Cuban Nights | Playbill

Classic Arts Features Cuban Nights
The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra celebrates Cu-Bop at Jazz at Lincoln Center in January.

If the winter weather is chilling you to the bone next month, Arturo O'Farrill and his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra will heat up two of those nights with a full arsenal of Cuban bebop titled Cubana Be Cubana Bop.

"We are paying tribute to what most people consider to be one of the origins of Afro-Cuban jazz — Cu-Bop — and the styles associated with the beginnings of Latin jazz in general," explains O'Farrill. "Of course, we're talking about Dizzy Gillespie and his work with Chano Pozo, who together created the music of Cu-Bop and Afro-Cuban jazz.

"Dizzy and Chano shared the common roots of jazz," O'Farrill continues. "Dizzy said, 'He does not speak English and I don't speak Spanish, but together we speak African.' These concerts are a celebration of that union, the meeting of those two men and the big band repertoire that resulted from that meeting."

Cubana Be Cubana Bop takes place January 12 and 13, 2007, in Rose Theater in Frederick P. Rose Hall, home to Jazz at Lincoln Center. In addition to O'Farrill and his ensemble, the shows will feature a very special surprise guest. "We are not picking somebody to necessarily recreate the roll of Dizzy," says O'Farrill, by way of a hint. "That wouldn't be our purpose. What we want is the authenticity of having an informed jazz musician who loves that music to create a vibe for the concert."

O'Farrill, of course, comes from a royal lineage of "informed jazz musicians" himself. His father, the late Chico O'Farrill, basically helped build the foundation that today we call Latin jazz. "He wrote a lot of the music for that specific era and the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra recorded that music," says his proud son. "In a sense, these concerts are a really important juncture because they represent a canon of this music, establishing some of the earlier and classic composers of the genre and their performances. Dizzy's music is the culmination of this marriage. The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra has covered some of this music before. These concerts presents a forward direction for us from here."

O'Farrill and his orchestra have indeed covered quite a lot of music since they formed in 2002, and quite a lot of ground. "We all deeply get along and it's really a fun, fun vibe," says the pianist and music director. "That's the most important thing that happens over time: you develop a sense of who's who and how you integrate, work together, and come together as a family. That's where our love comes from that hopefully touches people from the stage.

We've been given some classic opportunities — collaborated with incredible soloists like Paquito D'Rivera, Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell; commissioned great composers; performed with Ballet Hispanico. We've had chances to go to great places like Shanghai and Yokohama and Nebraska and places that would normally never see a big Afro-Latin band.

Latin music has, of course, enjoyed a recent upsurge in popularity. Could that possibly be from the new style of reggaetón? O'Farrill is asked. "I think reggaetón and our art have a different aesthetic," he replies. "Reggaetón is good because it introduces Latin music to a wider audience, but I personally don't see a difference between mainstream reggaetón and mainstream hip-hop. Latin music is about awareness of the clave, the roots of our music."

O'Farrill notes that late-night salsa clubs have also done their share in drawing attention to Latin music. "Good salsa is like good Afro-Latin jazz, always aware of the indigenous foundation," says O'Farrill. "The salsa clubs help to keep alive some of these traditions. Otherwise, we'd buy into the idea that we have to assimilate into a culture, rather than to make our stand within that culture. One of the great things about New York City and jazz — and Jazz at Lincoln Center — is that we have the right to stand on our own two feet here. We have the right to assert ourselves culturally without feeling that we're splintering or betraying our society."

Music plays such an important role in society, to the point that, in O'Farrill's view, it directly fights racism. "Music and racism cannot be said in the same sentence," he asserts. "Music is the purity of God's love expressed through vessels to show us that our similarities are way more important than our differences. Racism has no place in music. People who see black and white jazz are deluding themselves."

For ticket information to Cubana Be Cubana Bop, call CenterCharge at 1-212-721-6500 or visit And after you've enjoyed the show in Rose Theater, drop by Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola for a late-night set at Manhattan's number one jazz club.

Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director for Public Relations at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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