Jazz pianist Arturo O'Farrill teaches in Bridgeport high schools through Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts
Latin jazz pianist Arturo O'Farrill is working with Bridgeport high school musicians and hopes to create an all-city jazz ensemble through a residency created by Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.
O'Farrill, son of famed Afro-Cuban jazz bandleader Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill, started instructing band students at Bassick and Central high schools in February through the Quick Center's Young People and Jazz program. In the first seven weeks of the residency, he will visit each school one day a week, assessing and improving band students' technical abilities. As the residency progresses, he hopes to identify students with burgeoning talent, create a jazz program and form a citywide jazz ensemble.
"It's a whole jazz experience. We'll look at different styles like bebop and swing and do a lot with improvisation," O'Farrill said. "Teenagers can have trouble with that because they tend to edit themselves and want to be cool. I'm trying to get them to loosen up and let go."
The project is funded in part through the William & Philip Carlson Fund, Carlson Festival for Arts and Cultural Programming, which is administered through the Greater Bridgeport Area Foundation. Part of the Quick Center's "Artsbound" outreach program, it also receives funding from the Educational Foundation of America, said Deborah Sommers, the Quick Center's director of programming.
O'Farrill, who often presents educational performances and workshops in the New York City area, was a natural choice for the residency, Sommers said.
"Arturo's experience in setting and developing curriculum and programs in many inner-city school systems was the kind of experience that was needed to help develop the program in Bridgeport," she said. "He's talented and creative and has the expertise to assess what is needed."
Well known on the jazz scene, O'Farrill was born in Mexico and grew up in New York City. Educated at the Manhattan School of Music and the Brooklyn College Conservatory, he played with the Carla Bley Big Band from 1979 through 1983. He left to develop as a soloist with a wide array of artists, including Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Turre, Papo Vasquez and Harry Belafonte.
In 1995, he agreed to direct the band that preserved much of his father's music, Chico O'Farrill's Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, which has been in residence at New York's famed Birdland for several years. He performs throughout the world and has been featured on his own and many other artists' recordings.
O'Farrill has been a special guest soloist at three landmark Jazz at Lincoln Center events, including the 2001 Jazz at Lincoln Center Gala. During two intense weeks in 2002, he led a Latin jazz quintet for "Arroz Con Bebop," a series of more than 20 educational performances in and around New York City.
Sommers devised the three-pronged Bridgeport program through Jazz at Lincoln Center. After O'Farrill assesses students' abilities and needs, he will develop the curriculum to enhance music programs and create a jazz program for students. The best young musicians will be invited to join an all-city jazz band to present end-of-the-year concerts.
"We've really been looking forward to this," said Nancy Goncalves, Ph.D., performing arts director for the Bridgeport school system. "I can only see this as a wonderful and positive experience for the students."
The Quick Center welcomes opportunities to promote arts education and awareness in area schools. In 1998, the Quick Center brought the famed Alvin Ailey Repertory Company for lectures, demonstrations and master classes at four Bridgeport elementary schools. Some of the student participants attended a finale performance at the Quick Center at the end of the week-long program.
Sommers and Goncalves would like the jazz program to be a continuing part of the Bridgeport school curriculum. Over time, Sommers said she hopes it will grow to include an all-city stage band and a more elite ensemble that would play across the state.
"We are always looking for new sponsors to help us continue to make this sort of programming possible for young people in our community," she said.
O'Farrill believes jazz has a real chance to take root in Bridgeport schools.
"This is a building process. It has to grow by word of mouth," he said. "But from what I've seen there are some students within the system who are pretty astonishing musicians. All they need is to be given a vehicle."
Posted on February 25, 2003
Vol. 35, No. 210