Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra
O'Farrill confides, "Consistently, to my surprise, I find corners of the globe where this music is loved and played. It's really special. In my correspondence, I've received queries from China and Africa and Israel. People wanting to know more about this music, more about how to play it, more about how to perceive it, how to place it in their understanding of things. It's really amazing to me. I think it's because it has such a lovely synthesis of so many world cultures. It's Arabic, Spanish and Moorish. Latin music is such a great meeting ground of so many cultures."
What New Orleans is to jazz music, so is Santiago to Latin music, O'Farrill explains. "One reason was the African expression in Cuba. There were generations and generations of slaves that had taken root in Santiago. It was a place where the music of Europe was intermingling heavily with the music of Africa. I have found in my travels to Cuba that there is a very easy relationship between black and white. It's a magical relationship and I say "magical" with a great deal of reticence because there is nothing magic about racism, but there's a love and intermingling and mutual respect between races that I've rarely found anywhere else."
Comprised of 18 prominent soloists from the Latin jazz scene, (subject to change) the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra currently consists of: Arturo O'Farrill (Music Director and piano), Michael Philip Mossman (trumpet), John Walsh (trumpet), Jim Seeley (trumpet), Mike Rodriguez (trumpet), Luis Bonilla (trombone), Noah Bless (trombone), Reynaldo Jorge (trombone), Douglas Purviance (bass trombone), Bobby Porcelli (alto saxophone), Erica vonKleist (alto saxophone), Pablo Calogero (baritone saxophone), Mario Rivera (tenor saxophone), Bob Franceschini (tenor saxophone), Ruben Rodriguez (bass), Phoenix Rivera (drums), Joe Gonzalez (percussion) and Milton Cardona (percussion). (When these guys perform, they're always dressed to the nines because one of their sponsors is Brooks Brothers.)
Arturo's father, Chico O'Farrill, was born in Cuba. "My father was a brilliant composer. He was a brilliant orchestrator. He was at the crux of the integration of a lot of styles," he tells us. "Phil Schaap, who is part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center family (Jazz at Lincoln Center Curator), put it best at Chico's memorial. He said Mario Bauza introduced us to Latin and jazz, but Chico gave us its greatest expression. Chico gave us its intellect. Chico was often, mistakenly, called the 'Duke Ellington of Latin jazz.' He's really the 'Chico O'Farrill of Latin Jazz. He was an important figure. He was very well respected, very well-loved. I was very touched to find that in his passing, that he had a much greater impact on the world than I knew. He was noted in such mainstream publications as Newsweek and People. He was mourned throughout the world in his passing but celebrated throughout the world for his contribution to worldwide culture. I'm very proud of him, very proud to be his son."
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra has been busy all summer with their Mambo Madness Tour. Arturo says "Mambo Madness is our inaugural foray into the world of touring. It is descriptive of our philosophy which is to introduce many audiences in performing art centers and venues throughout the world to an overview of what the Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Cuban big band jazz tradition is. Mambo is the operative word because the first exposure that people have to this music is through dancing. Its a real meeting of the mind and body. Its a great experience as a concert setting and as a way to experience the total power that Latin music can be."