It felt cool waking down the streets of Manhattan, I can’t lie. Busy as it is, your destination’s never in question. I landed at Birdland Jazz Club just off W 44th st (trying to fit in as much as possible, I made sure I had my directions down), the newest location in NYC since the late 80’s. It was like a live museum — pictures of Jazz players, past and present. The nights evening featured the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, playing the music of Chico O’Farill. They didn’t have to look too far, led by pianist and son of Chico: Arturo O’Farill. Though on this night, he let the orchestra shine.
Founded in 2007 by GRAMMY®-award winning, pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill, In early 2007, O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) left Jazz at Lincoln Center to pursue the twin goals of developing new audiences for big band Latin jazz and creating a robust educational program for young performers. With the support of a group of prominent leaders from the worlds of jazz and Latin culture, O’Farrill launched ALJA to serve as a non-profit organization that could advance both the performance and educational aspects of this uniquely Pan-American art form.
Hailing from Havan, Cuba, Chico O’farrill’s base in New York became breeding grounds to combine, at the time, less known Latin musical traditions and styles with the well established big band jazz sound. He was raised to follow family tradition and enter into law practice, though before he could, he became enamored with jazz music and pursued that instead. He discovered big band jazz when he attended military boarding school in Florida, where he first learned to play the trumpet, and after returning to Havana began studying classical music under Felix Guerrero at the Havana Conservatory and playing in local nightclubs alongside figures like Isidro Perez and Armando Romeu. In 1948, he relocated to New York City, where he continued his classical music studies under Stefan Wolpe, Bernard Wagenaar, and others at the Juilliard School, and began to pursue the jazz scene in his free time.
Fast forward to 2022, and the Latin Jazz Orchestra continue to push forward and advance [Chico] O’Farill’s compositions with their own modern twist. The evening made for great food, drinks and of course, music. They opened with a classic standard A wonderful night in Tunisia, then ventured into the psychedelic realm w the tune To smoke something By that point, I’d say I was in a good state of mind to enjoy that tune.
Each player was allotted enough time to show off their solo chops and expert musicianship.
One of the final jams included a call and response, more so tongue and cheek, as the Percussionist kept it simple, asking the audience to say a word that’s rather easy in Spanish: “Si!”
Aside from the great music, I admired the ALJO’s commitment of keeping music in schools, particularly in public schools that serve youth of color. To learn more about their mission , check out their website https://afrolatinjazz.org/#
Birdland was everything and more. If you were to ask me if I’d go again, my answer’s simple: “Si!”