Chico O'Farrill
Back to Music
Facets of an Alchemist
On peut se sentir fier d'etre contemporain
d'un certain nombre d'hommes de ce

Albert Camus
In 1945, in the affluent El Vedado section of Havana,
24-year-old trumpeter, composer, and arranger Arturo
O'Farrill changed the sound of Western popular music
forever. He had grown up to the strains of Afro-Cuban
music but had also been immersed in European
classical music and bebop.

"Havana was a most diverse, sophisticated city. Here I
was, at 24, a white musician from a solid, upper
middle-class family of foreign extraction, feeling the
attraction of black music, the same music that my
black nanny had sung in my childhood..."

This is the background that fed his visionary impetus
leading to the creation of the
Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite,
the fist Latin jazz suite ever, which would be recorded
five years later in New York. The suite for big band
would become O'Farrill trademark.

After the tandems of Machito-Mario Baruzá and Chano
Pozo-Dizzy Gillespie, whcih have propelled Latin jazz to
the fore of the American scene, Arturo O'Farrll has
earned his place as the third point of the golden

With O'Farrill, the alchemist, Latin jazz is no longer a
simple superposition of Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz
solos: it becomes genuine fusion.

Thanks to his deep knowledge of Western classical
and twentieth-century music, he manages to give a
symphonic character to works which otherwise could
sound trivia at first. As early as 1945, he starts to
focus on arranging, brilliantly demonstrating that Latin
jazz, far from a mere anecdote, is a genre by itself.

In his musical career of 60 years, O'Farrill has never
worked under pressure from the public. He has always
steered clear of trends, because he preferred looking
for the essential, and for him the essential is the
alchemy that changes notes to images, color,
atmosphere, poetry, humor.

In the spring of 1999, in the smallest room of his New
York apartment, leaning on a drawing table covered
with large music sheets, his back pencil in the nervous
fingers of one hand while the fingers of the other hand
were running on the keyboard on his piano, O'Farrill
was preparing what would become this new,
exuberant album,
Carambola. I often had the privilege
of visiting him, unintentionally interrupting moments of
intense concentration punctuated by frequent
exclamations of joy and exasperation too, as he was
talking aloud to clarify his thoughts. I could then
perceive from the sparkling of his eyes that in the
corridors of his mind ideas were calling across to
each other, and suddenly a brillant solution would
spurt from his imagination, reconciling once again a
world of diverging rhythms.

The compositions on this CD have forms, figures,
rhythmical combinations reflecting European and
Cuban roots against the backdrop of American history.
This new album is also an homage to the creative
spirit, a hymn to joy - listen to "Waller Exercise",  a
theme that reminds us that some of the roots of
ragtime lie in Cuban history. It is an album full of elation
alternating with serenity, in which engineer Jon Fausty
has brought excellence to the subtle art of mixing.
by Luc Delannoy
Liner notes
Maestro O'Farrll is a supreme melodist
who imbues his unique, singable
creations with inexorable rhythmic thrust.
Wynton Marsalis
He was revolutionizing music, combining
influences, using his amazing training to
juxtapose jazz with Latin forms and classics.
Lalo Schifrin
It is the third part of an unintended trilogy, from
Milestone Records, which started with
Pure Emotion
(a reminder that Chico was still alive), and continued
Heart of a Legend  (a stunning compilation that
revealed his colossal eclecticism). Even though these
two previous installments possessed an undeniable
brilliance, they had the awareness of work intended
as a calling card.
Carambola, at least in my view,
exudes an effortless perfection. The first
azz Suite and The Aztec Suite provide an exhilarating
opportunity to experience the work of a patriarch of
Modernism. The rest of the album chooses the
endurable over the immediate, intertextuality, depth of
aesthetic conviction, dignity. Yet, even with so much to
absorb, Chico O'Farrill never fails to entertain, move,
amuse and surprise the listener. He conveys the joy of
genuine art.

In the Forties, bebop was not a fad in Havana, but once
he had discovered this music, O'Farrill defended it
passionately - so passionately that when Rita
Montaner (the grand diva of Cuban divas) asked him in
1945 to prepare some arrangements for her new
show, he did not hesitate to inject bebop phrases in a
guaracha. Today, more than half a century later, Chico
has recreated the ambiance of the times reviving one
song from that period. Oye Mi Rumba" captures the
exuberance with which Cubans faced their fate of
social distress and political agitation, perennial
specters of a diseased republic. With its conga
carabali opening, O'Farrill evokes a certain Cuban
belle époque. It is a deceivingly easy song whose
simple melodic progression and use of intervals
denote the skill to make a jewel with very little. It is
sung with humor and zest by the inimitable Graciela,
who after having mesmerized audiences for years
with Machito's band, is now celebrating her 85th
birthday with music.

With his own quintet, O'Farrill struggles in a world of
indifference, decides to leave the country, and lands in
New York in 1948. The trumpeters Fatrs Navarro and
Mario Bauza expose Arturo to jazz.  O'Farrill joins the
pool of ghostwriters working for Gil Fuller. "Fuller was
doing arrangements for Gillespie and Basie. In fact, he
had a number of arrangers actually doing the work for
him. I simply joined the stable. Later I started writing
arrangements for Billy Byers, who was also working
for Quincy Jones."

During his collaboration with Benny Goodman, was
baptized him Chico, O'Farrill meets the producer
Norman Granz, who proposes a theme for Machito's
next recording.
Gone City, recorded in 1949, is the
start of Chico's collaboration with Granz, Machito and
Bauzá. The year after, In New York, Chico directs
Machito's band, with Bauzá, Harry "Sweers" Edison,
Charlie Parker and Flip Phillips, for the recording of the
Afro Cuban Jazz Suite.

