The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, led by Arturo O’Farrill, performs in Spaulding Auditorium of the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College, on Friday, October 5, 8 pm. Following the performance, O’Farrill and retired Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble Director Don Glasgo will have an informal onstage discussion.
Formed by O’Farrill in 2006, the ensemble combines the grandeur of big band jazz with the visceral, varied textures of Latin music. Pianist, composer and educator O’Farrill, a past guest artist with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble, leads 18 outstanding solo musicians. Together they walk in the footsteps of Latin jazz greats like Tito Puente, Frank “Machito” Grillo and Arturo’s father Chico—and update the tradition with new commissions from such innovators as Vijay Iyer, Dafnis Prieto and Michele Rosewoman.
O’Farrill brings a musical background that spans the Americas and the generations. The son of Cuban composer and bandleader Chico O’Farrill, who played a central role bringing Cuban rhythms into New York jazz orchestras in the 1940s and ’50s, Arturo was born in Mexico City and grew up in Manhattan, uneasy with his Latino identity.
Coming of age as a pianist in the late 1970s, O’Farrill felt he had to choose between straight-ahead jazz and Latin music, a decision which profoundly shaped his identity, he told the East Bay Times. “I rejected so much of my Latino-ness because there were no real role models for people who transgressed the genre line,” he said. He felt he had to choose between the straight-ahead jazz camp and the Latin music world.
Over time, he came to recognize his rich musical legacy. In the early ’90s, he began playing with the pioneering Latin jazz Fort Apache Band led by the brothers Andy and Jerry Gonzalez (on bass and trumpet/percussion, respectively). In 1995, he helped his father to a late-career resurgence by running a revived Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. His own band grew directly out of Chico’s and served as a Jazz Orchestra at Lincoln Center’s house ensemble from 2001 to 2007.
The New Yorker called the group “one of the best jazz orchestras in existence, a powerhouse outfit whose precise section work is enhanced by thrilling soloists,” while The New York Times praised its ability “to handle dizzyingly complex music with earthy joy.” The late pianist Bebo Valdés, an icon in Cuban music, called the group “the finest band I have ever performed with in my life. They make me feel as if I have returned to Cuba.”
Watch a stripped-down version of the orchestra, an octet perform a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR:
The orchestra’s debut album Una Noche Inolvidable was a 2006 Grammy nominee and their second; Song for Chico (ZOHO) won the Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year in 2008. ALJO’s third album, 40 Acres and a Burro, (ZOHO) was a 2012 Grammy nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. The Offense of the Drum (Motéma) won the group’s second Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year in 2014. The orchestra’s latest release, Cuba: The Conversation Continues, was recorded in December 2014 during the historic re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, and was was released in August 2015.
The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra has been an artist-in-residence at the Harlem School of the Arts and is the resident headliner Sunday night at the Birdland Jazz Club. Arturo ‘O Farrill currently serves as the Director of Jazz Studies at CUNY brooklyn College. Along with O’Farrill on piano, the orchestra includes an bass, drums and two percussionists, five saxes, four trumpets and four trombones. Prepare to be immersed in a full body listening experience.