“Campina” (1995) Chico O’Farrill with Arturo O’Farrill, Bob Franceschini and Victor Paz


Composed and arranged by Chico O’Farrill.

Recorded by Chico O’Farrill and His Afro-Cuban Orchestra for Milestone Records in February 1995 in New York.

Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill, directing: Vitin “Victor” Paz, Michael Mossman, Jim Seeley, Dan Colette and Tim Ouimette, trumpets; Gerald Chamberlain, Papo Vasquez, Robin Eubanks, Earl McIntyre, trombones; Jeffrey Scott and Sharon Moe, French horns; Lenny Hambro and Rolando Briceno, alto saxophones, flutes and clarinets; Mario Rivera and Bob Franceschini, tenor saxophones, flutes and clarinets; Pablo Calogero, baritone saxophone; Arturo O’Farrill, Jr. piano; Andy Gonzalez, bass; Steve Berrios, drums; Manny Oquendo, bells and bongos; Jerry Gonzalez, conga drum.

The story:

The best summary of the life and work of Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill (1921-2001) I have found was presented in his obituary, which was written by Ben Ratliff, and appeared in the New York Times on June 29, 2001. Here are parts of it, which I have edited and augmented:

“Chico O’Farrill, the composer, arranger and onetime trumpeter who was one of the primary creators of Afro-Cuban jazz, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 79 and lived in Manhattan. (At left: Chico O’Farrill in the 1950s.)

In one of the happiest career-restoration stories of popular music, Mr. O’Farrill received more recognition in the last six years of his life than ever before, thanks to a series of albums produced by his record manager and producer, Todd Barkan, for the Fantasy/Milestone label. They were ‘Pure Emotion’ (1995) and ‘Heart of a Legend’ (1999) — both nominated for Grammy Awards — and ‘Carambola’ (2000). As his 18-piece big band, conducted by Mr. O’Farrill with his son Arturo at the piano, became a success, with a weekly engagement at Birdland in Manhattan for the last three years, his name jumped from footnote to boldface.

Mr. O’Farrill’s public obscurity (he was well-known within the music profession) stemmed from his unassuming personality and also from his perfectionism. He worked as a composer and arranger, in the late 1940’s and and into the 1950’s for Benny Goodman, who is said to have nicknamed him ‘Chico’; Dizzy Gillespie, Machito, Stan Kenton, Count Basie and Stan Getz, among others. Later, after living and working in Mexico from the late 1950s until returning to New York in mid-1965, he worked arranging music heard on American television commercials for 25 years.

But he said the big band was his instrument; if he could not make big-band records with the appropriate time, care and money that required, then he would not have a bandleader’s career. And he almost didn’t.

Arturo O’Farrill was born in Havana, Cuba in 1921 to an upper-middle-class family; his father was born in Ireland and his mother had German ancestry. His parents sent him to military school in Gainesville, Georgia for the years 1936 to 1940, where he learned to play trumpet and heard and became captivated by big-band jazz. He returned to Cuba in 1940. His parents did not share his enthusiasm over jazz, nevertheless, they allowed him to study composition and arranging with the Cuban composer Felix Guerrero.

In the period from 1940 to 1948, he plunged into Havana’s nightlife, which was teeming with American jazz, and played trumpet with several dance bands, including Orquesta Bellemar, Armando Oréfiche’s Lecuona Cuban Boys and Los Newyorkers. Through this time, his interest in jazz continued and  deepened.

In an interview in the late 1990s, O’Farrill said that he found Cuban music boring. There was only one phrase that repeated itself ad infinitum, over and over. There was no richness, no notes to go to.’  He did not grasp the possibilities of fusing jazz with Afro-Cuban music until he arrived in New York in 1948. At first, he studied with Bernard Wagnaar, Stefan Volpe and Hall Overton. Then he met the Swedish clarinetist Stan Hasselgard, who was at that time working with Benny Goodman. Soon he was introduced to Goodman and began writing for him. Among his works for BG were “Undercurrent Blues,” and “Shishkebop.”

