"I did have a choice whether to become a musician," Arturo O'Farrill said last week. "I just don't know if it was a conscious choice. I just always knew I was a musician."
However, when Arturo O'Farrill was around 5 years old, he somehow soured on a musical life.
"I took piano lessons," Arturo O'Farrill said. "They weren't forced on me, but I just stopped. I wasn't interested anymore."
Even after he stopped practicing the piano, the younger O'Farrill said that he would just naturally gravitate toward it again.
"When I knew that I was still drawn to the piano, then I knew it was something inside of me," Arturo O'Farrill said. "My father was a legendary musician, writing and recording, conducting Dizzy Gillespie. He was always traveling at a crazy, hectic pace with his career and that was part of our lives."
It didn't take long for the younger O'Farrill to carve out his own career in the music world. At age 14, he wrote his first television commercial jingle for Starkist tuna fish.
"I realized I was a good musician and started playing around New York," Arturo O'Farrill said. "It was very good that I started playing so young, but I knew I was going to have a substantial career outside of my father. I did it on purpose, because I never wanted to have the burden of having to follow in my father's footsteps. To me, it was never a question, because we wore different shoes and walked in different steps."
Maybe it was partly rebellion. Perhaps it was pure ambition. But in any case, Arturo O'Farrill wanted his own career while papa Chico was earning all the raves and accolades afforded to a legendary musician, composer and band leader.
Musician and educator Arturo O'Farrill has been able to establish himself very nicely on his own. He is an internationally renowned musician and educator, having played piano for such great recording artists as Wynton Marsalis, Papo Vazquez, Carla Bley, Steve Turre and Joseph Bowie, as well as establishing a performing career with the legendary Dizzy Gillespie - much like his father did.
O'Farrill also went on to become the musical director of Jazz at Lincoln Center's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, where he still currently works and plays as a solo artist. His compositions have been commissioned by the Meet the Composer series as well as Jazz at Lincoln Center, and most recently, The Big Apple Circus.
When Chico O'Farrill passed away in June, 2001, Arturo stepped up to take over the lead of the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece ensemble of peppy rhythms and Latin beats.
"I realized that the stuff my Dad did was pretty special," Arturo O'Farrill said. "When I got a little older, I got re-appreciated with my father's music. I stepped back into time and got involved with his band. It's great music that has stood the test of time. I don't think his music will ever stop being loved and played. Long after fazes and flavors of the month go away, my father's music lives on. I work hard to preserve my father's music and hopefully, it will live on for many years to come."
Wednesday night, O'Farrill will lead his father's band in a special concert produced by the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center, as part of the HRPAC's "Summer Concerts on the Hudson" Series in Weehawken's Lincoln Harbor Park.
The free concert begins at 7 p.m., with special guests involved as well.
The Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra has performed at every major jazz festival in the world, including the JVC Festival in New York, the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland, and the Marciac Jazz Festival in France. It has also graced many prestigious concert halls, including Alice Tully Hall in New York, Symphony Hall in Chicago, and the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. The orchestra has recently celebrated its seventh anniversary of Sundays at New York's famous jazz nightclub, Birdland.
Many of jazz's biggest stars have been featured as soloists with the orchestra, including the aforementioned Marsalis, Randy Weston, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barreto, Gato Barbieri and local Latin Jazz legend Paquito D'Rivera of North Bergen.
Some of these artists can be heard on three Grammy nominated CD's recorded by the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra for the Milestone label. They are titled Pure Emotion, Heart of a Legend and Carambola.
The orchestra has also been featured in two major motion pictures, namely the "Thomas Crown Affair" with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, for which they also contributed to the score, and "Calle 54."
Finest jazz musicians The orchestra is comprised of some of the finest Latin jazz practitioners on the scene, some of whom are leaders and recording artists in their own right. They include trumpet soloists Michael Phillip Mossman and Jim Seeley, trombonists Gary Valente and Reynaldo Jorge, and saxophonists Jimmy Cozier, Peter Brainin and Michael Migliore. The rhythm section includes such groovemeisters as bassist Ruben Rodriguez and percussionists Tony Rosa and Joseph Gonzalez.
"The rhythms are very infectious and very upbeat," O'Farrill explains. "It's very positive music and I think everyone needs to feel that positive energy every now and then."
HRPAC Executive Director Bruce Sherman is thrilled to have the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra performing this latest free concert.
"I'm particularly looking forward to hearing the full sound that this great band will bring to Lincoln Harbor Park," Sherman said. "This is the largest group that we've presented so far, and I know that the audience will be wowed by the sound. The Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra is the best of the best, and there could be no one better to continue his father's wonderful legacy than Arturo O'Farrill, a great musician in his own right."
Special guests Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda will be a special guest for this concert. Concertgoers who saw Paquito D'Rivera's great HRPAC concert last summer may remember his riveting performance on the waterfront.
Castaneda has been a protégé of Paquito's for years and has played in many of his concerts, including D'Rivera's 50th anniversary celebration at Carnegie Hall last winter.
Castaneda has been leading his own trio recently at many of New York's finest clubs including the Blue Note, Sweet Rhythm, and the Jazz Standard.
"It's wonderful to have Edmar Castaneda back," Sherman said. "So many people commented on his astonishing virtuosity after he played in Paquito D'Rivera's concert last summer. I thought he and Arturo O'Farrill would work well together and encouraged a collaboration for this concert. Edmar is one of a kind. Forget what you think the harp should sound like. In his hands, it's an incredibly exciting sound that connects with people to their core."
Also, Rhonda Hamilton, the popular morning disc jockey at WBGO Jazz Radio, will be the guest host of the evening.
"It's going to be a beautiful setting," O'Farrill said. "It's very appropriate for us to have New York as a backdrop. It's very natural, because Chico loved New York and he loved Hudson County. Some of his favorite restaurants were in Union City. Chico had a unique and special relationship with the people of this area. I'm thrilled and honored that we're going to be there."
Arturo O'Farrill and the Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra will perform Wednesday night as part of the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center's Summer Concerts on the Hudson series at Lincoln Harbor Park on Harbor Boulevard on the Weehawken waterfront. The free concert is scheduled for 7 p.m. and concert-goers are urged to bring lawn chairs or blankets. For more information, including directions and rain dates, please visit www.hrpac.org or call the HRPAC's hotline at (201) 716-4540.