Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra in Toronto

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Arturo O'Farrill and Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra – Photo credit: Danilo Navas

There’s something truly striking about experiencing live music interpreted by a large ensemble, a big band orchestra. Even more if it is a band that carries a cherished musical tradition and history, that keeps alive a legacy for the entertainment and enjoyment of new generations of music lovers. That’s what Arturo O’Farril and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra represent. Having them in Toronto all the way from New York, and for the first time during the Luminato Festival was something to celebrate. We’re talking about a very large ensemble of more than 15 musicians. Only Luminato could have made possible to have them in Toronto. In 2015 Arturo O’Farrill came with a smaller ensemble, a sextet I believe, and they performed with the Cuban “Malpaso Dance Company.” The show of that troupe was very successful and the Luminato programmers decided to bring it back this year, with the added benefit of having Arturo O’Farrill with his full band, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.

Arturo O’Farrill is the son of ArturoChicoO’Farrill (October 28, 1921 – June 27, 2001), widely regarded as one of the master architects of Afro-Cuban Jazz. Chico “was a composer, arranger, and conductor, best known for his work in the Latin idiom, specifically Afro-Cuban jazz or “Cubop”, although he also composed traditional jazz pieces and even symphonic works. Born to an Irish father and a German mother, he played the trumpet early in his career. He composed works for Machito (Afro-Cuban suite with Charlie Parker, 1950) and Benny Goodman’s Bebop Orchestra (“Undercurrent Blues”), and arranged for Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Kenton, among others. In the 1990s O’Farrill led a big band that took up residence at New York’s Birdland nightclub. Chico’s son, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, eventually took over the band.” (wikipedia)

After “Chico” O’Farrill passed away, the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra performed its final concert at Birdland on Sunday, June 26, 2001. In 2002, Arturo O’Farrill formed the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) and until early 2007 it was a resident orchestra of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC). They left JALC “to pursue the twin goals of developing new audiences for big band Latin jazz and creating a robust educational program for young performers. With the support of a group of prominent leaders from the worlds of jazz and Latin culture, O’Farrill launched ALJA (Afro Latin Jazz Alliance) to serve as a non-profit organization that could advance both the performance and educational aspects of this uniquely Pan-American art form.” (https://www.afrolatinjazz.org/about-alja/)

On the evening of June 17, 2018, we were treated to a very spectacular rare show with Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra when they performed their debut concert in Toronto, at the Phoenix Concert Hall. They played some of the now classical tunes from the Afro-Cuban, Latin jazz songbook, like Tito Puente’s “Picadillo” (a tune recorded by pianist Eddie Palmieri and vibraphonist Cal Tjader on their seminal 1966 recording, El Sonido Nuevo). “A Night in Tunisia” (a jazz standard and a signature piece composed by Dizzy Gillespie around 1942), “Wild Jungle” (recorded by Machito & His AfroCubans and written by musical director Mario Bauzá and pianist René Hernández), and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite (Chico O”Farrill).

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