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Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill: 1921—2001: Composer, Arranger, Musician

Heart Of A Legend

From the 1970s to 1995, O'Farrill's primary output was music for commercials although he would still do freelance arranging on occasion, including a few pieces for David Bowie's 1993 Black Tie, White Noise album. In 1995, however, he returned to the recording studio to record Pure Emotion, his first studio album in 20 years, which the Los Angeles Times, called "a brilliant assemblage of Latin jazz, rich with sly musical subtleties." The recording would go on to be nominated for a Grammy in the Best Latin Jazz category.

He followed Pure Emotion with Heart of a Legend in 1999 and Carambola in 2000. Both of those efforts were nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Jazz Recording. Additionally, O'Farrill set up shop at the Birdland jazz club in New York, where he led the 18-piece Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra every Sunday night for three years. He was also featured in Fernando Trueba's 2000 documentary on Latin jazz, Calle 54. At the time of his death, he was working on the music for a Broadway adaptation of Oscar Hijuelo's novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. A documentary was also being made about his life by filmmaker Jorge Ulla, which is to be called Heart of a Legend.

Sadly, though his career was still arcing higher, Chico O'Farrill died on June 27, 2001 of complications of dysplastic anemia. His music is permanent, however, and as Fernando Gonzalez wrote in DownBeat: "He wrote big and brilliantly.… In the process, he took the music from the ballroom to the concert hall and showed both doubters and believers the extraordinary possibilities of this music."

Selected recordings

Chico O'Farrill Jazz, Clef, 1951.

Jazz North of the Border, Verve, 1951.

Chico O'Farrill, Norgran, 1951.

The Second Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite, Norgran, 1951.

Music from South America, Verve, 1951.

Afro-Cuban, Clef, 1951.

Mambo/Latino Dances, Verve, 1951.

Mambo Dance Sessions, Norgran, 1954.

Nine Flags, Impulse, 1966.

Married Well, Verve, 1968.

Pure Emotion, Milestone, 1995.

Heart of a Legend, Milestone, 1999.

Carambola, Milestone, 2000.

Cuban Blues: The Chico O'Farrill Sessions, Verve, 2000.



DownBeat, September 1, 2001.

Hispanic, June 2000; July 2001.

Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2000.

Miami Herald, July 2, 2001; July 22, 2001.

New York Times, June 29, 2001.


All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com


Additional information for this profile was obtained from Fantasy/Milestone Records.

—Brian Escamilla

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Grace Napolitano: 1936—: Politician to Richard (Wayne) Peck (1934-) Biography - CareerArturo "Chico" O'Farrill: 1921—2001: Composer, Arranger, Musician Biography - Fused Jazz With Cuban Rhythms, Afro-cuban Jazz Suite, Heart Of A Legend