Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Arturo O'Farrill, 28 Oct. '21, Vedado, Havana, Cuba; d 27 June 2001, NYC) Composer/arranger, instrumentalist, bandleader. His father was Irish, mother German; he learned trumpet while studying at a US military school '36-40; abandoned law school back in Cuba to turn pro '41; played trumpet with René Touzet orchestra at a Montmartre night club and with Armando Romeu Jr's Orquesta Bellamar at Sans Souci and the Tropicana '45. He studied harmony and orchestration with maestro Félix Guerrero. He went to Mexico '44, worked as arranger and soloist with Luis Alcaraz; toured Europe '46 with Armando Oréfiche's Havana Cuban Boys. Inflluenced by Bunny Berigan, Harry James, Bobby Hackett; he described in Ira Gitler's Swing To Bop '85 how he first heard the new harmonic changes and asymmetrical phrasing of modern jazz on records brought back from NYC in '45: he thought, 'If this is the shape of things to come, how in the hell am I going to cut it?' He gave up the horn to concentrate on arranging and composing '46; co-led, wrote and arranged for Isidro Pérez Orchestra '47-8: 'the first Cuban orchestra to play jazz charts written and arranged by Cubans', said O'Farrill.

He relocated to NYC '48, studied at Juilliard and was hired as a ghost writer/ arranger with the Gil Fuller office; Stan Hasselgard recommended him to Benny Goodman '48 when Goodman was leading his only bop band. He wrote 'Undercurrent Blues' '49, 'Shishkabop' for Goodman, 'Cuban Episode' for Stan Kenton '49; also arranged for Noro Morales and others. His work for Kenton inspired Norman Granz to hire O'Farrill to write, arrange and conduct Machito's 10-inch LP Afro-Cuban Suite '50 on Clef, also featuring Flip Phillips, Buddy Rich, Harry Edison, O'Farrill's first in a celebrated series of extended multi-movement Afro-Cuban jazz pieces. ('The Machito band had limitations,' said O'Farrill in '96, '...they were mostly a swing band, a rhythmic band.') Its success prompted Granz to sign him for a series of 44 big-band tracks on Clef and Norgran '50-54 with pick-up bands including Machito's rhythm section, all compiled on double CD Cuban Blues: The Chico O'Farrill Sessions '96 on Verve including 'Afro-Cuban Suite' '50 and 'Second Afro-Cuban Suite' '52. He gigged with his own working band from '53; mid-'50s 12-inch LPs on Verve included Music From South America featuring Cuban singer Bobby Escoto, which collected cuts from his '51 10-inch LPs Afro-Cuban, Jazz North Of The Border And South Of The Border on Clef, Chico O'Farrill on Norgran. He concluded the relationship with Granz by arranging and conducting 'Manteca Suite' '54 for Dizzy Gillespie's album Afro '54 on Verve, which expanded 'Manteca' (from '47; see entries for Gillespie and Pozo) into four movements. ('Manteca Suite' compiled on The Original Mambo Kings -- An Introduction To Afro-Cubop '93 on Verve.)

He returned to Cuba '55-7, while there recorded notable Cuban jam sessions 'Descarga Numero Uno' and 'Descarga Numero Dos' with his Cuban All Stars including bassist Israel 'Cachao' López, pianist Peruchín (Pedro Jústiz: 1913-77); both cuts included on collection Los Mejores Musicos de Cuba c'60 on Gema, reissued on Palladium '88; made LP Chico's Cha Cha Chá mid-'50s on Panart (reissued as Antologia Musical '94 on Panart/Rodven) with his All Star Cuban Band featuring Peruchín, Alfredo 'Chocolate' Armenteros, others; also arranged innovative Afro-Cuban/jazz fusion recordings by Cuarteto D'Aida '57 collected on El Original Cuarteto D'Aida '92 in RCA Tropical Series. Moved to Mexico City '57-65, there co-led band 'Chico and the Arab' with Héctor Hallal for three years (Mexican musicians' union rules insisted that bands with a non-Mexican leader also had to have a Mexican co-leader). He studied composition under Rodolfo Halffter, worked on a symphony (premièred in Mexico '72), had a TV show and recorded for RCA Victor and Orfeón. Contributed arrangements to recordings made in Cuba '59 by Antobal's Cuban All Stars collected on Cuban Big Band Sound -- Tumbao Cubano '91 on Palladium (which compiles Antobal's Felsted LPs Dia de Reyes and Mango -- Mang]auu[é, plus part of Pachanga on Brunswick); also conducted and co-arranged Antobal's That Latin Beat! early '60s on Dot. (Don Mario Antobal [b Eusebio Santiago Azpiazú, 6 April 1890, Cienfuegos, Cuba; d Nov. '66] was the brother of bandleader Don Azpiazú, 1893-1943, who introduced 'The Peanut Vendor' to the USA '31 via a hit record.) Antobal's music director was Obdulio Morales, who wrote 'Enlorro'; O'Farrill succeeded to the post when Morales died.

After returning to USA '65, O'Farrill wrote for Count Basie, a Glenn Miller ghost band led by Buddy DeFranco, Frank Wess, Candido (LP '73), Gato Barbieri (LP Chapter Three, Viva Emiliano Zapata '74 on ABC/Impulse, reissued on GRP/BMG); made his own albums Tropical Fever on Fiesta and Torrid Zone on Columbia mid-'60s; Spanish Rice '66 co-led with Clark Terry and Nine Flags '66 both on Impulse (one discography lists an album on Imperial, probably the same as Spanish Rice, and another on Verve, both made in NYC '66). He arranged and conducted La Lupe's They Call Me La Lupe/A Mí Me Llaman La Lupe '66 on Tico produced by Al Santiago; made own Married Well '67 (with Miguelito Valdés adding vocals to 'Manteca') and arranged and conducted Valdés's Inolvidables '67 both on Verve. O'Farrill arranged Machito's eponymous LP on Mericana '72; wrote suite 'Oro, Incienso y Mirra' performed by the Machito band with Dizzy Gillespie at NYC's St Patrick's Cathedral on 5 Jan. '75; later recorded along with his 'Three Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods' on Grammy-nominated Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods '75 on Pablo. He made Latin Roots '76 on Japanese Philips as co-arranger and conductor of NY Latin All Stars, a 16-piece band including Larry Harlow and Barry Rogers, plus jazz stalwarts Jon Faddis, Grady Tate, Frank Wess; worked as a writer and arranger of TV and radio commercials. Commissioned by Mario Bauzá to develop his trailblazing Afro-Cuban jazz composition 'Tanga' '43 into the four movement 'Tanga Suite', first performed by Bauzá's orchestra at Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church '89; then expanded to five parts for inclusion on Bauzá's Tanga '92 on Messidor, voted album of the year in down beat critics' poll. His '95 return to bandleading, Pure Emotion on Milestone, was nominated for a Grammy; personnel of his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orch. included Manny Oquendo, Andy and Jerry González, Papo Vásquez and alto saxist Lenny Hambro, a stalwart of O'Farrill recordings who died shortly after the album's completion.