A New York favorite, “Bending Towards the Light” – the Jazz Nativity is back as a live event this year.
This year, jazz musician, Arturo O’Farrill joins the talented group of musicians performing in this musical celebration. Son of Latin jazz musician, arranger and bandleader, Chico O’Farrill, he is the pianist, composer and director for the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. He is a recipient of 5 Grammy awards and numerous nominations as well. With his busy music work schedule and traveling internationally, Arturo is thrilled to be in NYC for the holidays to once again be a part of it.
The Jazz Nativity was originated in 1985 by American singer, songwriter, and producer, Anne Phillips and she has been coordinating the event ever since its premiere. Known for working with musical talent such as Burt Bacharach, Carole King, and Mahalia Jackson and also arranging and producing jingles for the Four Tops and Martha and the Vandellas, Phillips finds a way every year to keep this legendary show going and there is no lack of acquiring talented musicians to be a part of it.
The show is a longstanding New York holiday tradition that brings people from all backgrounds together to tell the traditional Christmas Story thru music. The performance is an entertaining show full of joy and hope.
In advance of the Jazz Nativity show on Sunday, December 18th, Latin Biz Today’s Partner and Director of Community Relations, Tina Trevino, had a chance to interview both Arturo and Anne.
Tina: Arturo, tell us a bit about your family and music background.
Arturo: I was born in Mexico, grew up in New York City. My father was Chico O’Farrill who is considered one of the founders and architects of Afro Cuban Jazz. I discovered Herbie Hancock when I was 12 and decided to be a jazz pianist. The great American Jazz Master Carla Bley asked me to play in her band when I was 19 and deeply influenced me. I was invited by Wynton Marsalis to create an orchestra for Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2002 and when I left in 2007, I created the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance to teach, perform and preserve Afro Latin Jazz music and culture.
Tina: Tell us a bit about why you are passionate in being involved with “Bending Towards the Light – A Jazz Nativity”
Arturo: I’m a parishioner at All Saints in Park Slope Brooklyn and am a person of faith. This event is a way to express my faith through my artistry,
Tina: What makes it so special to you for 2022?
Arturo: I have a unique reason to celebrate my faith this year. The Afro Latin Jazz Alliance is building a brick-and-mortar home in Spanish Harlem. The Afro Latin Jazz Community and Performance Arts Center was announced in 2022 and will begin construction in an affordable housing complex in 2023.
Tina: What do you hope to achieve with this year’s event now that it’s in person again?
Arturo: I will do what I have been doing since my walk of faith began. Celebrating the true purpose of Art, which is service to others.
Tina: Anne, how did you meet Arturo?
Anne: Arturo and I met when we were both on the faculty at NYU and have been friends ever since. It must be at least 20 years now.
Tina: Anne, in a nutshell, how did the Jazz Nativity get its start?
Anne: It all began with a call from John Garcia Gensel, the “jazz minister” at St. Peter’s. He had suggested me as the writer of something called The Jazz Nativity. He knew me as a singer, but as a writer? Why me? But I said “yes” and from that moment on my Christmas has been “The Jazz Nativity.”
Tina: What brings you the most joy in producing this special event every year?
Anne: The most joyous? Standing amidst the greatest jazz players in the world and feeling the joy of hundreds of people responding to their music. The feeling that love and joyous music can overcome hate and fear. The most poignant? When , as host, I speak the words Charles Kuralt wrote : “The light is meant to serve as a symbol of truth and love … and hope. Hope that even in a dark season, we may begin to see the world BENDING TOWARDS THE LIGHT. Every year seems darker
Tina: How have you been able to keep this unique event going since 1985.
Anne: Keeping it going for 35 years hasn’t been easy. We have never been able to get corporate sponsorship. “Jazz is a niche market.“ After that first performance we, my husband and co-producer, saxophonist Bob Kindred, took it to St. Bart’s, the big church on Park Ave. We were there for seven years and filled it every performance. . Then the rector said “I guess it’s had it’s run … how many people really like jazz?” That was followed by almost yearly searches to find a home… theaters, The Lamb’s Club, jazz clubs, Birdland and BBKings where we had it translated into Spanish and produced it in celebration of El Dia de los Reyes. Then Lee Priore, co-founder of Chelsea Opera came to my rescue. My husband had passed away and Lee and Chelsea Opera became my new co-producer and has been for the last seven years. Still we have no corporate sponsorship but with yearly gifts from people who know and love it, we have been able to keep it going.
Tina: What drives you to keep this legacy event happening?
Anne: What drives me? Well, the response from critics and audience helps. These are some of the reviews we’ve received “a stirring celebration of Christmas!” – Dr. Billy Taylor, CBS Sunday Morning “None of the classics is half so giddy, nor so utterly entertaining as “The Jazz Nativity – Howard Reich Chicago Tribune but most importantly, it’s letters from people I’ve never met. Some of the best reviews from the attendees are these. “WOW!!! What a great gift you gave to our community by bringing Bending towards the Light to Colorado Springs!!!!! Thank you! Thank you!” “I didn’t think I liked jazz , but if this is jazz, I love it!”
Tina: How do you keep attracting such amazing talent for the event?
Anne: Amazing talent is there because they want to be here for it. Past performer, Paquito D’Rivera said that there’s no show like this, period. It’s a celebration of peace. It spreads a message of hope. Legendary Tito Puente who also performed, told me that the Jazz Nativity never loses the authenticity of the message and he was glad to add a little salsa too!
Tina: Who are this year’s Kings in the Jazz Nativity and what part does Arturo O’Farrill play?
Anne: This year’s Kings are Bobby Sanabria, tapper Maurice Chestnut and a female, “Quing” trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Fabulous pianist and band leader, Arturo O’Farrill, will be our Special Guest, featured in the finale of “Deck the Halls.” He has been in it many times and every time his incredible solo has stopped the show!
You can catch this show at St. Paul & Andrew United Methodist Church at 263 W. 86th St. NY, NY on Sunday, December 18th this year.