NEW YORK -- As diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Cuban governments thawed this winter, pianist and composer Arturo O'Farrill was in Havana recording an album with some Cuban colleagues.
"I saw people break out into tears of joy,” O’Farrill told The Huffington Post. “And I think that moment made its way on to the tracks.”
The New York-raised son of legendary Cuban bandleader Chico O'Farrill has long looked to the island for inspiration. He first visited in 2002 at the invitation of Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés to play the Jazz Plaza Festival in Havana. He has returned in recent years to develop a project that symbolizes the long-awaited relaxing of Cold War hostilities that have defined the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba for half a century.
For his forthcoming album, "Cuba: The Conversation Continues," O’Farrill teamed up with a group of six Cuban musicians to reimagine the 1940s encounter between U.S. jazz giant Dizzy Gillespie and Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. The greats recorded classics like “Manteca” that fused Afro-Cuban rhythms with the emerging bebop style. Many view those collaborations as a pioneering step toward the creation of the now well-defined genre of Latin jazz.
Listen to the 1947 recording of “Manteca,” performed by the Dizzie Gillespie Orchestra with Chano Pozo on percussion.
For O’Farrill, the fusion between Afro-Cuban music and the American jazz tradition is one that has helped define both his personal and professional lives.
“It’s based on a project that’s been cooking in my mind forever,” O’Farrill told The HuffPost. “You see, Diz and Chano understood the African roots of our music are universal… They realized that they were playing the same music, but that it came from different places.’”
The new work will debut on Friday in New York’s Symphony Space venue. O'Farrill's Afro Latin Orchestra will be joined by three musicians traveling from the island -- trumpeter Yasek Manzano, pianist Alexis Bosch and Juan de la Cruz Antomarchi, a.k.a. “Cotó,” who plays a traditional double-stringed guitar called the “tres.” U.S. composers Michele Rosewoman and two of the bandleader’s sons, composer Zack O’Farrill and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, will also make appearances.
O’Farrill says he hopes his musical collaborations with artists on the island will help encourage elected officials and policymakers working to mend the fractures U.S.-Cuba relationship.
“There’s a lot of suffering and poverty [in Cuba],” O’Farrill said. “But I gotta tell you that there’s a lot of brilliant joy and beauty. I don’t know how they do that. So I said, this is something we’ve got to keep studying, keep working on.”