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Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra

Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra -- Photo John Abbott

It's good to have a home. Every Sunday night, Birdland on West 44th Street in Manhattan is home to the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, so that some of the greatest big band music ever stays alive and well today and into the future.

This band is the product of almost sixty years of musical evolution. Arranger and trumpet player Chico O'Farrill came to New York in 1948, as part of a wave of influential Cuban musicians that began in 1930 with trumpeter Mario Bauza. Percussionists Chano Pozo and Machito followed, folding their traditional Cuban style into the emerging African-American bebop. The product was Afro-Cuban Jazz, "cubop." O'Farrill formed his own band in the early 1950s, only to disband and move to Mexico City a few years later. The orchestra re-formed in the mid-1990s. Chico O'Farrill passed away in 2001, leaving his son, pianist Arturo, in charge. On New Year's Eve, they blew NPR's Toast of the Nation into 2006, and we have highlights on this edition of JazzSet.

Not everything Chico composed was hard-core Latin Jazz. He sold arrangements to commercial bandleaders and various arrangers often used him as a ghostwriter. But his band plays the original music.

Not content with a simple arrangement of the tune "Manteca" by Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo, Chico O'Farrell crafted a five-part suite based on the two main themes of the composition. "Manteca" becomes a sultry romantic ballad, a blues, and a solo opportunity for each member of the trumpet section.


Arturo O'Farrill, musical director and piano
Todd Bashore, saxophone
David Bixler, saxophone
Peter Brainin, saxophone
Ivan Renta, saxophone
Maximilian Schweiger, saxophone
Matt Hilgenbug, trumpet
Michael Philip Mossman, trumpet
Valery Ponomarev, trumpet
Jim Seeley, trumpet
Sam Burtis, trombone
Jack Jeffers, trombone
Reynaldo Jorge, trombone
Gary Valente, trombone
Ximo Tebar, guitar
Andy Gonzalez, bass
Luques Curtis, bass
Roland Guerrero, pc
Joe Gonzalez, pc
Phoenix Rivera, drums


Havana Blues
Wild Jungle
Trumpet Fantasy
Manteca Suite

Birdland Jazz

Arturo O'Farrill

Latin Jazz Club: Arturo O'Farrill

Interview with Chico O'Farrill

NPR's Felix Contreras was the Field Producer with assistance from WBGO's Brian McCabe, also David Tallacksen and Yujin Cha. Music mix by Steve Remote and Aurasonic Ltd. Writer Brian Sanders.
Becca Pulliam is Producer with Executive Producer Thurston Briscoe III of Jazz 88, WBGO in Newark, New Jersey.

Copyright 2007 NPR