"... the home of the brave and the land of the free."
That final line from our nation's national anthem is something we live with every day, but it's too easy to take the "land of the free" concept for granted. I was reminded of that earlier today when I saw a piece on "CBS This Morning" profiling jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, who receives the Medal of Freedom from President Obama at the White House today.
I've loved Sandoval's music for years. I've seen him in concert and I have several of his albums. But there's a great story behind the music.
Sandoval grew up in Cuba and began playing trumpet as a young boy. He attended Cuba's top music conservatory, but he knew nothing about jazz. A visiting journalist first exposed Sandoval to jazz, and the trumpeter never looked back. But jazz, considered an American art form, was banned from the Cuban airwaves and from music clubs on the island. Sandoval listened to Voice of America and whatever jazz records he could manage to find. As a young man, he played jazz at clubs in Havana, but received threats from the Castro regime that if he continued playing jazz, he and his family would be at risk.
He met jazz master Dizzy Gillespie when Dizzy played in Havana in 1977. He managed to get himself a gig as Dizzy's driver in Cuba, and Dizzy heard Sandoval play. Neither spoke the other's language, but they connected through the music and Sandoval was invited to the stage to play with Dizzy and his band. Eventually, Gillespie got him a spot to tour with him as part of the United Nations Orchestra.
Dizzy helped Sandoval defect to the U.S. in 1990. Sandoval became a U.S. citizen in 1999.
In the CBS interview this morning, Sandoval talked about how much he loves this country for its freedom -- which includes the freedom to express himself through jazz. When you've lived without freedom, one can appreciate it that much more.
There's a fantastic movie about Sandoval's life, produced by and starring fellow Cubano Andy Garcia -- "For Love or Country," released in 2000. Sandoval plays in the soundtrack. It's worth checking out.
And gracias, Arturo, for reminding us of the meaning of freedom.