By Renee Baker
EL CENTRO — Grammy winning, world-famous Cuban jazz performer, Arturo Sandoval, agreed to more than just an evening with Valley donors when he accepted the invitation to play in El Centro. Local band director, Renee Baker, said she got wind of his coming and immediately began devising ways for her music students and others to attend his benefit concert.
But Bobby Brock of the Imperial Valley Community Foundations informed Baker that their evening fund raiser was a formal adult-only event and the youth would not have any student interaction as she was hoping.
A better plan evolved, Baker confessed. After weeks of planning and coordinating with music teachers and students throughout the Valley and with Sandoval, a one-hour Master Class was arranged. Through a generous private donation, help from the North County Coalition for the Arts and the El Centro Education Foundation, a date, a time, and a place were set for the class.
As Sandoval sat at the head of the Central Union High School band room on Mother’s Day, May 14, over 200 Imperial Valley music students, musicians and teachers from Calipatria to Mexicali waited in anticipation for the great man to teach.
Talking to the crowd, Sandoval emphasized the commitment to practice, reading music, and having a passion for the arts. He regaled them with stories of his life, including starting from humble beginnings to being mentored by jazz great, Dizzy Gillespie. He shared with them the gratefulness he felt for having music in his life.
As he moved over to the piano and began playing melodies, he told of the importance of the piano as a tool for composing and listening. He picked up his practice trumpet, nicknamed “Sandovalves,” and demonstrated his daily practice routine to the students.
Throughout the class, Sandoval used humor to relate to the students and he peppered his stories with wit. The class enjoyed the time, laughing often with the jazz legend.
But in addition to his humor, he also grew serious, encouraging the students to become lifelong learners about music and to never stop being musically curious. He also called for them to decide between being casual musicians, or to take the responsibilities of a professional performer, reminding them of the hard work and effort required to earn a living as a musician.
Although the event was billed as only an hour, Sandoval and the class spent extra time enjoying a question and answer period followed by autographs, pictures, and selfies with the visiting trumpeter.
Members of the Imperial Valley Music Educators Association said they were appreciative of the Valley’s efforts to have the Master Class with Sandoval and credited Bobby Brock and the Imperial Valley Community Foundation and the sponsors, El Centro Education Foundation and the North County Coalition for the Arts.
Baker said she was appreciative to the band directors for encouraging and preparing their students for this extraordinary teaching opportunity, and she expressed the most gratitude for Sandoval’s teaching, exhortation, and his time with Valley students.