ofarrill grammyAs part of our exciting two-part series about Cuba, Z’Scoop is thrilled to interview the seminal Arturo O’Farrill, 2015 Grammy Award-winning pianist, composer, arranger, educator and founder of the non-profit Afro Latin Jazz Alliance and Orchestra.

Says Arturo O’Farrill, “I don’t think you can be a musician without also being an educator and activist. You can’t really be an artist without tying together music, art, jazz without politics and socio-economics.”

Dedicated to performance, education and preservation of this genre of music, Arturo O’Farrill organizes 6 concerts between May-September at Symphony Space, (95th/Broadway, New York). Coming up May 21, Dr. Cornell West will present Arturo’s “A Still, Small Voice,” and “Jazz and Spirit,” at New York’s Apollo Theater.

O’Farrell also teaches master classes, seminars, and workshops throughout the world, and is Director of Jazz Studies-at Brooklyn College.

KC: What is the next evolution for your music?
AO’F: “Jazz is now presented as rarified, American, an elitist thing with big funding. My plan embraces jazz including its origins and influences: Africa, Spain, the Middle East, the scales, improvisational practices, note-bending all coming together in the new world. The real art, the real movement, never comes from institutions, elitism or national co-option. The future of this music and all true art discards that. This new conversation could take us towards improvisational Afghan music.”

KC: Is the evolution of Cuba going to affect your evolution musically?
AO’F: “Dizzy Gillespie’s dream universe encompasses ethno-musicologist artistic directors, record labels, historic music publishers taking doing something different. People codifying music so it is not universal. But people put things into their own context, creating complacency in this insane universe. Universal music to me is not diluting one’s essence when you open up as a musician.”

“If I define myself as a jazz pianist, there is a narrow filter that is not the source of my identity, just an entry point to who I am. As a child of the 60’s, Bill Evans and Chick Corea, the definition should be where I can lead. What if we could define it as the music of the cosmos, other planets, and extra terrestrials? Improvisational tonal language that is really different. The music I play is not bound by where I am geographically. The ending is not going to be determined by that.”

With street musicians in Old HavanaKC: So the next steps for your Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra?
AO’F: “What I would like to do next is pay tribute to our roots, my father and Bebo Chucho Valdés, a great pianist— also to young musicians who will take us into the future.“

KC: Your are so well known for your love of collaborating with other artists, who would you like to work with?
AO’F: “I would love to do something with Kendrick Lamar, he is very informed, very sophisticated also socially and politically aware, an amazing, heavy entity in the music world today. Lupe Fiasco is another one with a strong sense of musical possibilities in hip-hop. Ned Sublette also has a lot of Cuban influences. Geraldo Piloto, Isaac Delgado. And we also want to do a big Afro Pop project.

Jazz at Lincoln Center's Afro-Latin Jazz OrchestraKC: Who would be the ultimate collaboration?
AO’F: “Sonny Rollins. I would love to have a collaboration with him, and even wrote a letter about it, but have never had the courage to send it.”

Information: Arturo O’Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra CD’s are available at – Click on titles to order:

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