|Birth name||Arturo O'Farrill Valero|
June 22, 1960 |
Mexico City, Mexico
|Genres||Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz, big band|
|Occupation(s)||Pianist, composer, bandleader|
|Labels||Motéma Music, Zoho Music, Milestone, 32 Jazz|
|Associated acts||Chico O'Farrill, Carla Bley, Harry Belafonte, Jerry Gonzalez, Andy Gonzalez, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra|
Arturo O'Farrill (born June 22, 1960) is a jazz musician, the son of Latin jazz musician, arranger and bandleader Chico O'Farrill, and current pianist, composer, and director for the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. He is best known for his contributions to contemporary Latin Jazz, (more specifically Afro-Cuban jazz,) having received two Grammy Award and four Grammy nominations for his work in the genre, though he has also trained in other musical forms such as free jazz and even experimented briefly with hip hop.
Arturo O'Farrill was born in Mexico City, Mexico to Lupe Valero and Chico O'Farrill on June 22, 1960. His mother Lupe was a singer from Mexico, and his father Chico was a jazz trumpeter and composer originally from Havana, Cuba. The family lived in Mexico until 1965, when they moved to New York City. Here, his father Chico found work as music director for the CBS program "Festival of Lively Arts," where he formed relationships with jazz musicians Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, and Stan Getz. However Chico also worked with many Latin music artists such as Tito Puente, Machito, Celia Cruz, and La Lupe, which, for son Arturo, led to a "psychotic upbringing" in which he was unsure of his own cultural identity. At the age of six O'Farrill began taking piano lessons at the behest of his parents, initially disliking them very strongly before warming up to the instrument and deciding around the age of 12 that he wanted to be a career musician. Eschewing his father's musical style, O'Farrill instead chose to focus on other forms of jazz, listening to artists such as Bud Powell and Chick Corea. He also began to receive a formal musical education around this time, graduating from LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and then studying at the Manhattan School of Music, the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College (from which he received the Distinguished Alumnus Medal), and the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College.
Career as a sideman
In 1979, O'Farrill was playing in an upstate New York bar when he was noticed by jazz pianist, organist, and composer Carla Bley. Impressed with his talent, Bley recruited the then 19-year-old O'Farrill to play with her band in Carnegie Hall even though she was uncertain whether or not he could read music. He remained with her band for three years afterwards, playing in such events as the Berlin Jazz Festival where the band was billed alongside O'Farrill's childhood idol Chick Corea. O'Farrill credits Bley with teaching him the value of maintaining the integrity of one's music rather than pursuing money and fame, stating, "It’s really, really about the art – pushing the envelope, progressing, doing things that sound beautiful and have a life of their own. That’s more important than you, the artist; it’s about the art." In addition to his regular role as a pianist, O'Farrill sometimes played organ with the band. After leaving the Carla Bley Big Band, O'Farrill found solo work with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Howard Johnson, Steve Turre, and Lester Bowie. In 1987 O'Farrill found long-term employment as Harry Belafonte's music director.
In the early 90s, O'Farrill slowly began to return to his Latin roots. While struggling to record a "Latin jingle," O'Farrill contacted bassist Andy Gonzalez, who according to O'Farrill, "took me through the history of Latin piano." After this, Andy and brother Jerry began to feature O'Farrill in their band as a substitute for regular pianist Larry Willis.
Afro Latin jazz
Not long after his stint with Andy and Jerry Gonzalez's Fort Apache Band, Arturo O'Farrill joined his father Chico O'Farrill to aid in the latter's late-career musical revival. In his frail state Chico was unable to manage his own affairs, and so he began to delegate the hiring of his musicians to outside contractors. Seeing this, Arturo O'Farrill stepped in on his father's behalf and assembled what became known as the Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. In 1995 he was named pianist and music director of the orchestra. In 1997 the Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra began to play at Birdland each Sunday night, and when his father died in 2001 Arturo became bandleader.
In 2001, Wynton Marsalis – artistic director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center program and musical director of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – sought the help of Arturo O'Farrill for an upcoming themed concert titled "The Spirit of Tito Puente." Despite O'Farrill's best efforts, though, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra was simply not equipped to play Latin jazz:
There was a benefit performance pairing Wynton's orchestra with Tito Puente's, [and] Wynton had me lead a rehearsal of the Latin numbers. I wanted them to play a Cuban phrase, but they just could not articulate it authentically. They would 'jazz' it up. They could not 'Afro-Cubanize' it. Wynton had this faraway look in his eye. I think that's when he realized that it takes a specialized group of musicians. It's a different approach – artistically, mentally and emotionally.
