Arturo O’Farrill is a multi-Grammy winning, Mexican-born, New York Cuban jazz pianist, composer, and leader. He seems to win a Grammy almost every year.
O’Farrill is one of the padrinos (godfathers) of Latin jazz and Latin music in New York City. He mentors artists and is very active in developing the next generation and giving back to the community. He also composes and performs for dance theatre.
Arturo is the son of Cuban Jazz legend Chico O’Farrill, and has carried on the Sunday night Latin Jazz gig at Birdland for over 20 years. Arturo’s children are also talented musicians.
Birdland Sunday Night Latin Jazz
Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra play Birdland in Hell’s Kitchen on Sunday nights at 8:30 & 10:30pm. From $30+ per person minimum. 🇨🇺
Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra is Arturo’s core musical project. Almost every album they release is nominated for or wins a Grammy. That’s Grammy, not Latin Grammy.
O’Farrill’s progression as an artist follows his own discovery of his Afro-Cuban roots. Most jazz musicians are artists of few words. They put all their energy into the music. O’Farrill speaks loudly in the titles of his albums. They all have a deep meaning.
Arturo O’Farrill is a multiple Grammy-winning Afro-Cuban Jazz Leader
Arturo O’Farrill is the son of Cuban Jazz composer Chico O’Farrill and Mexican singer Lupe Valero. Arturo was born in Mexico City in 1960 and came to New York when he was five years old. His father worked with great artists of the day so Arturo grew up somewhere in between the storied Jazz and Latin worlds of New York City.
Arturo eventually became a straight-ahead Jazz pianist. In the 1990s, he began returning to his Latin roots. In 1995, Arturo joined his aging father’s band, the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, as pianist and music director. The band started playing Sundays at Birdland in 1997. Arturo became bandleader when his father passed away in 2001.
Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
O’Farrill built the first orchestra at what became Jazz at Lincoln Center. When they parted ways, the band became the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, a jazz big band with a Cuban percussion section.
Una Noche Inolvidable (2005)
Their first album Una Noche Inolvidable (An Unforgettable Night, Palmetto, 2005) earned a 2006 Grammy nomination for “Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album.”
Something didn’t work out at Lincoln Center, so the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra went its own way in 2007.
Song for Chico (2008)
The band’s second album Song for Chico (Zoho, 2008) won a 2009 Grammy award for “Best Latin Jazz Album.” Of course, Chico is Arturo’s father.
40 Acres and a Burro (2011)
In 2010, O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra made their first trip to Cuba. Their next album 40 Acres and a Burro (Zoho, 2011) earned a Grammy nomination for “Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.”
The title is a reference to the famous promise of “40 acres and a mule” that was made to former slaves at the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865. The promise was retracted and Jim Crow brought back slavery in all, but name. It’s shameful that over 150 years after the end of slavery in the U.S., that racism continues in our country.
The Offense of the Drum (2014)
2014’s The Offense of the Drum won a Grammy for “Best Latin Jazz Album.”
The title refers to the fact that African slaves in the United States were not allowed to drum.
Eddie Palmieri once made the point that the Spaniards brought the Africans who put everyone to dance, but in the United States the drum was not allowed, so we got the Blues (the essential American musical form). Taking away the drum was an assault on African identity.
Attacking the human spirit was a means of control. It has to be said however, that while you could break African bodies, you could never break the African spirit. It still lives strongly in us.
Maybe that points to the way forward. Latin is a mix of Native American, European, and African. Native Americans often refused to be enslaved. We would rather die. Africans survived. Racism against African – Americans and Latinos is easily seen to be two different things, but it’s really the same thing. Maybe by energizing the African in us and joining together as Africans and Latinos, we can overcome.
Cuba: The Conversation Continues (Motéma, 2015)
O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra released Cuba: The Conversation Continues in 2015 and won another Grammy for “Best Latin Jazz Album.”
Chico O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra keep getting recognized for the powerful way they connect Jazz and Latin. As the band matures, they dig ever deeper into their Latin American roots.
Three Revolutions (2017)
Three Revolutions (Motéma, 2017) is a collaboration with Chucho Valdes who is another Afro-Cuban Jazz family legend.
The album won a 2018 Grammy for “Best Instrumental Composition.”
The title Three Revolutions title is a bit of a puzzle.
Cuba is the biggest island and the crown jewel of the Caribbean, so Cubans have faced a seemingly never-ending struggle for freedom. Cubans had to free themselves from:
- Spaniards (1492 – 1898)
- Slavery (16th century – 1886)
- Americans (ongoing, but President Obama’s 2014 opening helped)
- The Castros (1959 until 2021)
If any country deserves freedom for trying, it is Cuba.