Cuba – The Conversation Continues

Band leader Arturo O’Farrill is on a mission to continue the conversation that began between Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo.

Pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill is best known for his leadership of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. He returns to Ronnie Scotts in January, appearing as part of a Latin Jazz Quartet playing music from his Grammy Award-nominated album 'Cuba – The Conversation Continues.'

Arturo’s career has been hugely influenced by his father, legendary Cuban jazz musician Chico O’Farrill. While Arturo was growing up in New York, Chico was making a name for himself in the jazz world, forming close relationships with Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz. Chico was present when Dizzy was collaborating with virtuoso Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo in the late 1940s, and leading the Bebop movement in New York.

Though neither Dizzy nor Chano spoke the other’s language, they “communicated through their roots in Afro-Western music”. Dizzy called the music that they created together neither Jazz nor Cuban music, but rather Universal music. Arturo finds particular importance in this collaboration. Despite a 50-year trade embargo between Cuba and USA, this jazz exchange prevailed.

On a mission to continue the conversation that began between the two musicians, Arturo invited his band, 6 composers and some of Cuba’s most talented musicians to Havana to record 'Cuba – The Conversation Continues.' The album reimagines Arturo’s father’s 'Afro Cuban Jazz Suite,' composed 65 years before. His version, 'Afro Latin Jazz Suite,' incorporates elements from all of the Americas. 

While Arturo and his band were in Havana recording their album, President Obama announced that he was committed to improving relations between USA and Cuba. This was an emotional moment for Arturo, who thought of his late father and how happy he would have been to know that political relations were improving. He also thought of all of the people that had suffered as a result of the embargo.

Five months after the recording, he flew his favourite Cuban musicians to New York to join his big band for the project debut performance at Symphony Space.

Arturo believes that Afro-Cuban jazz has to get past its politics by defining itself. “We need a new era”, he says. "I think that the more that the Cuban musicians and American musicians interact, the less of this unnatural balance will be in place."

Arturo’s quintet will perform on 11th and 12th January 2016 at Ronnie Scott’s. Since releasing his album, Arturo has been nominated for two Grammy 2016 awards – ‘Best Large Ensemble Album’ and ‘Best Instrumental Composition.’ This is not one to miss!

Chloe Kraemer

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