Young musicians with an interest in Latin Jazz stand as the future of our genre, but they’ve got a long road ahead of them, filled with both advantages and challenges. The next generation of Latin Jazz musicians doesn’t have the same types of training grounds that helped previous generations of musicians find their voices around Latin rhythms. The thriving community of mambo big bands that existed in the forties and fifties around the Palladium Ballroom don’t work regularly, the exploratory descargas that happened among young musicians in the seventies are a thing of the past, and to make matters worse, a flailing economy has jazz clubs closing rapidly. Most young musicians are finding their jazz training in high school and college, but there’s a pretty wide instructional disparity around Latin rhythms. At the same time, the current generation of musicians benefits from advantages that weren’t even imagined by previous generations of Latin Jazz trailblazers. Decades worth of Latin Jazz recordings are widely available for digital purchase and immediate download, and streaming services like Spotify or MOG let musicians instantly listen to those recordings for a small monthly fee. YouTube makes thousands of Latin Jazz concerts freely available, letting musicians see everyone from influential artists to newcomers performing live. Instructional materials cover everything from Latin Jazz percussion parts to bass lines, montunos, arranging and more; when a young person is ready for these materials they can easily find them in a local music store or even order them online for delivery. With both opportunity and oppression standing in their way, young Latin Jazz musicians can find themselves confused, looking for guidance towards the music they love.
Fortunately, young people in the New York area have a mentor seriously committed to keeping this music alive in pianist, composer, and bandleader Arturo O’Farrill, who leads The Fat Afro-Latin Jazz Cats, an all-star collective of middle and high school students. O’Farrill understands the importance of a artistic mentor figure – he spent his childhood around music, both learning Latin music from his father, Chico O’Farrill, and diving deep into jazz to contrast his father’s work. After seeing the impact of his father and many more important role models upon his development, O’Farrill committed himself to continuing the tradition through education. Working as an extension of the Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance, he formed the Fat Afro-Latin Jazz Cats in 2010, creating amazing experiences for these students to experience the power of this style and learn the intricate subtleties that can be lost without direct guidance. These are students ready for this ensemble; each student auditions for the “pre-professional” experience, ensuring that each chair is filled with potential. O’Farrill exposes the students to historically important repertoire and encourages them to write original material for the group, which they rehearse weekly. The students get a chance to perform at major venues throughout New York, including Fat Cat, Birdland, Bruno Walter Auditorium in Lincoln Center, and more; these students certainly walk away understanding the life of a professional Latin Jazz musician. They leave the ensemble with some serious skills as well – after a year with O’Farrill, these students are comfortably playing around the clave, improvising fluently within jazz changes, and executing impressive arrangements with nimble dexterity. O’Farrill is doing a major service to the future of Latin Jazz with The Fat Afro-Latin Jazz Cats, training a generation of lucky young New York musicians to perform Latin Jazz professionally with pride, ability, and knowledge.
A description of the Fat Afro-Latin Jazz Cats sounds impressive, but this ensemble needs to be heard to understand the full impact of O’Farrill’s work; the three videos of the Fat Afro-Latin Jazz Cats below are both impressive and inspiring. The first clip finds the group performing “Gone City,” a Chico O’Farrill composition originally recorded by Machito And His Afro-Cubans – check out ferocious sax licks expertly performed as well as the seamless groove change. The second performance lets the group stretch out a little bit with a great arrangement of the classic tune “Almendra,’ featuring some great solos. Both of these first videos come from a performance at the Bruno Walter Auditorium in Lincoln Center, and they also feature another group of young people – dancers from The Celia Cruz Contra Tiempo Salsa Club. The last video places the group at the Brooklyn Museum, playing “Cooking,” an uptempo mambo tune written and arranged by Ray Santos. The band executes the interlocking rhythmic lines and racing bop melodies with mind boggling skill that sits beyond their years. The Fat Afro-Latin Jazz Cats provide some uplifting potential for the future of Latin Jazz; after hearing the music on these videos, it’s safe to say that with O’Farrill leading these kids, the future is in good hands.
Get more info about the Fat Afro-Latin Jazz Cats on the Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance website.
Check out some recordings from the Fat Afro-Latin Jazz Cats’ mentor, Arturo O’Farrill:
40 Acres and a Burro, Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra
Check Out These Related Posts:
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra: A Wise Latina
Latin Jazz Conversations: Arturo O’Farrill (Part 5)
Weekly Latin Jazz Video Fix: Jerry & Andy Gonzalez With The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra
Latin Jazz Live: Arturo O’Farrill And The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra