The Architect Of Afro-Cuban Jazz
Arturo O’Farrill, better known as “Chico” O’Farrill was born on October 28, 1921, in Havana (Cuba) at the height of Son. He had a normal childhood like any son of a Jewish family raised to continue the family profession, Law.
In the 1930s Chico was admitted to the Riverside American Military School in Gainesville, Georgia. His father, an eminent Irish lawyer recognized in the Afro-Caribbean country, decided to intern him to continue his studies.
During his stay at that institution, O’Farrill discovered the great jazz orchestras that made life in that territory. Those bands were known by the name of Big Bands. He entered that musical environment and began his process of love and passion for the industry. He listened to recordings by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey while learning to play the trumpet on his own. In almost immediate time Chico became the trumpet player for the school’s military band and large dance groups.
Years later, Arturo returned to Cuba. He studied the same profession as his father (Law) and at the same time with his studies, he developed his facet as a composer. He received composition and harmony classes from important island musical instructors such as Félix Guerrero.
His progress, determination, and development in music were unstoppable. He was a member of the Armando Romeu Bellamar Orchestra and the Isidro Pérez Orchestra at the time of Mambo and Son, rhythms that prevailed and enhanced Latin music for decades.
“The Architect of Afro-Cuban Jazz” worked for four years (1943 – 1947) in Montmartre, the Cuban cabaret with the greatest French style. In the same way, he belonged to the Bellamar Orchestra, directed by Armando Romeu with Luis and Pucho Escalante, and Mario Romeu, among many other members.
As a trumpeter, Arturo traveled to Mexico and Europe. He created Los Raqueteros del Swing band, being the director and member of the orchestra. Subsequently, he founded Los Beboppers (the first Cuban bop group) with continuous performances at the Hotel Saratoga. Here, Chico was once again at the helm as director of the band and musician with his related instrument, the trumpet.
In the 1950s he began his successes as an arranger, working briefly for various musical directors such as Gil Fuller, Noro Morales, Frank “Machito” Grillo, and Benny Goodman.
Likewise, he composed his first masterpiece, Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite in five movements: Canción, Mambo, 6/8, Jazz, and Rumba Open. This masterpiece of composition was made and recorded for the imprint of the businessman Norman Granz, with the Machito Orchestra as the rhythmic base and accompanist.
The expert comments on Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite were numerous, but here are two of the most outstanding opinions:
Luc Delannoy: “It begins and ends with a hypnotic flute and conga duo that reflects the essence of Cuban treatment; the union of musical universes: the European (the flute) and the African (the conga). These two instruments are joined by the oboe, followed by the trumpets, saxophones, and the double bass “Tumbao”… After a return to swing and bebop in the fourth movement, Chico takes us back to the origins of Latin jazz with a melody of clear Arabic accents, before immersing himself in the universe of Afro-Cuban percussions.”
And Benny Carter commented on the Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite the following: “The reason for the coherence of the rhythmic parts and their relationships with the solos that have their own life and independence, Masterpiece of a genius.”
After the enormous success of this powerful piece of music, O’Farrill wrote Cuban Fantasy for Stan Kenton during his stay in New York (EE.UU). However, Kenton eventually changed the name of the piece and it was called the Cuban Episode.
In 1953 he moved from New York to the California state and founded his orchestra with renowned musicians such as Mario Bauzá, Doug Mettome, Jimmy Nottingham, Eddie Bert, Fred Zito, Lenny Hambro, Flip Phillips, and the saxophonist Eddie Wasserman. The orchestra used the Afro-Cuban rhythmic section of Machito, harp, and oboe.
Under this concept, he recorded for Norman Granz and performed in two emblematic venues of the American Jazz music scene: Birdland (New York) and Hat Ballroom located in Los Angeles, California. During this period he composed three new movements: “La Jungla”, “Contrast”, and “Rhumba Finale”, baptized as “Manteca Suite”. The latter recorded in 1954 with Jazzist Dizzy Gillespie and an orchestra with 21 talented musicians.
In 1956 he returned to Cuba in search of inspiration and immediately began to work for the best record companies such as Panart and RCA Víctor. In this record label, he made “Chico’s Cha-Cha-Cha”, adapting the Charanga rhythm to the Big band format. This album was released, once again, on compact disc by BMG during the last decade of the 20th century.
Two years later the restless O’Farrill traveled to Mexico due to the great platform that this country provided for Latin American musicians at the time. During that residency, he once again stood out with a special sound. He appears on television as music director for singer Andy Russell, and there his life takes a dizzying turn. He started the semi-retirement period but never stopped composing. By that time, he composed his next and one of his greatest works “Azteca Suite” for trumpeter Art Farmer. And he made history once again!
In the 60s and with the rise of rock, Chico returned to New York and made arrangements for such important figures as La Lupe (They Call Me La Lupe); Cal Tjader (Along with Comes Cal); Count Basie (High Voltage); Gato Barbieri (Chapter Three: Viva Emiliano Zapata); Ringo Starr (Night and Day) and dabbled in Rock music with David Bowie (I Know That It Will Happen and Looking for Lester) and finally was the director of the Venezuelan Aldemaro Romero’s Orchestra.
In this stage that lasted until the end of the 20th century and already in the 70s, the Big bands went from being an innovation to being displaced by other rhythms that were rapidly increasing in popularity. These genres used new techniques, styles, sounds, and harmonies. It led to the appearance of icons in Jazz and the disappearance of the exclusive Bing bands for ballroom dancing.
For this reason, Chico O’Farrill reinvents himself and begins to work in the lucrative field of music for audiovisual advertising.
In the mid-nineties, American Jazz producer and director Todd Barkan contacted the “Afro-Cuban Jazz Architect” to pay tribute to his career with a compilation of his musical hits. The name of the album was Pure Emotion and it got a nomination for Best Latin Jazz Performance at the 37th Grammy Awards.
O’Farrill toured Europe with his orchestra in 1996 and recorded his latest album entitled “Heart Of A Legend” with 14 tracks.
For this album, they had an orchestra of 18 musicians and a collaboration of international artists. The arrangements and musical direction of “Heart Of A Legend” were in charge of his son Arturo O’Farrill Jr. and who continues with his legacy.
On June 29, 2001, at 80 years old in New York City, Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill passed away.
Undoubtedly, Chico O’Farrill was always a visionary, and he was at the forefront for more than half a century of the musical genre today recognized worldwide as Latin Jazz.
In memory of the 20 years of his physical disappearance