Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval first met Dizzy Gillespie in Havana in 1977, when the American jazzman came to Cuba to play a concert. Sandoval showed him around the city, where the two men listened to the sounds of rumba music echoing through Havana's black neighborhoods. That night, Sandoval managed to play his trumpet for Gillespie — and blew him away.
"I knew a bunch of his lines, his phrasing and things," Sandoval says. "He was laughing and laughing because he was so surprised. He saw me as his driver, the guy who was showing him the city — and not only was I a musician, I was a trumpet player. I'd never told him in the whole day we spent together."
It was the start of a friendship that lasted until Gillespie's death in 1993. Sandoval says Gillespie was instrumental in helping him and his family defect to the U.S. (He became an American citizen in 1999.)
"I always considered that a gift from God — to be able to meet and become a close friend of your hero," Sandoval says. "He had such a great time every time he got an opportunity to play — to perform for people, or talk about music with you, and sit down at the piano and try to put some chords and things together. He enjoyed every second of it."
Sandoval's latest album, Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You), pays tribute to Gillespie as a mentor and friend. He discusses the record — and tells the story of their first contact in Havana — with NPR's Guy Raz.