Radio-Active Latin Jazz

Pianist Arturo O’Farrill is at the center of a bona fide Latin jazz dynasty, but he didn’t embrace his family legacy until well into adulthood.


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Arturo O’Farrill's show is a benefit for KPFA and DACA Support Services.

Pianist Arturo O’Farrill is at the center of a bona fide Latin jazz dynasty, but he didn’t embrace his family legacy until well into adulthood.

His father, Cuban-born composer/arranger Chico O’Farrill (1921-2001), provided a conceptual bridge between the rhythmic riches of Havana and the creatively roiling New York jazz scene in the years after World War II. His Cubop sound found avid champions in big band leaders Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Stan Kenton and pioneering modernists Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Clark Terry. Though he faded from view in the 1970s and ’80s, he made a brilliant comeback at the end of his life with a series of recordings and a weekly gig at Birdland featuring Arturo on piano.

After his father’s death, Arturo kept the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra going. His own Grammy Award-winning Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra grew directly out of his father’s band and gained enviable visibility when it became Jazz at Lincoln Center’s other house ensemble from 2001 to 2007. The talent-packed orchestra is playing a series of dates around the region, including Radio-Active, a major benefit for KPFA and DACA Support Services on May 12 at the UC Theatre.

The triple bill also features powerhouse Cuban vocalist Bobi Céspedes’ band and Camilo Landau’s Son Jarocho All Stars. O’Farrill, whose sons Zachary (drums) and Adam (trumpet) perform and record as the O’Farrill Brothers Band, still plays many of his father’s arrangements. But he has expanded the band’s repertoire to encompass much of Latin America, commissioning new works by artists such as Argentine pianist Guillermo Klein, Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto, Puerto Rican alto sax star Miguel Zenón, and Venezuelan pianist Ed Simon.

“I realized you can’t play Latin music and ignore Ecuador and Chile and Peru,” O’Farrill said. “We’re Pan-American, but more importantly Pan-African.”

Radio-Active, 7:30 p.m., Sat., May 12, UC Theatre, Berkeley, $45-$90, 510-356-4000, TheUCTheatre.org

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