The late 1940s in New York was the watershed moment for the fusion of bebop and Afro-Cuban music, or Cubop, as it came to be called. The bandleader Machito had been in New York since 1938, playing big-band Cuban music, and was beginning — with the help of the arrangers René Hernández and Mario Bauzá — to add more and more modern jazz to it.

Although Mr. O’Farrill did a good bit of arranging work on his own through much of the 1950s, he did much more arranging that was ‘ghostwriting,’ that is writing for others, like Walter (Gil) Fuller, Quincy Jones and Billy Byers, who already had too much work on their hands, and often were up against deadlines.

In 1950, he connected with the jazz impresario Norman Granz, who produced a Machito recording session that included Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips and Buddy Rich. The piece they recorded on Dec. 21, 1950, “The Afro-Cuban Suite,” was Mr. O’Farrill’s, was an ambitious work that took that blended Latin big-band music and with a classical sense of contrasting themes and sophisticated harmony. That project marked the beginning of an association with Granz’s record labels Clef and Norgran, that resulted in LPs recorded between 1951 and 1954, including ”The Second Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite.” These LPs have been reissued in the CD format with the title: ”Cuban Blues: The Chico O’Farrill Sessions,” on Verve/Universal.

Chico O’Farrill also worked with Dizzy Gillespie, writing ”The Manteca Suite” for him in the mid-1950s. In 1955 Mr. O’Farrill left New York, ducking marital and legal trouble, returning to Cuba for a time. In 1957, he moved to Mexico City. He stayed there until April of 1965, recording albums there with Cuarteto D’Aida, the pianist and singer Bola de Nieve, and the percussionist Gírardo Rodriguez. He also composed another major work, ”The Aztec Suite,” for the jazz trumpeter Art Farmer, as well as ”Six Jazz Moods,” a 12-tone piece.

After returning to New York, he made records with Miguelito Valdes, Cal Tjader, Count Basie, Gato Barbieri, Dizzy Gillespie and others. He became frustrated that he was generally called on only to write or arrange Afro-Cuban jazz despite his proved ability to write in most major styles of the music. In 1975 he worked again with  Machito and Gillespie for an album, ”Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods.”

After 1975, for 20 years, the only recorded music he made was for television commercials. He arranged a few pieces for David Bowie’s 1993 album ”Black Tie White Noise,” but did not return to recording as the leader of his own band until 1995, with the CD ”Pure Emotion.”

O’Farrill was featured in a Jazz at Lincoln Center program in 1995, which included a piece commissioned for him, featuring Wynton Marsalis. And he was a part of the recent Latin-Jazz film ”Calle 54,” directed by Fernando Trueba.

In March of 2001, he stopped leading his band at Birdland, leaving the conducting chores to his son, Arturo, who survives him along with his wife, Lupe, and a daughter, Georgina, of Los Angeles.

The mixture of jazz and Afro-Cuban music, Mr. O’Farrill once said, is ‘a very delicate marriage. You can’t go too much one way or the other. It has to be a blend. But you have to be careful with how different styles come together. Otherwise music labeled Latin jazz could end up being like Glenn Miller with maracas, or Benny Goodman with congas. Latin jazz is much deeper than that.'”

The music: “Campina” is a strongly melodic composition that rests comfortably atop gentle Cuban rhythms and richly voiced chords. Note especially how O’Farrill uses the woodwinds and the four trombones, augmented by the two French horns. The piano parts are played by Chico’s son, Arturo, and the flute parts by Bob Franceschini.

The liner notes for the CD from which this performance was taken, “Pure Emotion,” on the Milestone label, written by the producer Todd Barkan, provide more details: “Sensitive playing from one of the iron men of Latin jazz, trumpeter Victor Paz (shown above right), highlights ‘Campina.’ The piece is a guajira, a rural Cuban form with heavy Spanish elements, and was composed for Cuban director Jorge Ulla’s 1982 film Guaguasi.” 

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve always loved Chico’s updating of “King Porter Stomp” for Goodman’s “Bebop” band. I think it manages to maintain the flavor and excitement of the original while definitely adding bebop flourishes in an organic way, not just tacking them on to the Henderson chart.

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