ARTURO O'FARRILL, pianist, composer, and educator, was born in Mexico and grew up in New York City. He received his formal musical education at the Manhattan School of Music and the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. Arturo's professional career began with the Carla Bley Band and continued as a solo performer with a wide spectrum of artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, and Harry Belafonte. Arturo is a member of the faculties of both the Manhattan School of Music and the School of Jazz at the New School.
In 2007, he founded the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the performance, education, and preservation of Afro Latin music. Learn more about ALJA here: http://www.afrolatinjazz.org.
In December 2010 Arturo traveled with the original Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra to Cuba, returning his father's musicians to his homeland. He continues to travel to Cuba regularly as an informal Cultural Ambassador, working with Cuban musicians, dancers, and students, bringing local musicians from Cuba to the US and American musicians to Cuba.
During 2016-2018, Arturo has performed with orchestras and bands including his own Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and Boss Level Sextet, as well as other Orchestras and smaller ensembles in the US, Europe, Russia, Australia, and South America.
An avid supporter of all the Arts, Arturo has performed with Ballet Hispanico and the Malpaso Dance Company, for whom he has written three ballets. In addition, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company is touring a ballet entitled "Open Door," choreographed by Ron Brown to several of Arturo's compositions and recordings. Ron Brown's own Evidence Dance Company has commissioned Arturo to compose New Conversations, which premieres Summer of 2018 at Jacob's Pillow in Becket, MA.
Arturo has received commissions from Meet the Composer, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Philadelphia Music Project, The Apollo Theater, Symphony Space, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Young Peoples Chorus of New York, and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Arturo's well-reviewed and highly praised "Afro-Latin Jazz Suite" from the album CUBA: The Conversation Continues (Motéma) took the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition and the 2016 Latin Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album. His powerful "Three Revolutions" from the album Familia-Tribute to Chico and Bebo was the 2018 Grammy Award (his sixth) winner for Best Instrumental Composition.
GRAMMY® Award-winning pianist/composer Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra release their latest recording, Four Questions (ZOHO Music), featuring special guest Dr. Cornel West on the title composition "Four Questions" on Friday, April 10, 2020. Four Questions marks O'Farrill's first album in his famed recording catalog to exclusively include all originally written compositions. Weaving together empowering messages for the times, Four Questions portrays the pioneering pianist as outspoken as ever on the obligation of artists to speak truth to the great injustices occurring across the globe.
"What does unity do in the face of adversity / oppression? What does honesty do in the face of lies / deceit? What is decency in the face of insults? How does virtue meet brute force? " This is a quote from a book written in 1903 by the eminent black rights activist William DuBois, "Souls of the Black People". In 2016, philosopher and publicist Cornel West, along with Arturo O'Farill and his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, presented at one of their concerts the composition Four Questions, where West delivers a speech including these four Dubois questions to O'Farill's music. Today she entered O'Farilla's new album and even gave it a title.
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What does integrity do in the face of adversity / oppression? What does honesty do in the face of lies / deception? What does decency do in the face of insult? How does virtue meet brute force? These four questions posed by the great African American civil rights activist and author W. E. B. Du Bois in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk are expounded upon in a speech given by Dr. Cornel West based on his book, Black Prophetic Fire, given October 9, 2014 at Town Hall in Seattle. That speech turned my life around and Dr. West has become a giant figure in my thinking.
Without a doubt, he is a controversial figure and many within his own intelligentsia community have attacked him for a variety of reasons. I have learned from firsthand experience that if you are under attack (especially by your own) it could be because standing strong for what you believe will threaten others in their complacency. Regardless of your stance on Dr. West, he holds our feet to the fire and demands that we deal with the social and political horrors of our day. Say what you will, he is a modern-day prophet and prophets throughout the ages are attacked for calling it like it is.
These are some of the ugliest times in American history. In my wildest imagination I could not have foreseen a time when a president would unabashedly divide the nation across racial lines for his own advance and aggrandizement. These days are marked by governance shaped by dishonesty and manipulation and will be a stain in our history for generations to come. More than ever the brilliance of Du Bois' introspections, West's interpretations and the pure jazz fire with which they are delivered are a salve for those who are hurt by this daily assault and an irritant to those who would use ideology to promote hatred and violence.
Four Questions was premiered as the Cornel West Concerto at the Apollo theater on May 21, 2016 by the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra with Dr. Cornel West as guest soloist, conductor and percussionist. The gravity of the 2016 presidential election and its potential for doom was in the air. Dr. West and I were in conversation about Jazz and its inability to address social and political issues. We decided that many of its contemporary leaders had abdicated this responsibility as set forth by revolutionaries like Charles Mingus, Billy Holiday and even Louis Armstrong. Dr. West is a historian of jazz and knows more about its history than many scholars and journalists. We are devotees of the music but wondered where its bite had gone. It seems to be used more for selling nationalism, socio-economic status, soft drinks and luxury cars than to remind us of the history of the African Diaspora. At the end of the piece Dr. West references the ultimate sacrifice that many of our civil rights leaders have made in the continuing struggle. I looked out across my bandstand to see many of my musicians struggling to hold back tears. To look into the face of reality and examine one's own life in context, is the highest realization of this divine gift called music. Also, during my MacDowell residency, I composed a piece called Clump/Unclump. The piece is about the relentless law of gathering and scattering, the coming together and the falling asunder. It occurred to me that this law has a scientific, philosophical, and relational corollary. Some call it, Ying and Yang but it's far different. It's not about cycles or balance, but about elements coming together and then coming apart. When I wrote the piece, I was in the process of dealing with the fact that my oldest child was leaving the parental home and my remaining parent was terminally ill. All of the elements of my life which I thought were rock solid were pulling apart with centrifugal force. In physics, the idea of particles, strings, and atoms acting in this manner is understood but it seemed to me that this was a micro- lesson that's constantly revealed on a macro scale. It became an anthem for the period that we live in that has hatred and mediocrity as its guiding spirit, this too shall pass.
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