Ar­turo San­doval takes on ‘The Mule’

East­wood film score a first for trum­pet leg­end

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Books - By Tim Greiv­ing Los An­ge­les Times

Ar­turo San­doval thought he was be­ing asked to write one song for Clint East­wood’s new film, “The Mule.” But when San­doval ar­rived at the ac­tor-di­rec­tor’s of­fice on the Warner Bros. lot, East­wood sat him down, showed him the whole film and said, “I want you to write the score.”

San­doval said yes with­out hes­i­tat­ing. “I’m avail­able and af­ford­able,” he added with a laugh.

The jazz trum­peter has won Grammy Awards and a Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom, and his col­lab­o­ra­tors have ranged from Frank Si­na­tra to Ali­cia Keys. He’s writ­ten mu­sic for the con­cert hall, in­clud­ing a trum­pet con­certo, and even com­posed an Emmy-win­ning score for the story of his own life — “For Love or Coun­try,” the 2000 HBO movie that starred Andy Gar­cia.

But at age 70, San­doval fi­nally has his first bigscreen score, and it’s some­thing he has wanted badly.

“This is my big­gest pas­sion,” San­doval said by phone from his Tarzana home, where he starts ev­ery morn­ing with an es­presso and cigar, sit­ting at a pi­ano that once be­longed to jazz leg­end Os­car Peter­son. “I love it more than any­thing else within mu­sic — even more than play­ing gigs. And I pray to God that I could have a lot more chances.”

East­wood is an avowed jazz fan and had seen San­doval per­form in clubs over the years. But he didn’t want a jazz score for “The Mule,” a movie about a nona­ge­nar­ian who be­comes a car­tel drug run­ner. In fact, he didn’t want much mu­sic at all — in line

with his sparsely scored body of films, many of which he co-scored him­self.

The theme that plays dur­ing the main ti­tles is a bit­ter­sweet melody for San­doval’s trum­pet over del­i­cate string and pi­ano chords.

“He don’t want to give away, in the very be­gin­ning, all the drama and all the prob­lem that come after­ward,” the com­poser said, ex­plain­ing East­wood’s di­rec­tive. “It’s kind of a neu­tral feel­ing.”

The rest of San­doval’s brief score — less than 20 min­utes to­tal — is mostly de­voted to the re­gret that East­wood’s char­ac­ter, Earl Stone, feels to­ward the fam­ily he ne­glected. A slow, noir­like theme for muted trum­pet fit the bill.

San­doval also wrote two dance songs for a pool party scene at the Mex­i­can man­sion of a drug lord (played by Gar­cia) — as well as a Film­maker Clint East­wood showed San­doval the com­pleted pic­ture and asked him to write the score.

mari­achi song that plays on a car ra­dio. San­doval wrote the lyrics, sang and played ev­ery in­stru­ment on the lat­ter.

San­doval played all of the trum­pet parts for the “Mule” score, which was recorded at — where else? — the East­wood Scor­ing Stage at Warner Bros., with an 82-piece orches­tra and a

20-piece big band. He also played most of the pi­ano and some of the French horn, trom­bone and per­cus­sion, and he con­ducted an orches­tra for the first time.

“The be­gin­ning, I was kind of ner­vous,” he said. “But after three or four min­utes of do­ing it, man, I start to feel a lot more re­laxed

and con­fi­dent.”

Some crit­ics have been trou­bled by the film’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Lati­nos, who are al­most uni­formly pre­sented as drug deal­ers and crim­i­nals, as well as East­wood’s breezily racist char­ac­ter. San­doval agreed that films in gen­eral need to do a bet­ter job of pre­sent­ing good and bad por­traits of eth­nic groups, but he isn’t both­ered by the po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect pro­tag­o­nist of “The Mule.”

“You can­not re­late that be­hav­ior and those lines with the movie it­self, or with Clint,” he said, cit­ing on­line footage of the ar­rest of the man who in­spired the story, Leo Sharp. “You have to put it in con­text, and think about that old man — that was his men­tal­ity. That was the way he talked, and the way he thought.”

Next year marks the 30th an­niver­sary of San­doval’s flight from Cuba. He

sought po­lit­i­cal asy­lum in the U.S., and he doesn’t think he would be al­lowed to go back even if he wanted to.

“I have no in­ter­est,” he said bluntly. “I don’t want to see the sit­u­a­tion that’s go­ing on there. I don’t want to suf­fer that hor­ri­ble thing, to see my coun­try com­pletely de­stroyed. Be­cause the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try is get­ting worse by the minute. Peo­ple are com­pletely des­per­ate, peo­ple are hope­less. No­body sees the light at the end of the tun­nel, be­cause they can­not even see the tun­nel.”

San­doval said it’s al­most as if his life didn’t be­gin un­til age 40, when he ar­rived in Amer­ica. This is where he raised his fam­ily, and it’s the land of op­por­tu­nity.

“I have no words to ex­press my grat­i­tude for ev­ery­thing that hap­pened to us in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s more than a dream.”

JENNA SCHOENEFELD/FOR THE LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

Jazz trum­peter Ar­turo San­doval, shown in Los An­ge­les in 2015, fled Cuba nearly 30 years ago. He says he has no de­sire to re­turn to his na­tive coun­try.

WARNER BROS.

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