May 27, 2024

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Interview with Arturo O’Farrill: The musicians I know are flexible: Video

Jazz interview with jazz composer, bandleader, and pianist Arturo O’Farrill. An interview by email in writing. – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music? 

Arturo O’Farrill: – I grew up in New York city on the Upper West Side, and it was expected of me to play the piano because my father was a composer. I gradually started playing and when I was 12 years old I discovered Herbie Hancock and Miles Davies’ famous quintet and I decided, right there and then, that I had to be able to play like them in order to find happiness.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

AO’F: – I’ve always insisted on following my own methodologies, I started with very little jazz, mostly classical. Later on, when I became a professor, I learned the pedagogic, but by then it was too late, and I created my own language. My sound is constantly evolving, constantly changing.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

AO’F: – There are only three things that I try not to do. I try not to play for applause, for reviews or awards. The fact that I have any of that stuff is a miracle. I love all kinds of music, there are no borders, no walls: reggaeton, hip hop, jazz.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

AO’F: – I practice regularly, and I also constantly listen to new things, new sounds, concentrating on improving my language.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

AO’F: – It’s hard to say. I love any of my albums, I put all my heart and soul into them, I am very proud of the work that I do. When you say that you love your own work, it’s a little egotistical. But I think the thing that interests me about this album is the language that you don’t really hear a lot. It’s Latin, jazz, so many different things which really speak to who I am as an artist.

There could be talk or advertising about your CD

JBN: – And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?

AO’F: – I was working on a lecture for the New England Conservatory. But musically, I’m working on a beautiful opera called Lucero which I hope to bring to fruition in the next year or two.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

AO’F: – The musicians I know are flexible. There are musicians who are multilingual culturally. They «speak» jazz, Afro-Cuban funk, they are the most well-versed musicians that I can think of.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

AO’F: – I’d like to believe that the real music is all soul, and it’s no way to filter it through your lack or overabundance of intellect. But if it’s not generated in an intuitional way, it’s not real. It has to come from deep in the soul.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

AO’F: – I think giving people what they want is presumptuous, I think people want to go on journeys. Musicians and audiences that I know like to be taken on risks and dangerous missions of covert musical rebelliousness. So placation, that’s not in the cards for me.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

AO’F: – I don’t play standards, I play music that is written in contemporary times.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

AO’F: – Music is as close as we can get to that ineffable quality that spirit is.

The spirit has no metrics, no measuring. In music, it’s the same way. Music as close to spirit as we can possibly find.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

AO’F: – I would de-construct the elitism that so many people surround their listening with. In other words, when somebody says «I’m a jazz listener» they confer justification on themselves. When one says «I’m listening to classical music», it confers sophistication or socio-economic elitism, and that’s nonsense. If I could change something, I would bring Bach in the street, and take jazz and Latin and all music and play it in town halls and squares and plazas. The music would not have the rigorous territorial markings that it does now.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

AO’F: – I created a playlist for Apple, and it’s a collection of Latin jazz. What I found is that Latin jazz artists are doing incredible things, and they are way more adventurous than typical jazz musicians. So i’m hearing incredible sounds that really draw on the globality of this music.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

AO’F: – I would go and sit with Ravel, and try to capture his esthetics for orchestration. I think Ravel must have had the biggest, most incredible years in the history of music, and I would try and steal all his tricks.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

AO’F: – I do. I have a question for my audience. Given a choice of being told what to listen to or being drawn by something that picks your curiosity that you may not know may not understand or categorize – wouldn’t you rather listen to something that does that for you, than something that just affirms what somebody else is telling you? Hang on that.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Arturo O'Farrill Cuban Jazz | New York Latin Culture Magazine

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