From Bop to Latin: The Brilliant Concert of Arturo Sandoval in Mexico City

By: Estefanía Romero

To discover Dizzy Gillespie and The United Nations Orchestra’s concert was the great event that led me into a personal obsession to the historical, cultural and musicological labyrinths of jazz.

All the musicians of that project became my idols and since then I decided that I wouldn’t tolerate less passion and knowledge that those that Danilo Pérez shows at the piano; that Paquito D’Rivera was going to be my guide into improvisation; that I was never going to like a singer without the harmonic, rhythmic and creative level of Flora Purim and James Moody. That the percussionist is an expert mathematician, athlete octopus: Airto Moreira. I understood that the conga musician has its own logic with Giovanni Hidalgo and his three million sounds in a small percussion of simple appearance. That jazz is what Claudio Roditi, Slide Hampton, Steve Turre, Mario Rivera, John Lee, Ed Cherry and Ignacio Berroa make with sound. And I knew that Arturo Sandoval had its own mysticism: the one that captivated Dizzy to make him his protégé and brother for so many years.

Arturo Sandoval presented his own Project at the Teatro Metropolitan in Mexico City, thanks to FR Producciones, and he showed that the artist is born and his growth never ends.

The curtains opened up with a hardbop, which had the dialog between the saxophone of Micke Tucker and the trumpet of Arturo Sandoval as the protagonist. The projection of both is impressive: their super-fast inflexions are always clean.


The rest of the ensemble: John Belzaguy (electric counterbass and bass), Johnny Friday (drums), Tiki Pasillas (percussions) and Max Haymer (piano). Who would’ve said that this few instruments would sound like a whole orchestra!

The composition, arrangement, instrumentation: everything fantastic. There were spaces for each solo: all the instruments had the opportunity to shine and they did it. The dizzygillespian influence was evident and I must raise my voice at this point because the soul of Dizzy walked all over the concert and I couldn’t avoid crying by imagining his smile just to hear all the wonderful work of his great disciple.

Arturo sand a scat during the first theme. Very ludic, as those of the singers of tradition. The imitation of the trumpet, trombone and counterbass was evident. The ensemble showed and then disappeared… and the flicker of the scat came back, playing with the audience’s emotions.

The second interpretation became electric: the bass took the place of the counterbass and the piano displaced the piano. The synthesizers got on and the funk woke up. The Mexican conga player Tiki Pasillas started singing rapid phrases of soul.

The instrumental base continued moving above the trumpet and the saxophone. Arturo moved into the percussions. The melodic line of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” showed for an instant. The music ran into a boogaloo that resounded with the repetition of the chorus: “Shake your booty, baby”.


The rhythm changes and the counterpoint of rhythms were spectacular during the whole concert. Dizzy used to orchestrate progression changes marked by short bass phrases, which were used for some of the arrangements here: magical!

Arturo stoped for a moment to joke with the public and to communicate some very strong, but necessary ideas: “It is a crime that the TV promotes other things (that are not complex music, that are not jazz); they don’t make a social or educative work”. And then he said something very interesting: “In this band we don’t have singers, and we don’t want them either”, alluding to the fact that musical industry sells “faces”, instead of knowledge.

Later, a beautiful counterpoint of saxophone and trumpet unfolded a jazz balad. Arturo took the mute and the romance started.

They also played “El Manicero”, a Cuban song of the twenties, starting with funk and creating a climax with salsa in its biggest expression: “mami, ¿dónde quieres que te ponga el cucurucho?”.


Arturo said it: his real legacy is the composition. In other small discourse he said that he hates those singers who don’t know how to sing but tend to change the notes of the original compositions: “if you get the initiative of being a creator, create your own songs, but don’t fuck the creations of others”. And then he started singing “When I fall in Love”, of Nat King Cole.


The travel went on with a wonderful composition at the piano, full of disonances, with debussian’s colors, which instead of talking in dreams, were screaming. All the Modernism yelled in that theme, accompanied by a strong creative and technique lucidity. At some point I thought that it was going to be the intro of “Seresta”, but there was only a small ride into the melody of this beautiful song. The tribute to Dizzy was there, always hidden, but ablazing at the same time. The bass and the percussion got together to sculpt a delicious latin jazz. The “Jarabe Tapatío” (Mexican song) excited the audience. All the sudden: the plethora of all the instruments in counterpointed discourses overflowing with imagination.

Then, Tiki Pasillas with a solo of congas: super versatile, super controlled.

And the great ending, the jewel of the night: “Night in Tunisia”. Some Spanish phrases in the trumpet followed the principal line of the great standard. Moreover, a piano solo appeared with European sounds and latin pursuits. The saxophone went to the front to lead us to hypnosis. The percussion derived arab sounds with stridency and majesty. Tiki sang and some organ sounds got incorporated. What happened there?!

My heart is delighted. My love for jazz and my endless admiration thank the master Arturo Sandoval for keep on sharing his knowledge and passion as a composer, multiinstrumentist, conductor, ensemble creator, human being and latent link to the wonderful Dizzy Gillespie. Hands up for the greatest musicians of history!

Here is a little bit of the concert. If you ever get the opportunity to see it alive, please don’t doubt it: