Barbary Coast tribute tonight: Jazz great, Chico O'Farrill comes to Dartmouth for performance

by Kascha B. Semon | 11/6/98 6:00am

The Barbary Coast, joined by pianist Arturo O'Farrill, bassist Andy Gonzalez, and trumpeter Jim Seely, will tribute Latin jazz artist Chico O'Farrill this Saturday evening at 8 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium.

The concert will include O'Farrill's Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite, Pure Emotion, Trumpet Fantasy and several other of his pieces. In addition, Hafiz Shabazz, Steve Ferraris, Eugene Uman and Sarah London will be featured, and the Barbary Coast will perform "One Bass Hit" by Dizzy Gillespie, a principal force in jazz history while O'Farrill composed.

Born in Cuba, O'Farrill moved to the U.S. in 1948 to make a name for himself as one of the greatest composers and arrangers of Latin big band music.

He recorded with and wrote for such great musicians as Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Machiato, Charlie Parker and Gillespie.

He created the Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Big Band which has become well known for gigs at the New York club Birdland.

Impressed by O'Farrill's album "Pure Emotion," Glasgo decided to tribute O'Farrill and asked fellow musicians and friends Gonzalez and Arturo O'Farrill to join him. Glasgo and the Barbary Coast collaborated with Gonzalez and several members of his Latin band, Libre, in 1994.

Gonzalez said he feels the music is important because the genre combines "two idioms that are well-played" in a unique way. He said O'Farrill is a great composer because his compositions, like classical work, include multi-movement pieces and varied orchestration.

Of the concert pieces, Gonzalez and Arturo agreed that "Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite" is representational of O'Farrill's style. "It's a part of history," said Gonzalez.

"[The music] represents a synthesis of culture that can only take place in America," said Arturo. He said he thinks there is still a "cultural construction of high-art and low-art," where jazz is considered a low art in comparison to classical music. "It's really amazing that Dartmouth is hip enough to bring this here."

Arturo himself studied classically from age 12, culminating in a B.M. and M.F.A. in piano performance, but he said, with a laugh, "It doesn't matter though-- it took me years to unlearn what I learned in conservatory."

"It really is an entirely different tradition ... with entirely different rhythms and it's just not the same --you're not in Kansas anymore," said Glasgo. He said the difference in style makes it harder for the group to play because "you can't assume you know how the rhythms go."

"It's very difficult for people used to playing in a certain way. It's terrorizing really when you have to read some hard music but it's very rewarding if they can get it together," said Gonzalez.

O'Farrill developed this unique synthetic style in the 1940s and '50s in New York, but, as Glasgo said in a press release, "were it not for a military school in Georgia, what Mario Bauza called the 'happy marriage' of Afro-Cuban music and jazz might never have happened." O'Farrill's parents sent him to the military school where he learned to play the trumpet. His parents did not receive his new found talent well when he returned to Havana, where he played jazz in night clubs.

O'Farrill returned to the U.S. to study jazz, and it was there that he saw the potential of Afro-Cuban music.

He was influenced by Gillespie andGoodman and other big names in jazz but did not confine his education to jazz musicians, studying Bartok string quartets at the New School and composition and orchestration at Juliard.

"Some people accused me of fooling with the purity of Cuban music,' said O'Farrill, "but jazz had the complexities that I loved. I wanted to hear them together."

After a 10-year retreat to Cuba and Mexico, Farrill re-entered the U.S. music scene on a small scale, writing commercial and symphonic works until 1995 when his milestone recording "Pure Emotion" caught critical attention.

His Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra in New York performed in Jazz at Lincoln Center and held regular concerts at the well-known club, Birdland.

The 'Coast has been working on the music since the second week of October, and since O'Farrill and Gonzalez's arrival on Monday, the musicians have been preparing for the concert not only through full rehearsals but through workshops relating to the concert.

O'Farrill, Gonzalez, and Seely held rhythm and brass master classes and sectionals and a lecture titled "What Makes a Mambo a Mambo?" during the week.

The visiting musicians also played in a jam session at the Lone Pine tavern and held an interview with Vermont Public Radio and a workshop with the Lebanon High School Concert Band.

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