Tom Ross: Musician Arturo Sandoval gets his vibe back in Steamboat |

Tom Ross: Musician Arturo Sandoval gets his vibe back in Steamboat

10-time Grammy-winner charms packed house at Strings

Grammy-winning musician Arturo Sandoval is best known for his trumpet playing, but his almost boyish enthusiasm for percussion instruments was also on display during an Aug. 9 performance at Strings Music Pavilion in Steamboat Springs.
Tom Ross

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Sometimes, the most memorable moments of an entire year just fall out of the sky. The trick is to catch them before they hit the ground.

I should have known that something magical would happen Friday, Aug. 9, when Judy and I hopped in the car for the short drive to the Strings Music Pavilion to catch a performance by jazz trumpet god Arturo Sandoval.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for the 10-time Grammy winner to come down from the stage without his horn, stand in front of us in our front row seats, to croon “When I fall in love, it will be forever….”

My instinct was to wrap my arm around my wife’s shoulders and lean in. It turned out to be a good plan.

To be accurate, Mr. Sandoval was not looking directly into our eyes as he sang. But we later learned that it appeared that way to friends who were sitting several rows behind us. 

The only reason we were able to attend the show and sit in the front row was that my neighbor, Jackie Harrell, is Strings board president Ted Kahn’s yoga instructor. He gave his prime tickets to Jackie, who, at the last moment, couldn’t use them. Score!

Sandoval is an amazing instrumentalist who also happens to have the gift of gab. But some of the magic last Friday night was due to the ability of the Strings crowd to lift up the artist and his band of virtuosos.

Sandoval told his audience here that his band’s mini tour of Colorado had begun with a great audience at the classic Boulder Theater.

After the show, “we got in the car and drove four hours to Aspen,” Sandoval said.

But the crowd at that performance, apparently, was not as appreciative.

“I don’t want to say, but I’m 70 years old, and as I walked off the stage, I was thinking, ‘maybe it’s finally time for me to retire.’ But you make me feel good,” Sandoval told the Strings audience.

You might say that Arturo got his mojo back in Steamboat.

It was apparent when he sat down at the piano to sing a soulful song, and it was plain to see in the boyish pleasure he took from banging on a Latin drum kit.

I’ve been enjoying the magic of Strings from the beginning. It was cellist John Sant’Ambrogio who persuaded John and Betse Grassby to allow him to stage a series of chamber music concerts on the deck of the old Storm Meadows Athletic Club in 1988.

I can recall taking photographs of the Eroica Trio performing from my perch on the roof of the club.

A new era for Strings arrived in 1992 with a performance tent at Torian Plum Plaza, overseen by the management team of Kay Clagett and Betse Grassby. And ever since 2008, the music festival has been thrilling audiences and artists alike in its permanent home on Pine Grove Road.

Early in Sandoval’s Aug. 9 performance here, and after he and the band sang a playful version of the old standard, “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” a member of the audience called out for them to play ”Guantanamera!”

The band’s pianist slumped over his instrument with his hand on his brow, as if he was in disbelief. And Sandoval promised that one thing he would not do is to perform “Guantanamera.”

The old Cuban folksong is about a man in love with a peasant girl from Guantanamo, a place that has taken on modern political implications that didn’t exist when the folk lyric was written.

Yet, when Sandoval and his band came out from backstage to perform an encore, they broke into a lively version of, you guessed it, “Guantanamera.”

Tom Ross retired from the Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2018 after 36 years in the newspaper business. He continues to write a regular column for the paper.

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