Atlanta Jazz Festival 2015 Preview: Sunday on the International Stage

Arturo O'Farrill

Arturo O’Farrill

On Sunday, May 24th, the 38th Atlanta Jazz Festival’s International Stage will close in a big way, with the latest winners of the Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album: Arturo O’Farrill and his Latin Jazz Orchestra. The group won the honor for their latest release, The Offense of the Drum (Motema), which is a stunning tour through a melange of Latin styles; with great guest stars such as Vijay Iyer and Donald Harrison adding to the fun. It was the second time they won the award, the first was in 2009 for Song for Chico.

A pianist, composer and bandleader, Mr. O’Farrill is the son of one of the legendary founders of the Afro-Cuban jazz genre, Chico O’Farrill. Born in Mexico, Arturo moved to NYC with his family at the age of 5. Soon began a musical odyssey, which would initially find Arturo decidedly moving away from the music of his father toward straight-ahead jazz. As he learned to play piano, one of his original idols was Chick Corea. Discovered as a teen, playing piano in an upstate New York bar, by Carla Bley. O’Farrill then joined Ms. Bley onstage at Carnegie Hall a few weeks later. He then spent three fruitful and educational years in Ms. Bley’s band before moving on to a stint as musical director for Harry Belafonte.

After later working with (and getting history lessons from) Andy and Jerry Gonzalez and their renowned Ft. Apache Band, Arturo made his way back to his roots, joining his father’s band in 1995, as Chico O’Farrill was experiencing a late career renaissance. With his father now being ill, Arturo became the band’s pianist, musical director and contractor, spearheading the group as they began a 15 year Sunday night residency at NYC’s famed Birdland, in 1997. After his father’s death in 2001, Arturo became the titular leader of the band, as they rose to new heights with a mixture of the traditional Afro-Cuban sound favored by Chico O’Farrill with the blend of Latin rhythms from all over the Western Hemisphere, that have become the younger O’Farrill’s trademark.

But before Mr. O’Farrill gets to close things out on Sunday evening, the International Stage will feature a Turkish percussionist, a Brazilian vocalist and a Haitian guitar based group with a remarkable back story. Sitting still throughout the day will be very difficult indeed.

1:30 PM – Fernanda Noronha

Ferananda Noronha is a Brazilian native who now calls Atlanta home. Her eponymous first CD, recorded in 2005, was produced by the master jazz drummer/producer Norman Connors, who also guided the careers of Jean Carne and the late Phyllis Hyman, among others. The disc was not released in the U.S. until last year, but it has received a lot of attention in the ATL area. A vocalist since the age of 13, Ms. Noronha counts Sarah Vaughan, Stevie Wonder and Joao Gilberto among her influences, which is not surprising, since her infectious sound includes elements of all three of those legendary performers.

3:30 PM – Strings

Born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti in 1959, guitarist Jacky Ambroise was introduced to music at a very early age when his father Jean-Jacques D. Ambroise played the classical flute at family gatherings and his mom sang folk songs. Tragically, he lost both of his parents at the age of 6, due to Haiti’s political turmoil. Fascinated by Spanish music as well as the rhythms of his homeland, Jacky Ambroise taught himself to play the guitar at age 8 and a few years later, he was one of the most popular artists in his homeland. The group Strings, which Ambroise formed with another guitar playing friend, Philippe Augustin, plays a style they call “Tropical Flamenco”, which successfully blends their musical influences. Having now fully recovered from major brain surgery in 2009, Mr. Ambroise will join Mr. Augustin and the other members of Strings as they fill the AJF International Stage with pure musical joy.

5:30 PM – Emrah Kotan

Atlanta resident Emrah Kotan is a classically trained percussionist who came to the United States from his native Turkey and received a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from Georgia State University. His debut album, The New Anatolian Experience, is a collection of original compositions and arrangements that fuse world music and jazz, creating stylistically sophisticated vibes and a genuine model of personal artistic expression. Aside from performing, Emrah is an enthusiastic music educator who has conducted master classes and has taught many students over the years, some of which who have been awarded music scholarships by the colleges of their choice. Emrah teaches students of all ages privately and is the Director of the Jazz and World Percussion Ensembles at Agnes Scott College.

7:30 PM – Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

We’ve told much of Arturo O’Farrill’s musical story above. So now, we’ll let the two-time Grammy winner speak for himself.

Music by these artists and many other AJF38 performers can be heard on our 24/7 Live365 streaming jazz radio station, Curt’s Cafe Noir, from 5PM – 7PM, daily between now and May 31.

For more information about the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website: http://atlantafestivals.com

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