After changing the course of American music in the mid-1940s as the architect of bebop, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie became a familiar pop icon as a hipster fashion plate with a sly sense of humor. While he comfortably inhabited the roles of genius and trickster, Gillespie didn't let on that he was also modern jazz's most generous giant.
Right up until his death in 1993 at the age of 75, Gillespie worked tirelessly to boost musicians he loved and respected, without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, nationality or gender (he championed many of the jazz's finest female instrumentalists, including Melba Liston, Vi Redd and Clora Bryant).
No artist gained more from an association with Gillespie than Cuban trumpet master Arturo Sandoval, and his latest album for Concord Music, "Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You)," is a deeply felt love letter to his late friend and mentor.
The album features big band arrangements of classic Gillespie compositions, but Sandoval, who is also an accomplished pianist, skilled percussionist and enthusiastic singer, plans to explore the material with a quintet over a series of gigs around the Bay Area, including Saturday's inaugural Jazz at the Lesher Center concerts in Walnut Creek (sold out), Sunday at Filoli in Woodside and Monday at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz.
"I never thought about making an album dedicated to Dizzy, because everything I've been doing is dedicated to him in a certain way," says Sandoval, 62, from his home in Tarzana. "I really owe him everything. He was such an inspiration. He motivated me so much, and gave me so many opportunities for so many years."
The story of Sandoval's first encounter with Gillespie has become a part of jazz lore. The trumpeter had long been a revered figure in Cuba for his central role in the creation of Latin jazz. Gillespie became enamored with Cuban music in the late 1930s through his friendship with Cuban-born trumpeter Mario Bauza, a section mate in the Cab Calloway Orchestra. After Gillespie formed his own big band in 1947, Bauza recommended Cuban conga master Chano Pozo as a percussionist; during the drummer's brief association with Gillespie, they laid the foundation for Latin jazz, co-writing the standards "Tin Tin Deo" and "Manteca" (Pozo was killed in a bar fight in 1948).
In 1977, Gillespie managed to slip through the U.S. boycott of Cuba, and the visit changed the course of Sandoval's life.
As a founding member of the groundbreaking jazz ensemble Irakere with Paquito D'Rivera and Chucho Valdes, Sandoval was well-established at home but unknown in this country. Gillespie had no idea that the man who volunteered to drive him around Havana sightseeing was a fellow virtuoso, until that evening when they ended up at a jam session. Sandoval took the stage and started playing, and Gillespie was agog.
"The whole time I was driving around, I didn't mention that I was a musician," Sandoval recalls, "but that night I got up and not only played, I played a bunch of his lines, and he was laughing and laughing."
It was the start of a close friendship. Gillespie not only spread the word about Sandoval, he ended up hiring him for a wide array of settings and tours, including a featured role in his talent-laden United Nations Orchestra.
It was while he was on tour with Gillespie in Europe in 1990 that Sandoval made the wrenching decision to defect. The 2000 HBO film "For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story" starring Andy Garcia dramatizes the key role that Gillespie played in helping Sandoval come to America. He became an American citizen in 1999, but in an ironic twist his first efforts to naturalize were rebuffed because he joined the Cuban Communist Party three months before the tour with Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra. It was a move he made to ease his wife and teenage son's passage off the island.
Sandoval spent two decades living in the Miami area to be close to his parents. About two years ago, he moved to Los Angeles, and the band he brings to the Bay Area showcases an array of Southland jazz talent, including drummer Johnny Friday and Cuban-American bassist John Belzaguy, saxophonist Zane Musa and Sri Lankan-American pianist Mahesh Balasooriya.
Samuel Torres, a Colombian-born percussionist who lives in New York and has collaborated with Sandoval since 1999, is the band's only East Coaster.
"Mahesh is an incredible pianist, just unbelievable," Sandoval says. "I love his playing. He's a monster. All of these guys are such all-around musicians. That's what I enjoy the most, when there are no limitations, and you can go from A to Z without any problem. That has been my goal, to play as many styles with authenticity. I don't discriminate against any style of music."
Contact Andrew Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When: 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Filoli, 86 Cañada Road, Woodside
Tickets: $60, 650-364-8300, ext. 508, www.filoli.org
Also: 7 and 9 p.m. Monday, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, $30-$33, www.kuumbwajazz.org. Two Saturday performances at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek are sold out.