It’s a cultural reality that I’m doing what my father (jazz composer Chico O’Farrill) did. Particularly in Latin America, sons are expected to do what their fathers do. Because of my background, people assume all I do is Latin jazz even though I play everything from symphonic music to reggae. Early on, I couldn’t figure out why certain groups wouldn’t call me for gigs. Then I looked at my father’s career and realized that despite writing 12 albums for the Count Basie Orchestra, he’ll always be lumped into the category of Latin jazz. I suspect this is perhaps my fate as well.
I tend to run hot. I’m passionate. Everything is larger than life. I move to a different rhythm—whether that is genetic, hereditary, or cultural, I don’t know—but it’s definitely different from the typical American pace. We are jazz musicians playing Pan-American music that is not necessarily only for dancing or only for listening. It’s an aesthetic that is more often found here in America. When we perform in Cuba, Mexico, or other places in South America, we bring our unique, aggressive exploratory programming to the stage.
Latin jazz isn’t just a ruffled shirt, maracas-shaking, jazz hybrid. The idea that you can have intellectual, passionate music that includes hand percussion—that moves feet, head, and heart—is still foreign to the jazz world. The world has taken notice, but the inner conduits of jazz power still treat us like an afterthought or a side diversion.