Pianist, bandleader Arturo O’Farrill, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, and guest conductor Miguel Blanco paid tribute to Jerry and Andy Gonzalez at Peter Norton Symphony Space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The event was billed as, “Andy and Jerry’s: A Tribute to the Gonzalez Brothers, a reference to Andy and Jerry’s basement apartment in the Fort Apache section of The Bronx and a watering hold for veteran and second-generation musicians who participated in historic listening and jam sessions that sowed the seeds for the ensembles, Grupo Folklorico Nuevayorquino, Conjunto Libre and the Fort Apache Band.
Though it’s not well-known, O’Farrill and the Gonzalez brothers share a history. “When I began to play, I rejected my father, Chico O’Farrill’s inherited music and culture,” said Arturo in a past interview. “At the time, I was making my name around Manhattan’s downtown loft scene, but a magical thing happened when my father got elderly. I heard his music as if it was new to me.” Andy was instrumental in convincing O’Farrill it was okay to embrace his culture and play clave-inspired rhythms.
At Symphony Space, the first half of the presentation paid tribute to the Fort Apache Band, unquestionably one of the most influential groups of its kind. “They set the standard,” said master drummer and educator Bobby Sanabria. “They demonstrated the possibilities of what you can do if you have the perfect synergy of good folkloric rhythms and the knowledge of jazz, harmony, improvisation, and arranging technique. They were the best. That is their legacy.”
O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra performed selections from the Fort Apache repertoire: Pedro Flores’s “Obsession,” Thelonious Monk’s “Let’s Call This and pianist Larry Willis’s “Nightfall” and “Isabel the Liberator,” among others. O’Farrill also premiered several original compositions, including “Fanny and Oscar” (for Andy and Jerry’s parents), and a concerto dedicated to the Fort Apache Band. Miguel Blanco, who collaborated with Jerry on the recording, “Music for Big Band (2007), contributed the compositions “AlmaVacia” and “Gnossienne 3, featuring the vocalist Antonio Lizana.
The second half featured the music of Conjunto Libre, whose robust trombone sound and progressive edge encompassed Latin dance music and jazz elements. Also, Libre was a “finishing school” for artists who passed through the band and became leaders in their own right. Vocalists, Quique Gonzalez and Jorge Maldonado and the flutist, Dave Valentin joined the orchestra for a medley of Libra flag wavers, including “Alabanciosa,” “Que Humanized,” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” among others. Libre’s powerful trombone sound, dynamic rhythms and high energy ignited the room.
Jerry was front and center throughout the presentation, alternating between the trumpet, flugelhorn, and five congas. Andy, who suffers from diabetes, joined the orchestra for his original compositions, “Vieques.” Though his time on the stage was brief, Andy demonstrated why he is one of the most respected and recorded bassists of his generation.
The tribute to the Gonzalez brothers could not have occurred at a more appropriate time. Earlier this year, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences caused a firestorm in the Latino community when it abruptly and brazenly eliminated the Latin Jazz category. The tribute flew in the face of NARAS’S attempt to eliminate a genre whose music symbolizes dedication, passion, risk, artistic integrity, and respect for tradition and innovation.
The evening ended with a rousing interpretation of Tito Puente’s “Para Los Rumberos,” and uplifting words from Arturo O’Farrill. “The music does not die. It lives in our hearts, and you can take it with you in your soul!”