Jul 20, 2021
Pianist/composer Arturo O'Farrill was as locked down as any of us during the pandemic that shut the door on live performances over the last 18 months. However, he and his compatriots at the nonprofit Afro Latin Jazz Alliance used new technology and a whole lot of hard work to create "ALJA Digital Village," streaming programming that reached more than 1 million people in over 25 countries and raised urgently needed funds for New York/New Jersey-based jazz musicians (over $100,000 was raised).
Spotlighting ten compositions culled from over 50 online concerts, O’Farrill has released Virtual Birdland, an album featuring O'Farrill and his acclaimed 18-person Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra performing with an array of special guests. Each Virtual Birdland session was recorded remotely from the safety of each artist’s homes, and built instrument by instrument. The album contains everything from favorites from their Latin jazz repertoire, to newly commissioned work (O’Farrill’s “Gulab Jamón”) to guest tunes like Paquito D'Rivera's "Samba for Carmen" (written for the inimitable Carmen McRae), for which he joined the festivities.
Podcast 831 is my conversation with Arturo O’Farrill, as we dig deep into his feelings of why he and his group felt it necessary to create the streaming series, as well as where they are headed now that better times seem to be here. We also spent time talking about the film Fandango at the Wall, directed by Varda Bar-Kar. The film follows Arturo to Veracruz, Mexico, where he meets and jams with the masters of son jarocho and celebrates the joys of making music that is given freely and unsparingly. The documentary, which is streaming on HBO Max, addresses walls and borders that separate people, politically, culturally and on socio-economic lines, and the way in which music can bring people together.
Arturo also takes time to reminisce about bassist Andy Gonzalez, who was lost to COVID-19 last year, along with other friends and fellow musicians we lost. Musical selections from Virtual Birdland include “Gulab Jamón” and "Samba for Carmen."
Arturo O'Farrill will perform a new concert/livestreaming series at the Soapbox Gallery (636 Dean St, Brooklyn, NY). His inaugural performance will be a solo recital and the series will feature O'Farrill in an array of formats including trio, quartet, quintet, and small orchestra. Forthcoming concerts will be listed at soapboxgallery.org.