many great musicians, but perhaps the most important was with Dizzy Gillespie, a longtime proponent of Afro-Cuban music, whom Sandoval calls his spiritual father. The two musicians met in Cuba in 1977 when Gillespie was playing impromptu gigs throughout the Caribbean with saxophonist Stan Getz: "I went to the boat to find him. I've never had a complex about meeting famous people. If I respect somebody, I go there and try to meet them."
Because of the political situation in Cuba, the country was isolated from American musicians for nearly twenty years and during this first trip back, Dizzy wanted to visit the black neighborhoods where musicians play guaguanco and rumba in the street. Sandoval offered to take Gillespie around in his car, and only later that night when he took the stage with Gillespie did Sandoval reveal himself as a musician.
Their friendship remained strong until Dizzy's passing in 1992. Both men continued to play and record together regularly. It was while touring with Gillespie's Grammy Award-winning United Nation Orchestra in Rome in 1990 that Sandoval requested political asylum.
Thanks to the efforts of Dizzy and then Vice-President Dan Quayle, Arturo Sandoval was able to resettle in Miami. He became a full professor at Florida International University and soon recorded his American debut "Flight To Freedom" on GRP. Arturo was featured on Dizzy's Grammy winning "Live At Festival Hall" recording with the United Nation Orchestra in 1992 and later that year, he did his second GRP album, "I Remember Clifford," his tribute to trumpet legend Clifford Brown.
His other GRP recordings include: "Dreams Come True," a collaboration with Michel Legrand, the Grammy winning Danzon, Arturo Sandoval and The Latin Train, and more recently, "Swingin'." Like Wynton Marsalis, Arturo has a parallel career as a classical performer. His recording, "The Classical Album," features trumpet concertos by Hummel and Mozart, as well as his own "Concerto For Trumpet and Orchestra." He continues to perform with symphonic orchestras worldwide as well as conduct clinics for eager students.
Arturo has lectured at the Conservatoire de Paris, the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in the Soviet Union, the University of California Santa Barbara, the University of Miami, the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University and at many other institutions all over the world. Currently, he holds a full professorship at Florida International University in Miami.
Arturo has also written and performed on several film soundtracks including "The Perez Family," "The Mambo Kings" and "Havana." Like all musicians, Arturo Sandoval spends most of his time on the road. When asked about having such a rich life in music, he reports that "I'm blessed. Can you imagine making your living doing what you love? I came from a very poor family from the middle of nowhere and could never imagine I would be able to do the things I have done. God has been good to me."