In Cuba, NYC Pianist Arturo O’Farrill Finds Himself, Honors His Father, and Pushes Past Politics.
By Larry Blumenfeld – The Village Voice – February 23, 2011
On the final night of the Havana International Jazz Festival, the Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra played an emotional set at the Mella Theater.
When the steel door to Kennedy Airport’s Gate 8 slammed shut, Arturo O’Farrill was on the wrong side. With his wife, sons, and mother in tow one Monday in December, he was bound for Miami, then for Havana via charter flight. And though far from early, the O’Farrills weren’t exactly late-the plane began rolling toward the runway 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Inside the cabin of American Airlines Flight 1141, Eric Oberstein-the earnest, babyfaced executive director of O’Farrill’s four-year-old nonprofit organization, the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance-asserted himself.
“You’ve got a Grammy-winning pianist and his family out there waiting to get on this plane,” he pleaded to the crew. “All 18 of the musicians in his orchestra are here. . . . He’s waited eight years for this trip, worked with the American and Cuban governments . . . headlining the Havana Jazz Festival . . . bringing his father’s music back to Cuba. . . .”
None of it worked. Off the plane went, with a faint apology from a flight attendant. Out on the next flight, Arturo made it to Miami in time, his family intact: his wife, Alison, a classical pianist; his two sons, 19-year-old drummer Zack and 16-year-old trumpeter Adam; and his mom, Lupe, the widow of Chico O’Farrill, a Cuban-born composer, arranger, bandleader, and longtime New York resident who was a towering musical figure in both places. Arturo shrugged off the airport fiasco. It was just the latest and, frankly, the least forbidding of doors to slam in his face.
The dream was simple, really. Through the support of his Alliance organization, Arturo wanted to bring the orchestra he leads in his father’s name back to Cuba, which Chico left for good in 1959. He had toyed with the idea for some time, but it became a firm goal, a mission, in 2002, after his own first visit to Cuba. “I’m going to do this,” he’d told me toward the end of that trip. “And even though Chico never made it back to the island physically, his music will be played there. I feel like he’ll be there with us. The people will embrace his music. And somehow, to some degree, all will seem right with the universe to me for just a split-second.”
Read the full article at www.villagevoice.com