Arturo O’Farrill, a six-time Grammy-winning pianist, composer and music educator, has been appointed professor of global jazz studies and music at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. His teaching will focus on performance and composition and on redefining the perimeters of Latin jazz.
O’Farrill is celebrated for his contributions to contemporary Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz genres, not only as a musician and composer, but as an advocate for the art form. In 2007, to secure the music’s place in the jazz pantheon and to develop new audiences, O’Farrill founded the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to the performance, education and preservation of this uniquely Pan-American art form.
“Arturo’s outstanding musicianship and his work to preserve and promote the music and heritage of Pan-African and Pan-Latin jazz for future generations aligns with the interdisciplinary foundation of our global jazz studies program,” said Judith Smith, dean of the music school. “We are honored to welcome such an inspiring music advocate and educator to our faculty.”
O’Farrill began his professional career with the Carla Bley Band, and continued as a solo performer with a wide spectrum of artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis and Harry Belafonte.
Born in Mexico City to the pioneering Cuban jazz composer and trumpeter, Chico O’Farrill, and Mexican singer, Lupe Valero, the younger O’Farrill began to fully explore his musical roots in the 1990s, when on his father’s behalf, he assembled the Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra to play at the famed Birdland jazz club. When his father died in 2001, he stepped in as band leader.
That same year, Marsalis sought him out to help Lincoln Center musicians prepare for the concert, “The Spirit of Tito Puente.” After watching O’Farrill educate the musicians on the complexities of playing Afro-Latin jazz’s distinctive musical arrangements, Marsalis asked him to form his own band and perform regularly at Lincoln Center. He subsequently founded the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, which today has expanded the contemporary Latin Jazz Big Band repertoire through important commissions from Meet the Composers, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Philadelphia Music Project, the Apollo Theater, Symphony Space, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Young People’s Chorus of New York, and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Among his commissions are also works for dance, including three ballets for Malpaso Dance Company and a recent work, “New Conversations,” for choreographer Ron Brown’s Evidence Dance Company. “Open Door,” a ballet choreographed by Brown for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, is set to recordings by O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
“To have this opportunity to foster the next generation of jazz artists, educators and scholars at the leading public university in the U.S. is truly a beautiful and bright moment in my life,” O’Farrill said. “I am thrilled to be joining the UCLA family.”
O’Farrill received his first Grammy nomination with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra in 2005, and more recently with his highly praised “Afro Latin Jazz Suite” from the album “CUBA: The Conversation Continues” (Motéma), which took the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition and the 2016 Latin Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album. His powerful “Three Revolutions” from the album “Familia-Tribute to Bebo + Chico” (Motéma) was the 2018 Grammy winner for Best Instrumental Composition.
Currently, O’Farrill is performing with his own Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and Boss Level Sextet, as well as other orchestras and smaller ensembles in the United States, Europe, Russia, Australia and South America. He also travels to Cuba regularly as an informal cultural ambassador, facilitating cross-cultural exchanges between musicians, dancers and students from the U.S. and abroad.
“Arturo’s enormous talent and cultural perspective and his deep commitment to education will greatly enhance our students’ academic experience,” said Steve Loza, chair of global jazz studies. “I am extremely excited about his coming to work with us at UCLA.”
O’Farrill was raised in New York City and received his formal musical education at the Manhattan School of Music and the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. He has served on the faculties of the Manhattan School of Music and The New School, New York. O’Farrill is a Steinway Artist.