But perhaps the most tangible symbol of his unique status - and continuing run of good fortune - is the release of the Joseph Sargent-directed HBO feature film For Love Or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story. The few films that have been produced about musicians - Bird, the story of bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker, and The Glenn Miller Story are two examples - usually came to life long after the death of their subjects. In Sandoval's case, as his hectic touring schedule and mounting list of accomplishments reflect, the propitious event comes at the peak of his career.
As might be expected in a film set in the late 20th century whose protagonist is a Cuban, there's more to For Love Or Country than music. The story line is built around the harrowing drama of Sandoval's day-to-day life in Cuba, where every attempt was made by the government to ensure that the country's most high-profile contemporary musician would not be allowed even the slightest chance to escape from what Fidel Castro's detractors still call a "tropical Gulag." After an Irakere colleague, saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, managed to defect in 1979 while on a concert tour overseas, Cuban officials became even more obsessed with preventing Sandoval's flight to freedom.
The film celebrates Sandoval's musicianship and explores his close association with Dizzy Gillespie (portrayed by Charles S. Dutton). But it's the trying artistic and personal circumstances of the trumpeter's life in Cuba and years of plotting how to defect with his wife in tow that provide the compelling reasons for the film's existence. The production is also a tale of romance with a wholly Cuban twist: While Sandoval is staunchly opposed to the Castro regime, his wife, Marianela, is a loyal government employee, dedicated to the island country's Communist system.
For Love Or Country couldn't come at a better time for Miami's Cuban-American community. The virulently anti-Castro Cuban expatriates took a beating in the court of public opinion during the unfolding story of Elián González. When the Cuban lad was snatched in a raid by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officers from the home of his Little Havana relatives and handed over to his father for eventual return to Cuba, much of Miami's Cuban-American population seemed to many people as strident, unreasonable, and living in the Cold War past.
Nonetheless, For Love Or Country seems a tailor-made piece of propaganda for those in Miami and elsewhere who continue to long for Castro's demise, although it was well in development long before young Elián showed up in U.S. waters off the Florida coast. And it brings together some of the strongest and loudest anti-Castro voices in the United States today - actor Andy Garcia, who produced the film and stars in the title role, and singer Gloria Estefan, who is featured in a supporting role.
But Sandoval deflects questions about Elián and the political dimensions of the film as adroitly as he knocks off a double high C on the trumpet. "To tell you the truth," he says in resonant, measured tones, pausing for effect, "I prefer to talk about music."
Toward that end, his passions are easily stirred. For instance, he hates hearing music terms thrown around indiscriminately. "Don't call it 'salsa' - it's Cuban music," he advises adamantly. He explains that "salsa" is nothing more than a generic, commercial term invented by promoters in New York City in the 1970s to describe Afro-Cuban tropical dance music. "We don't give any credit to that name [salsa]. It's either mambo, or cha-cha, or danzón, or guaracha, or ..."
--- Mark Holston, JAZZIZ Magazine Copyright © 2000, Milor Entertainment, Inc. -- From Jazziz