Following this concert, Marsalis offered O'Farrill the opportunity to form and lead an Afro-Cuban jazz band that would perform regularly at Lincoln Center, which O'Farrill accepted. He named the new band the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO), and opted for traditional jazz big band instrumentation with the addition of a three-piece Cuban percussion section. In 2005 Arturo O'Farrill released his first album with the ALJO, Una Noche Inolvidable, for which he received a Grammy nomination in the category "Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album."
In 2007, O'Farrill and the ALJO left Jazz at Lincoln Center "to pursue its own educational and performance opportunities," moving their performances to New York's Symphony Space. That same year, he was appointed assistant professor of jazz at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and he established the nonprofit organization the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, which provides instruments and musical lessons for New York City public school students. In 2008 O'Farrill released his second album with the ALJO, the Grammy-winning Song for Chico, and also took up residency as an assistant professor at State University of New York at Purchase.
In December 2010 Arturo O'Farrill travelled to Cuba with his mother, sons, and the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Orchestra in order to bring his father's music back to the island. There, the band headlined the 26th Havana International Jazz Plaza Festival. In 2011, once he had returned from Cuba, O'Farrill directed the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra's final show at Birdland, capping 15 straight years of regular performances. Later that year he released his third Grammy-nominated album with the ALJO titled 40 Acres and a Burro. O'Farrill's most recent recording is 2014's The Offense of the Drum, his fourth album with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
Unlike his father, whose music was undeniably Afro-Cuban in nature, Arturo O'Farrill's casts a wider net, capturing sounds from throughout Latin America. Aiming to reflect the big band traditions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and elsewhere, critic Dan Bilawsky describes O'Farrill as stylistically "pan-Latin." Philip Booth of JazzTimes writes that the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra's 2011 record 40 Acres and a Burro "has the big-band digging deeper into the textures and rhythms of South America and the Caribbean" than ever before.
Arturo O'Farrill lives in New York City with his wife Alison Deane, a trained classical pianist, and sons Zachary (a drummer) and Adam O'Farrill (a trumpeter), who have together formed their own musical group the O'Farrill Brothers Band.
With Claudia Acuna
With Jim Seeley
With Chico O'Farrill
With Bebo Valdés
|Year||Recipient / Nominated work||Award||Result|
|2006||Una Noche Inolvidable||Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album||Nominated|
|2009||Song for Chico||Best Latin Jazz Album||Won|
|2012||40 Acres and a Burro||Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album||Nominated|
|2015||The Offense of the Drum||Best Latin Jazz Album||Won|
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- Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries. Eds. David Ake, Charles Hiroshi Garrett, and Daniel Ira Goldmark. Berkeley: University of California Press (2012): 93.
- Larry Blumenthal. "Cultural Conversation: Arturo O'Farrill, the Son Also Rises – and Embraces His Musical Roots." Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2008, D7.
- Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries. 96.
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- Larry Blumenfeld. "NYC Pianist Arturo O'Farrill Finds Himself in Cuba, and Brings His Father Home." Village Voice. February 23, 2011. http://www.villagevoice.com/2011-02-23/music/nyc-pianist-arturo-o-farrill-heads-to-cuba-finds-himself-and-brings-his-father-home/ (accessed April 19, 2014.
- Felix Contreras. "First Listen: Arturo O'Farrill & The Afro Latin Orchestra, 'The Offense Of The Drum.'" NPR. April 27, 2014. http://www.npr.org/2014/04/27/305662915/first-listen-arturo-o-farrill-and-the-afro-latin-orchestra-the-offence-of-the-dr (accessed April 28, 2014).
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- Dan Bilawsky. "The O'Farrill Brothers Band: Sensing Flight." All About Jazz. January 12, 2013. http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=43707 (accessed April 21, 2014).
- Arturo O'Farrill's official web site
- Afro Latin Jazz Alliance's web site, the non-profit Arturo O'Farrill founded to support the performance, education, and preservation of big band Afro Latin jazz in New York
- All About Jazz biography of Arturo O'Farrill