Latin Infused Musical Performance Soars

Last Friday, a celebration of music and diversity took place in the Sharp Theater. Arturo O’Farrill, bandleader, pianist and composer rocked the stage with his Afro Latin Jazz quintet. The Grammy award winning artist and educator came to Ramapo College for a residency, and music students were grateful to learn from and work with O’Farrill

The Ramapo College Roadrunner Jazz Band along with the Ramapo College Brazilian Percussion Ensemble, donned in traditional Brazilian garb, opened the show with three Afro Latin inspired jazz songs. The student and faculty musicians were really getting into the groove; solos by saxophonists Sean Glowatski and Christina Punta, and trumpeter Colin McHugh complimented each song.

The ensemble was led by Professor Deitch and included professors Birdy, Gidal, and Costa. The performance featured student vocalist Michelle Encarnacion during the piece “Black Orpheus.” The strong Mezzo Soprano sang beautifully in Spanish to the rhythm of the song. O’Farrill helped the ensembles prepare for the show at rehearsals, and even suggested a popular Afro-Latin tune that the students had only two weeks to work on.

“He gave us hands on advice, eased the tension, and inspired us to feel our way through the song” sophomore and Brazilian Percussion Ensemble member, Mark Boulanger said.

After the students performed, the Arturo O’Farrill Quintet took the stage. The group consisted of Arturo O’Farrill on piano, his son, Zachary William Arturo on the drum set, Ruben Rodriguez on the bass guitar, Livio Almeida on Tenor Saxophone, Carlos Maldonado on the bongos and often featured Chilean Vocalist, Claudia Acuna.

The Afro Latin music genre was created around the 1930s, when Cuban musicians came to America and blended their style and sound with big band music. In 2002, NYC native O’Farrill created the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) for Jazz at the Lincoln Center.

O’Farrill was educated at the Manhattan School of Music, Brooklyn College Conservatory. He also has recorded nine albums, been nominated for many Grammy awards, including the one he won for Best Latin Jazz Album for his second album “Song for Chico.” Arturo has many impressive credits, and Ramapo College was fortunate enough to have him on campus to introduce us to this genre of music he feels so passionate about.

Student Mike Meltzer said he has a “varied taste in music” and that it’s “different when it’s live, simply amazing.”

“It was all just brilliant, pure brilliance” sophomore Lauren Schmidt said of the cultural, colorful, musical fusion.

Arturo O’Farrill’s Quintet opened with classic Afro Latin Jazz, which included some improvisation and thrilling piano and sax solos. Members of the audience were bobbing their heads and tapping their feet in time with the music.

O’Farrill then introduced his guest singer, Claudia Acuna who dawned in a sharp sparkly red dress. Together they performed Van Morrisson’s “Moon Dance” with a Latin twist (“Lunar Dance”).  Acuna had a very rich alto voice and played with vibrato and vocal improvisation. She then sang “Willow Weep with Me” as she swayed her hips on stage, making the audience want to get up and do the same.

O’Farrill then played two original compositions including an upbeat ode to his son, “In Whom I’m Well Pleased.” The bongos player Maldonado put a twist on his music by utilizing finger work, and other percussion instruments. The quintet closed the show with two exciting tunes. The first one reminded O’Farrill of his NYC childhood neighborhood, where Chinese run restaurants often served Cuban food. The song was a blend of the two cultures.  The last song, “Cachita” was by far the biggest crowd pleaser, with fast improvised solos and a ‘call & response’ drum off between the percussion specialist and the drummer. 

Altogether, Ramapo College was very lucky to have such an inspirational and innovative musician and educator stay, teach, and perform at the school  Those who watched his show, especially music majors, learned a lot about Afro Latin Jazz and the fusion of cultures through music.  Arturo O’Farrill left the audience with a few words of wisdom.

“Those who fight don’t really understand progress.” It’s true; if America does not embrace the artistic contributions from other cultures, and instead tries to resist it, we wont progress and evolve as humans.