Music

Musical history is personal to Arturo O’Farrill and so is the future of Latin jazz

Written By Fernando Gonzalez
October 5, 2023 at 10:45 PM

Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra will be at the Miami Beach Bandshell on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. presented by MDC’s Live Arts Miami.

The big band is to jazz what the symphony orchestra is to classical music and, for a composer, an instrument of unmatched power with a rich palette of sounds to match. But that is only part of what led pianist, composer, and educator Arturo O’Farrill to organize and lead the 18-piece Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.

“I’ll tell you what the Orchestra represents for me,” he says during an interview via telephone from his home in Los Angeles. Born in Mexico and raised in New York, O’Farrill has been in Los Angeles working as a professor of Global Jazz Studies and Assistant Dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at UCLA. “What interests me is that Machito and Mario Bauzá came to New York City to play, saw the big bands of Cab Calloway and Count Basie, and said, ‘Why can’t we do that with our music?’ ”

Arturo O’Farrill at Jazz Café Montparnasse, Paris, France, Jan. 14, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sophie Le Roux/Live Arts Miam at Miami Dade College)

He continues: “I thought it was such a powerful thing to say ‘We are Afro-Cubans. Why don’t why can’t we do that in our own style?’ And they created (the big band) Machito and His Afro-Cubans. It was such a beautiful, self-affirming statement, and with that, they sparked this burning flame that has not gone out. The Orchestra represents saying, ‘We are Latinos, we’re Afro-Latinos, and we’re reclaiming this tradition that is as much a part of our life as it is of anyone else’s.’ ”

Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra will be at the Miami Beach Bandshell at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21, presented by Miami Dade College’s Live Arts Miami.

O’Farrill — winner of six Grammys and two Latin Grammys as a composer and solo artist, and four Grammys and a Latin Grammy with the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra — grew up surrounded by the big band and orchestral traditions.

His late father, the great Cuban composer and arranger Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill, wrote notable large ensemble pieces in the jazz and Latin jazz idioms and was a friend and collaborator of Frank “Machito” Grillo and Bauzá.

Musical history is personal to O’Farrill, so is the future of Latin jazz.

From left, Telmary Diaz, Dayme Arocena, and Aymee Nuviola will perform with Arturo O’Farrill and his orchestra at the Miami Beach Bandshell. (Photos courtesy of Live Arts Miami at Miami Dade College)

“Even their name was revolutionary: Machito and his Afro-Cubans. At that time, nobody was calling anything ‘Afro-Anything.’ And here’s the other lesson on why I also created the Orchestra. Call it what you want, but all the rhythms in Cuba and the rhythms that become jazz are rooted in African subdivisions of syncopations,” says O’Farrill, who has embraced a Pan-Latin approach in his work. “As I continued my journey, I discovered that those (African) rhythms made their way through Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, and all the Americas. In acknowledging the roots of our music, we can safely travel the future.”

He’s enthusiastic about working with Cuban singers Aymée Nuviola and Daymé Arocena and rapper Telmary Diaz, who will be special guests at the Bandshell appearance.

“Aymée, Daymé, and Telmary are three really different artists that represent the vanguard of great female she-power to me, ” says O’Farrill. “Aymée’s repertoire is a beautiful reinterpretation of standard Cuban repertoire. I don’t even know where to put Daymé’s music. It’s all original, and she does this powerful rumba-based, timba-based modern contemporary Cuban music. And, of course, Telmary is one of the great raperas of our time. To see these three powerful women take the stage is a thrill because jazz and Latin music are very male-centered – and wrongly so. It’s past time that women take what’s rightfully theirs.”

Arturo O’Farrill: Tiny Desk Concert

He expects the program to be “a celebration of visioning,” says O’Farrill, connecting the music’s history and its possibilities.

“This music is not static, and every time it embraces a young artist, it grows,” he says. “We still play classics like (Tito Puente’s) ‘Babarabatiti,’ we still play (Mario Bauza’s) ‘Mambo Inn,’ but then maybe we’ll go to something I wrote.”

When the Orchestra performs Bauza’s “Kenya,”  O’Farrill says he imagines being in the audience at the Cotton Club when Machito and his Afro-Cubans first played it.

Arturo O’Farrill says his performance with his orchestra at the Miami Beach Bandshell will be “a celebration of visioning.” (Photo courtesy of Jen Rosenstein/Live Arts Miami at Miami Dade College)

“Do you think anybody there was comfortable? No. They were experiencing something new — and to me, that’s exciting. I want to play with that vision and that energy. The job of the artist is to pose challenges, and you can’t challenge unless you also comfort, so there’s a little bit of both in what we do. I want to take people on a journey.”

WHAT: LiveArts Miami presents Arturo O’Farrill with the 18-piece Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) and guests Aymée Nuviola, Daymé Arocena, and Telmary Diaz

WHERE: Miami Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach

WHEN: 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 21

COST:  $41.20, $329.60 for club-level seats

INFORMATION:   (786) 453-2897 or liveartsmiami.org

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

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