Over the course of five years, Chico O'Farrill arranged part or all of 11 Count Basie albums—from Basie Meets Bond in 1965 to High Voltage in 1970. Born in Havana, O'Farrill attended a military academy from 1936 to 1940 in Georgia where he began playing trumpet. He returned to Cuba after graduation and concentrated on arranging. In 1948, he moved to New York where he began arranging for Benny Goodman. With the rise of the mambo, O'Farrill wrote Latin-jazz charts for a range of bands.
In the early 1950s, O'Farrill released a series of 10-inch albums for Norman Granz. Then in 1955, he returned to Cuba before moving to Mexico City in 1957, where he worked for eight year in the country's recording and TV studios. In 1965, he returned to New York and arranged for television as well as a range of big bands, including Count Basie's.
His last album for the Basie band, High Voltage (MPS), has just been re-issued. The band featured Gene Goe, Sonny Cohn, Waymon Reed and Joe Newman (tp); Grover Mitchell, Buddy Morrow and Frank Hooks (tb); Bill Hughes (btb); Bill Adkins (as); Jerry Dodgion (as,fl); Eddie “Lockjaw" Davis (ts); Eric Dixon (ts,fl); Cecil Payne (bar); Count Basie (p); Freddie Green (g); George Duvivier (b) and Harold Jones (d).
Too often jazz critics write off Basie's recordings after the early 1960s, believing that the New Testament band's peak was accompanying Frank Sinatra on It Might as Well Be Sprint in 1964. Hardly. Basie's New Testament Band or, what I call the Neo Testament Band, recorded swinging albums throughout the 1960s and early '70s arranged by O'Farrill and Sammy Nestico.
What makes High Voltage special is O'Farrill's charts and Eddie “Lockjaw" Davis's tenor sax solos. Throughout the late 1960s and early '70s, Lockjaw added a gruff, lyrical bite to the Basie band with his exciting, bluesy take-charge reed work. All of the album's songs have catchy melodies that up until this session remained un-recorded by Basie. In addition, four musicians in the band didn't work regularly with the orchestra during this period: trumpeter Joe Newman, trombonist Buddy Morrow, alto saxophonists Bill Adkins and Jerry Dodgion.
To this day, O'Farrill remains one of jazz's most un-sung arrangers. He knew exactly when to add heat and swing, and he had an innate sense of how to get the Basie orchestra's sections talking. O'Farrill died in 2001.
Mark Myers allaboutjazz
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