Adeli’s Music Blog

Chico and Arturo O’Farrill

Posted in music by adeli on October 14, 2009

Chico (Artuto) O’Farrill, a composer, arranger, bandleader, and trumpeter, was one of the leaders in the emergence of Afro-Cuban Jazz in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He arrived in New York City from Cuba when Machito and Dizzy Gillespie were blending bebop and Cuban music. O’Farrill quickly became a key figure in the movement. He preferred jazz over the Cuban music he had experienced before arriving in the U.S. and exposure to the new sounds helped him shape his musical ideas.

He worked as an arranger with Benny Goodman, and also wrote the popular “Undercurrent Blues” for the band. He also worked with other arrangers including Quincy Jones.

His first major contribution to Afro-Cuban Jazz was a recording session for Machito in 1950. O’Farrill’s The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite is regarded as an important transition in adapting Cuban music to a modern jazz big band. It featured Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, and Buddy Rich. He described Afro-Cuban Jazz as “a very delicate marriage,” in which each aspect of the music had to be held in proper balance.

Chico’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite

As well as leading his own band, he composed The Manteca Suite for Dizzy Gillespie in 1955, expanding the trumpeter’s famous 1947 hit “Manteca.” O’Farrill also arranged for Stan Kenton and Stan Getz.

He left the USA in 1955. He returned to Cuba, then moved to Mexico in 1957, where he remained until 1965, recording and working with local bands. His compositions from this period include The Aztec Suite for trumpeter Art Farmer.

He reunited with Machito and Gillespie in 1975 for an album, Afro- Cuban Jazz Moods. In 1995, he wrote a commissioned piece for Lincoln Center, featuring Wynton Marsalis, and led his own big band in a weekly residence at NYC’s Birdland, with his son, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, who has taken over conducting the band.


Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

In 2002, Arturo created The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra for Jazz at Lincoln Center. I went to see Arturo and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra last year at Birdland and I was very impressed. The band was comprised of both young and seasoned musicians. Arturo’s teenage sons are also quite talented and performed on one song a piece. Arturo has continued where his father left off. As an educator, he has certainly inspired many young musicians and turned them on to the music that perhaps their grandparents grew up with. His latest release Song For Chico won a Gammy for Best Latin Jazz Album in 2008.

Interview with Arturo O’Farrill

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