May 18, 2024

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Chico O’Farrill who wrote, arranged and conducted the piece first for Machito and his Afro-Cuban orchestra: Video

28.10. – Happy Birthday !!! Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill, who was born in Cuba in 1921, decided to follow family tradition and enter into law practice. But before he could complete his legal studies, he was seduced by jazz music and his law studies fell by the wayside.

Mr. O’Farrill discovered big band jazz in military boarding school in Florida, where he first learned to play the trumpet. He then returned to Havana and began to study classical music under Félix Guerrero at the Havana Conservatory. At night he would play in local nightclubs alongside figures like Isidro Pérez and Armando Romeu. By 1948, Mr. O’Farrill relocated to New York City, where he continued his classical music studies under Stefan Wolpe, Bernard Wagenaar, and others at the Juilliard School. It was in NYC that he was truly able to pursue the jazz scene in his free time. Soon after moving to New York City, he began working as an arranger for Benny Goodman, and wrote “Undercurrent Blues”. During this period, he also worked as an arranger with Stan Kenton for whom he wrote “Cuban Episode”, He also worked with Count Basie and Art Farmer, and with Dizzy Gillespie, for whom he arranged the “Manteca Suite”. In 1957 he moved to Mexico and lived with his wife, singer Lupe Valero, until 1965; while there he wrote a suite for Art Farmer in 1959 and performed concerts in Mexico City. But his crowning glory remained the two Afro-Cuban Jazz Suites.

The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite is largely remembered as a Norman Granz commission. The reason for this is that the legendary Charlie Parker participated in the first Suite, completed and recorded in December, 1950. Moreover, even many of the musical arts cognoscenti will recall this first Suite as music performed by Machito. Most listeners forget that it was Chico O’Farrill who wrote, arranged and conducted the piece first for Machito and his Afro-Cuban Orchestra. Then in 1952, Mr. O’Farrill arranged and conducted what he called The Second Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite, this time with the vastly expanded Chico O’Farrill Orchestra. Although Charles Mingus is reputed to have begun his extraordinary piece, “Half-Mast Inhibition”), a suite of sorts, in 1939 and completed it in 1941, it was not recorded until 1960, when Gunther Schuller conducted Mr. Mingus’ large ensemble which was first released as Pre-Bird, (Emarcy), and Duke Ellington had already written and recorded his expanded piece, “Creole Rhapsody” (if not structurally, then certainly conceptually), a suite in 1931 (Brunswick/Vocalion), Chico O’Farrill’s work was the first Afro-Cuban extended work to be fused with the Jazz and, indeed, the Classical idioms as well. Both of Mr. O’Farrill’s suites are watershed works, but his first suite is probably more celebrated because it was recorded with Charlie Parker sitting in with the two other alto saxophonists.

Machito and his Afro-Cuban Orchestra: Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite

Chico O’Farrill – Afro Cuban Jazz Suite 1The first Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite is celebrated for the presence of Bird, who sat in the alto saxophone section and blew his famous choruses four minutes into “Mambo”. It is vintage, breathtaking Charlie Parker, jostling with the rest of the orchestra like a medieval knight with his lance, his burnished alto saxophone. However, the Suite also provides a masterful account of the master’s writing for the silkiest of woodwind instruments. As a composer, Chico O’Farrill tended to the concise Classical model, but also crafted his majestic sections into dramatic, romantic parts that emphasised the lyrical as well as the vigorous. The highly articulated style of the Suite is accentuated by the addition of conveniently placed, slurred glissandos and numerous extra dynamic especially in the section entitled “Transition” which features the orchestra’s other star, the tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips, a rousing section, with heated exchanges with the great Charlie Parker. “Transition and Jazz” is made memorable for the blitzkrieg-like drum solo by Buddy Rich, who had been known for his accuracy of tempo as well as the fact that he was fleet of hands and feet. This section is memorable just for that. The Suite’s constant morphology returns it to a profoundly beautiful slower movement that features forlorn brass egged on by woodwinds as the piece is brought to its final dénouement.

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