Archive for May, 2016

O’Farrill Family

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Widely regarded as one of the master architects of Afro Cuban Jazz, Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill almost became a lawyer.  Born into an Irish-German-Cuban family in the Havana region of Cuba, Chico was slated to follow in the family tradition and enter into law practice. Luckily, as a teenager he was sent to study in the United States, where he heard the sounds that would change his life and revolutionize jazz, the trumpet, and the big band.  After studying at the Havana Conservatory and performing in nightclubs Chico moved to New York, where he continued his musical studies with Stefan Wolpe of the Juilliard School and gradually integrated himself into the New York Jazz scene.  It was there that Benny Goodman (who had trouble pronouncing his name and dubbed him “Chico”) hired him almost immediately as a staff arranger.  During his tenure with Goodman, O’Farrill penned one of Benny’s biggest big band hits, “Undercurrent Blues.”

The 1940s and ’50s were a prolific and important era in Chico’s career.  It was during this period that he composed what is universally regarded by critics and fans throughout the world as the crown jewel of the Afro Cuban Jazz Genre, the extended multi-movement work “The Afro Cuban Jazz Suite,” recorded with Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips and Buddy Rich.  He also wrote countless other works for Machito, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, and for many others, including his own orchestras.

With the advent of rock and roll and the seeming death of the big band in the sixties and seventies, Chico turned his attention to commercial writing, including jingles, film scores and industrials.  However, he maintained a creative presence contributing brilliant compositions and arrangements for the likes of Count Basie, Ringo Starr, David Bowie, Gato Barbieri and countless others.  He also wrote another important extended multi-movement work for Art Farmer, “The Aztec Suite,” another critically acclaimed masterpiece.

In 1995 after 30 years of not recording under his name, O’Farrill came out with the Grammy nominated “Pure Emotion,” soon followed by the also Grammy nominated “Heart of a Legend,” and finally “Carambola,”  all of which were hailed by jazz critics and fans throughout the world as the renaissance of a true American Jazz genius.

His memorial in 2001 at the Church of Saint Peter in New York City (the jazz church) was filled to overflowing with lines around the block as musicians and fans celebrated the life and work of this quiet, dignified Cuban gentleman who adopted New York City as his new island home.  His music is celebrated to this day, performed by the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, in residence at New York’s famed jazz nightclub Birdland, and directed by his son, the composer, arranger and pianist, Arturo O’Farrill.

The Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra remained a direct link to Afro Cuban Jazz’s greatest composer. Every member of this world-class ensemble sat under the beloved Maestro. When Chico O’Farrill passed away in June of 2001 the baton was passed to his son, Arturo.

Arturo O’Farrill, pianist, composer, educator, and founder and Artistic Director of the nonprofit Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, was born in Mexico and grew up in New York City. His debut album with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Una Noche Inolvidable, earned a first GRAMMY Award nomination in 2006. His next album Song for Chico, earned a GRAMMY Award for Best Latin Jazz Album in 2009. The 2015 release of The Offense of the Drum was yet another Grammy Award winner. Arturo was, in addition, the winner of the Latin Jazz USA Outstanding Achievement Award, and a Cubadisco Award for The Offense of the Drum in 2015. His newest album release (August 21, 2015) is Cuba:The Conversation Continues on the Motéma label.

Arturo received his formal musical education at the Manhattan School of Music, Brooklyn College Conservatory, and the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. As his professional career began to expand, Arturo was the pianist with the Carla Bley Big Band from 1979 through 1983. He then went on to develop as a solo performer with a wide spectrum of artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Turre, Freddy Cole, The Fort Apache Band, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, and Harry Belafonte.

In 1995 Arturo agreed to direct the band that preserved much of his father’s music, the Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra. In December 2010 Arturo traveled with the original Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra to Cuba, returning his father’s musicians to his homeland for headlining performances at the 26th edition of the Havana International Jazz Festival. Currently, Arturo’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra continues the tradition every Sunday night at Birdland, which has for decades been one of the most popular jazz clubs in the the US. Arturo now performs throughout the world as a Solo Artist and also with his Orchestra, as well as smaller ensembles.

As an educator, Arturo has taught master classes, seminars, and workshops throughout the world for students and teachers of all levels. From 2007-2008 he was Assistant Professor of Jazz at The University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and from 2008-2010, he served as Assistant Professor at SUNY Purchase. He is currently the Director of Jazz Studies at Brooklyn College.

Over the past several years, Arturo has toured the U.S., Latin America, Europe, and Asia. During this period, he founded the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the performance, education, and preservation of Afro Latin music.

Arturo has performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Boston Symphony Hall, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Joyce Theater (with Ballet Hispanico), Megaron Concert Hall (Athens, Greece), Kannai Hall (Yokohama, Japan), the Taichung Jazz Festival (Taichung, Taiwan), and at New York’s Symphony Space, where he and his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra have been in residence since 2007. Pianist, composer, and educator Arturo O’Farrill

A recognized composer, Arturo has received commissions from Meet the Composer, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Philadelphia Music Project, Symphony Space, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the famous Apollo theater. He has also composed music for films, including Hollywoodland and Salud.

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