Filed Under:  Arts & Culture, Local, Music

Holiday music comes to the Big Easy

3rd December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Arturo O’Farrill Afro Latin Trio

Arturo O’Farrill is probably best known as a big band leader directing his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO). Performing at Snug Harbor on Sunday, December 9, the remarkable pianist and son of the legendary Cuban-born trumpeter and composer Chico O’Farrill will play in a trio format.

“Imagine you’re moving 17 guys musically – you’re driving a bus with 17 people,” says O’Farrill, comparing the big band and small band experience. “And then you get in your Ferrari and you’ve got a couple of friends and you’re tooling around town. With a big band you can’t turn on a dime,” he adds while quickly saying how much he loves working with his large ensemble.

The Grammy-winning O’Farrill, who was born in Mexico and grew up in New York, will be joined by drummer Vince Cherico, a member of the ALJO who the pianist describes as “one of the most recorded and busiest Latin jazz drummers on the scene.” Gregg August also plays with the ALJO and, says O’Farrill, is highly sought after for his talents on bass in Latin jazz and classical settings.

In 2002, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra was given birth at New York’s Lincoln Center. O’Farrill approached trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who is Jazz at Lincoln Center’s artistic director about Latin jazz’s need for institutional support. The pianist was eager to delve into and share the compositions of not only his father but also greats like Tito Puente and Hermeto Pascoal.

“Wynton is quite aware of the Spanish tinge – in Jelly Roll Morton’s words – and how it is inseparable from jazz,” says O’Farrill. “He saw the need and gave us a residency for the first five years of our existence for which I will forever be grateful. It gave us a pedigree.”

In 2007, O’Farrill and the orchestra struck out on their own to form the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, a non-profit organization that holds a residency at New York City’s famous Birdland. Beyond performing, the Alliance places a strong focus on education.

When asked about the absence of a hyphen between Afro and Latin in the orchestra’s name, O’Farrill replied that it was purposeful.

“I really believe at the end of the day that all the great music we love is born out of African influence. So for me, when you hyphenate something you almost say that it is subject to that other thing,” he explains. “The music is the result of the cataclysmic Diaspora in which people were brought enslaved to the country. The miracle of their culture is that it permeates everything we do.”

O’Farrill, who is a mix of Cuban, Mexican, Irish and German descent, made his first trip to New Orleans in 1982, has played at Snug Harbor and the Ashé Center and soon after Katrina the pianist headed workshops in several newly-opened schools.

“There aren’t any words to really adequately describe how rich and powerful the culture of New Orleans is,” says O’Farrill, remarking on the results of the intermingling of African, Caribbean and New World cultures.

“There are so many people who have touched my life profoundly in New Orleans,” O’Farrill offers with deep sincerity. “I can’t wait to get back there.”

Celebrating the Holidays

Whether one’s taste runs towards Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas, Baby,” James Brown’s “Santa Go Straight to the Ghetto” or Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas,” music has long been a memorable aspect of the holiday season.

The musical mecca of New Orleans naturally boasts its own traditions and offers its individual taste of the holidays relying on the genres that are inherent to the city.

The very popular, free Christmas New Orleans Style concert series at St. Louis Cathedral kicked off on Sunday, December 2, and runs nightly (with one break) through December 20. Master jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis makes a return performance at the historic church on Monday, December 3. A range of stylistically diverse music and artists follow with jazz and gospel blended on December 5 with vocalist Phillip Manual joining the Shades of Praise gospel ensemble. Shows begin at 6 p.m.

Presented by the French Quarter Festival Productions, Christmas New Orleans Style expanded out of the neighborhood to nearby Treme last year. The Saturday concerts at St. Augustine Church at the corner of Henriette Delille Street (formerly St. Claude St.) and Gov. Nicholls Street were so successful that the free concert series returns. Vocalist John Boutte gave the opening performance on Saturday, December 1, with the Friendly Travelers performing on Saturday, Dec. 8. Germaine Bazzle & Friends, which includes bassist/vocalist George French, drummer Gerald French, saxophonist Roderick Paulin and pianist Mike Lemmler close the series on December 15. All shows start at 4 p.m.

Holiday on the Boulevard

The Ashé Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, presents its 13th Annual Holiday on the Boulevard three-day celebration from Friday, December 7, through Sunday, December 9. The multi-faceted event that features music, art, theater and merchants begins at 10 a.m. Friday with demonstrations and information on the principles of Kwanzaa. The festival gears up on the weekend with Saturday’s schedule including artists like vocalist Rudy Mills & the Caribbean Funk Band and the African percussion of Bamboula 2000 teamed with the Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians. At 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, the group of exceptional artists who appeared on the CD, Healing Force, which was recorded live at the center, will include vocalists Germaine Bazzle and saxophonist Kidd Jordan.

Zion Trinity


Sunday, the line-up is equally impressive with a mix of styles from the gospel sounds of the Golden Voices and Zion Trinity to the jazz of vocalist Michaela Harrison and trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis leading his Uptown Jazz Orchestra.

Incidentally, all of the performances are free and, despite the event’s name, are presented indoors at the increasingly active and always vital Ashé Cultural Arts Center. For more information go to www.ashecac.org.

This article originally published in the December 3, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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