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End of an Era: The Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra Leaving Birdland After 15 Years

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Chico O'Farrill
The Afro Latin Jazz Alliance announced that on Sunday, June 26, 2011, the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra will conclude its residency at the famed Manhattan jazz club, Birdland, where it has performed every Sunday evening for over 15 years. Legendary Cuban composer and arranger Chico O'Farrill founded the orchestra in 1995, and his son, pianist Arturo O'Farrill, has directed the ensemble since his father's passing in 2001.

Arturo O'Farrill issued the following statement:

“Chico O'Farrill's music is a national treasure. The Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra is among the hardest swinging ensembles in the world. Our residency at Birdland has been a gift from on high. However, maintaining two big bands, a non-profit, and my small groups, as well as being a teacher, father, husband, and son, has been difficult to balance. In an effort to streamline my life and put more attention on composing and performing, I've decided to end the residency of the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra at the end of June. I intend to return to Birdland in September with a new residency of some sort, but the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra will finish its extraordinary run at Birdland. I wish to thank first and foremost the musicians, Gianni Valenti and our Birdland family, and most of all, our fans and friends throughout the planet. We love you all!"

Chico O'Farrill is considered one of the master architects of Afro Cuban jazz, penning the seminal Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite (originally recorded by Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, and Buddy Rich). Adapting Cuban music to the modern jazz big band, O'Farrill wrote and arranged works for legends such as Machito, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Count Basie, and countless others.

Showcasing “the most seamless blend of clave rhythm and bebop harmony anywhere" (Time Out), the orchestra has performed the full repertoire of Chico O'Farrill for thousands at its weekly residency and through national and international tours. The orchestra recorded three albums—Pure Emotion (GRAMMY nomination), The Heart of a Legend (Latin GRAMMY nomination), and Carambola (Latin GRAMMY nomination).

Birdland owner Gianni Valenti remarked, “We've had 15 years of Sundays with the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, and I've been here for just about every one of them. It's sad to see it come to an end and we're going to miss everyone dearly, but it's been a wonderful relationship for Birdland and a privilege to work with Chico, Arturo, and the musicians."

This past December the orchestra traveled to Cuba to headline the Havana International Plaza Jazz Festival. It had been Arturo O'Farrill's desire to return his father's music, played by his musicians, to the island, as his father was unable to return to the island after departing for the final time in 1960. According to the younger O'Farrill, this trip completed an “artistic, familial, and spiritual journey," and serves as the subject of the forthcoming documentary, Oye Cuba! A Journey Home, directed by Diane Sylvester.

The Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, a non-profit organization founded by Arturo O'Farrill in 2007 dedicated to the performance, education, and preservation of big band Latin jazz, is committed to honoring the legacy of Chico O'Farrill. The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra continues to perform and record works by Chico O'Farrill. The organization also maintains a library of Chico O'Farrill's scores, administers a scholarship program in his name for promising young musicians, and this December will pilot the Chico O'Farrill School of Jazz in Havana, an ongoing Cuban-American music educational exchange that includes a weeklong intensive co-taught by a faculty of Cuban and American musicians.

Three final performances by the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra directed by Arturo O'Farrill

Sunday, June 12, 19, 26
9PM & 11PM sets

Birdland
315 W. 44th Street
b/w 8th & 9th Avenues
New York, NY

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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.

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