“Ten years of existence is a milestone for the ALJO, not so much because we survived, but because we’ve created a new entry point into the cultural conversation.” —founder Arturo O’Farrill
Not too long ago, distinguished musician/composer/educator Arturo O’Farrill saw a musical and, eventually, educational need in the community and sought to fill it.
The 2003 Latin Jazz USA Outstanding Achievement Award winner first founded the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) to fulfill the musical imperative. Then, in 2007, added the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance (ALJA) for two purposes: to spread the unique music of the Afro-Latin culture around nationally and internationally through concerts and to provide education to underprivileged middle/high school youths where welcome.
Performing and teaching mass audiences and students the wonders of Afro-Latin masters who set the pace — Machito, Tito Puente, Chico O’Farrill, Astor Piazzola, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal — proved a noble effort, one worth pursuing. This year, the Grammy-award-winning ALJO celebrates 10 years of success in its endeavors, touching countless lives with the power and magnitude of Afro-Cuban music. The party will last for three landmark programs this year and into 2012, at Manhattan’s Upper West Side’s Symphony Space.
“Ten years of existence is a milestone for the ALJO, not so much because we survived, but because we’ve created a new entry point into the cultural conversation,” founder O’Farrill said. “There are alternatives in this music. Our embrace of a bigger picture in jazz has welcomed many more people into the fold because of this approach. This season we celebrate the finest moments in our history, which have consistently reflected a much larger picture of big band Afro Latin jazz than previously existed.”
The first landmark performance, “Andy & Jerry’s: A Tribute to the González Brothers [Fort Apache Band],” happened October 14-15. The second performance is “The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra Turns 10,” January 20-21, 2012, 8 p.m., featuring Afri-Latin classics, as well as the newly commissioned music of Miguel Zenón, Dafnis Prieto, Vijay Iyer, and others, and notable musicians, including Edmar Castaneda and Donald Harrison. Then, the third and final performance is “Música Nueva 5: Big Band Poetry Slam & Beyond,” May 11-12, 8 p.m., a combo of live music and a big band poetry slam curated by poet and musician Angel R. Rodríguez Sr., featuring the work of the Nuyorican Poets Café. Also featured: guest DJs, MCs, spoken word artists, instrumentalists, and dancers re-interpreting boogaloo, mambo, and salsa with hip-hop, acid jazz, and alternative improvisation.
Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz Alliance will then welcome, host, and partner with a special visiting Venezuelan 40-piece, student big band — led by renowned percussionist André Briceño — to put on a four-performance concert series throughout New York City, October 31-November 4, and to conduct an education and workshop series in several hand-selected New York City schools.
The Simón Bolívar Big-Band Jazz (SBBBJ) was formed in Venezuela November 2007 by Briceño and Professor Valdemar Rodríguez to do pretty much the same thing as Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Alliance. The 40 student musicians come from the Simón Bolívar Conservatory of Music, a part of the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela.
Of Simón Bolívar Big-Band Jazz’s inaugural U.S. visit, O’Farrill said, “I am excited and proud to host these amazing young people and their visionary leadership. I am especially pleased that the Simón Bolίvar Big-Band Jazz will be performing for the students of the Urban Assembly Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists where the Afro Latin Jazz Academy of Music is currently in its fifth year of instruction and partnership. I see the work we’re doing in our public school residencies of the Afro Latin Jazz Academy of Music (ALJAM) as very much an extension of the fundamental principles of El Sistema and very much inspired by El Sistema.”
El Sistema is a 36-year-old, government-funded organization—founded by maestro Jose Antonio Abreu—reaching out to the youth of Venezuela through music education and music promotion, encouraging and fostering interest through symphony orchestra and chorus performances.
The Simón Bolίvar Big-Band Jazz concert series kicks off on October 31st, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola-Jazz at Lincoln Center. The second night, November 1st, 7:30 p.m., has the big band performing at the Gatehouse-Harlem Stage, hosted by Arturo O’Farrill. The big band, in partnership with the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, then heads to the Bronx for its November 3rd, 7:30 p.m. concert at the Urban Assembly Bronx School for Writers and Artists and Casita Maria Center for the Arts & Education, hosted again by O’Farrill. The final concert in the series falls on November 4th, 8 p.m., at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, presented by Banco de Industrial de Venezuela and the Consulate General of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela of New York. A VIP reception is a part of this finale.
Simón Bolίvar Big-Band Jazz and the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, in collaboration with several New York City music educators, will give educational workshops and perform daytime youth concerts. Most of the evening concerts will be offered to the public for free to encourage attendance and in the spirit of El Sistema.