: • Internationally renowned New York based pianist /
arranger / composer / band leader Arturo O’Farrill is unique in his dynamic leadership of not one, but two of the greatest Latin Jazz big bands in the world – the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and the Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra!
• The ALJO was founded in 1995 to create a repertoire platform for Latin jazz in the widest possible sense – from Dominican Salsa to Argentinian Tango, from Afro Cuban jazz to Brazilian Bossa Novas. On “Song for Chico”, the ALJO brilliantly re-interprets Latin big band classics of the 1920s to 60s such “Caravan” and “Cuban Blues” and premieres cutting edge new repertoire such as Arturo O’Farrill’s “Such Love” and Dafnis Prieto’s “Song for Chico”.
Dizzy Gillespie spoke of a “coming age” when the term “jazz” would be antiquated and the music of all the Americas would be seen as a universal truth, a music born out of overcoming oppression, of finding truth in acceptance. Of defining ourselves not by what we aren’t, but by what we acknowledge to be a different take on ourselves.
Too many people spend useless amounts of energy defining jazz by what it isn’t. They argue against electric instruments, avant garde performance techniques, ethnic varieties, blah, blah blah, yada, yada, yada. It is irrelevant, and those who choose these arguments reveal their irrelevancy. Defining our music through its interpretation by all interested parties, in all the Americas (and ultimately throughout the planet), is forward thinking, progressive, and embodies the true spirit of innovation and exploration. Without this spirit, we are not acting in the manner that Dizzy spoke of.
The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra is an organization founded on that premise. The music we play, from Duke Ellington to Rene Hernandez, from Machito to Astor Piazolla, from Dizzy Gillespie to Gustavo Bergalli, is dedicated to the notion that the music we call Jazz is bigger than we first imagined. In this recording, we find the work of such diverse talents as Papo Vasquez, Tom Harrell, Jose Madera, Jim Seeley, Dafnis Prieto and even an Irish- Cuban German named Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill. All of these would acknowledge the universal truth put forth by our musical and spiritual guide, Dizzy.
The whole thing began in 1995 when I asked Wynton Marsalis if he could direct me to an institution that would be interested in supporting another big band, but this time one that reflected our side of the story. Latin music has always had a big band tradition. We’ve always had our own take on the “Europe meets Africa in the New World” description of the forces that shaped so much of the great musical tradition that we call jazz, the only difference being that we acknowledge the reality that these forces were not limited to New Orleans.
The word jazz is simply that - a word - but the cultural tide that resulted from European harmony, instrumentation, and form colliding with the rich African musical traditions, call and response, poly-rhythms, and vocal inflected performance took place wherever African slaves and their white captors interacted.
The record begins with Caravan which is associated with Duke Ellington by most jazz fans, but what they may not realize is that it was written by a Puerto Rican valve trombonist named Juan Tizol. In fact, Juan was one of the earliest jazz musicians to record. This brilliant arrangement was written by the great Puerto Rican composer and trombonist Angel “Papo” Vazquez. Of particular interest is the middle “controversia” in which tenor sax, trumpet and trombone trade and then join in a collective improvisation, not unlike the venerated Dixieland tradition.
Such Love is an original composition of mine dedicated to a great musician who I’d known most of my life, Sam Furnace. One of Sam’s final performances was with the Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra in Birdland several weeks before he left us. He played a solo during the second set that was unbelievable. He transcended the physical and took all of us to a higher plane. Afterwards, the crowd roared and Sam was too weak to stand up and acknowledge the response. It moved me tremendously that Sam, who was obviously in continuous pain, would dispense such truth and greatness from his sax, and that it wasn’t the gig or the bread that would make him leave his house, but the opportunity to do what he loved and in so doing, we loved him for it. It was a profound lesson that I carry with me to this day.
Picadillo contains one of the last recorded solos by our beloved first tenor, the brilliant Mario Rivera, who also left us this past August of 2007. It is, of course, one of the anthems of the Latin Jazz repertoire and was written by Tito Puente, quite possibly one of the most celebrated Latin Jazz artists of all time. We humbly dedicate this record to the memory of Mario who may have been one of the finest musicians I ever had the privilege to know and call my friend. He is another hero who challenged jazz as being defined by geographic and cultural borders. We miss you, Mario!
The title track Song for Chico is an example of our spirit of progression and innovation. We don’t want to be a museum band, just replicating safe sex jazz for the nostalgia minded, easy listening crowd. We commissioned the great Cuban drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto for this piece, which is nothing like any Latin big band music I’ve ever heard. Another of our giants is featured; Bobby Porcelli plays the solo here and reveals the masterful work of an artist who is wide open. He is a contemporary of Mario Rivera and one of the few remaining masters who’ve played with the big three during the Palladium days. A gentleman of Italian heritage, playing in a multitude of musical languages who is not limited to seeing jazz in the past, a true embodiment of the modern well equipped musician, equally versed in clave and swing.
Composed and arranged by Kansas native Jim Seeley, Starry Nights was written to feature our bass player, Ruben Rodriguez. It was composed for a tribute we had in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall to the great Israel “Cachao” Lopez. Jim is our main trumpet soloist and shows his beautiful composing skills in this piece. Ruben broke out the (egads!) electric bass for this piece. It might’ve been a first for Jazz at Lincoln Center. He plays his proverbial buns off!
Cuban Blues was recorded for our collaboration with Ballet Hispanico. It is part of an extended dance work called “Palladium Nights”. Tina Ramirez is the artistic director of Ballet Hispanico and an inspiration to me. Her brilliant dancers are, again, an example of defining art through your particular cultural vantage and yet embracing the highest aesthetic and technical aspects of your craft. Not limiting modern dance and ballet to tutus and ballet shoes but enlarging the definition by embracing all aspects of who you are. Can it be that Ballet Hispanico is guilty of embracing and defining (without knowing it) the same vision of Dizzy’s?
Tom Harrell has always been one of my favorite musicians. I spent an afternoon with him once listening to Shostakovich and Machito. I guess you could call him a man with wide-open ears and heart. Without prompting, he wrote this piece for the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. It was a complete surprise. Humility is an act of humble greatness. It was my privilege to have had Tom as the guest artist at our first concert performance. Jim Seeley plays the solo in this recorded version.
Finally, The Journey closes this, our first CD for ZOHO, and our second recording as a unit. It is a composition by my father, the late Chico O’Farrill and his best friend, also gone, Oscar Jaimes. They were partners for many years. Oscar was his copyist, and he was also a gifted singer and composer. Sometimes, I imagine the two of them looking on in approval as the musicians of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra collectively set out to dispel the notion that institutions and individuals have the power to define jazz or that any one human being is the embodiment of this spiritual music. That in reality, it is the intermingling of forces and people that gives rise to great genres in Art. If you listen to Ken Burns’ definition, we don’t even exist, nor do women, nor does Woody Shaw. The reality is that art reflects truth and truth reflects life and life doesn’t ask for anyone’s opinion. Therefore, if jazz is to move forward, it must acknowledge that it is a music created by many, many, many peoples and many, many cultural forces. This is the only way it will survive. Arturo O’Farrill, January 2008.
Produced by Arturo O’Farrill for Jazz at Lincoln Center. Assistant producer : Todd Barkan. Assisted by Cat Henry.
Recorded at XM Productions – Effanel. Recording engineer: Rob Macomber. Assistant engineers : J. Rothman, H. Kamsani.
Mixed at High Functioning Media Inc. by Troy Halderson and Arturo O’Farrill. Recorded April 23, 2006. Mastered by Todd Gerard.
Photography: Jerry Lacay. Package Design : 3 & Co, New York. www.threeandco.com Executive producer: Joachim “Jochen” Becker.
Bookings : Arturo O’Farrill, The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra : Joel Chriss Tel: 212 353 0855.