Featured here as Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite, it is a
magistral composition, vibrant with actuality and
revealing new aspects of its beauty with each
listening. Today's version, the first since the original
recording fifty years ago, proves it brilliantly. Never in
the history of jazz has a composer, arranger, and
conductor had the opportunity to conduct and record
again, after a half-century, the key work of his career,
with access to state-of-the-art technology and a
masterful orchestra that both understands and is able
to execute all the subtleties of his music.

After the
succes d'estime of this first suite recorded
en 1950, offers begin to come in. For Dizzy Gillespie he
writes "Carambola", a mambo-bebop composition
that gives its name to the present album. He
collaborates briefly with Stan Kenton (
Cuban Episode)
and composes the second
Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite, a
subtle piece which is more discreet but just as solid
as the first suite.
The third suite arrives at the heyday of the mambo
craze. Inspired by "Manteca", the theme Chano Pozo
which he arranges as the first part of this new suite,
O'Farrill writes three original movements.
was recorded in 1954 with Dizzy Gillespie and
a formidable big band that included J.J. Johnson, the
percussionists José Mangual, Ubaldo Nieto, Mongo
Santamaría, Cándido Camero, and a young fourth
trumpet named Quincy Jones.

With the arrival of rock'n'roll and television, the
glorious period of big bands comes to an end.
Without any real work in view, Chico decides to go to
Cuba for inspiration. With his peers fully aware of
his accomplishments abroad -
en El Norte - he gets
what amounts to a royal welcome. This is the
Havana of Guillermo Cabrera Infante's monumental
Tres tristes tigres.

He travels several times from Havana to México, and
eventually settles there in 1957. For O'Farrill these
Cuban and Mexican years are productive. He
records a series of remarkable albums;
Tropical, Chico Cha Cha Cha, An Evening at the
Sans Souci
with Cuarteto D'Aïda, Ecos Afrocubanos
with the legendary pianist-singer Bola de Nieve, and
Brisas Del Caribe with the batá player Girardo

It is also in Mexico City that Chico composes
Aztec Suite
for Art Farmer, and the dodecaphonic
Six Jazz Moods. With Carambola, it is the first time
that Chico has the opportunity to conduct and record
the magnificent
Aztec Suite, featured here in its
entirety. Its poetics, sense of structure, and deep
imagery make it an enjoyable treasure, one that
invites study of its relationship between form and

Back in New York in the summer of '65, Chico
collaborates with Count Basie on eight albums. The
press is enthusiastic, stressing that his
arrangements are in the tradition of Quincy Jones
and Billy Byers. This is no surprise, as Chico had
been, since 1948, the ghostwriter of many. The
press was in fact unwittingly rendering unto Caesar
that which was his...

While writing for Basie, Chico also collaborated with
Glenn Miller's band band arranged the album
Spanish Rice  recorded by the trumpeter Clark Terry
in July 1966 for the Impulse! label. In September
1967, leading a new orchestra, Chico goes to the
studios in New York for the Verve label. These
sessions, with the participation of several of his
countrymen, Miguelito Valdés, Cándido CAmero, and
Patato Valdés, will yield two albums,
 Married Well
Inolvidables, recently reissued.

Three years later Chico meets Clark Terry again
and, proud of his tradition, compose
Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods,
a suite in three movements
performed for the first time at the Montreux Jazz
Festival in 197 and eventually recorded with Dizzy
Gillespie in 1975 on Norman Granz's label Pablo. A
year before this recording, Chico "cubanizes" Gato
Barbieri with the arrangements of
Chapter III: Viva
Emiliano Zapata,
probably the Argentinian
saxophonist's best album.

One day in 1989, Mario Bauzá, who had been living
very discreetly for years, unexpectedly asks Chico
to write a suite in five movements based on the
classic theme
Tanga. At the same time, O'Farrill is
commissioned to write "Carnegie 100", a piece
celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Carnegie

In 1993 Chico makes a noted incursion in the world
of rock music collaborating with singer David Bowie
on two arrangements of the album
Black Tie White
The next year, with the encouragement of
Cuban film director Jorge Ulla, for whom he had
already composed the music of the film
Guaguasi  in
1984, Chico forms a new big band. In 1995 music
producer Todd Barkan comes to the rescue and the
Pure Emotion  is born. Again with Jorge Ulla's
support, now as a record producer, and joined by
Todd BArkan, and the younger Arturo, Chico records
Heart of a Legend  in 1999. The earlier album was
nominated for a Grammy.

These months Chico has been again writing actively,
creating new compositions, new arrangements and
revising old pieces for his own band. Thanks to the
dedication of his son Arturo, a brilliant and inspired
pianist, and the loyalty of all the musicians of the
band, Chico today conducts one of the best
orchestras in the country, the best he ever had!

As music critic Gary Giddins has noted, Chico has
confounded audiences with his ability to appear and
disappear with equal ease. There are, however,
many people - musicians, arrangers, or mere music
lover everywhere - who have been following the
erratic course of his career, and for whom his
music has always been a part of life because its
generosity speaks to our soul. Now his admirers
can rejoice. With its powerful content - the
heart-melting "Delirio", the hectic "Crazy City (...But I
Love It)", the magnificently tributary "Rhapsody for
Two Islands" -
Carambola lies somewhere between
art and magic.

The last of the mambo kings? Perhaps, but certainly
more than what that label entails. With his muscular
works, both personal and collective, with their
quasi-mystical radiance, Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill has
the power to pollinate many minds and his notes will
resonate in the creations of composers to come.
Carambola  is proof that the future is his.