A Latin jazz musician's journey to his roots

The Grammy Awards are due to be handed out next Sunday, February 12. Among the nominees for best large jazz ensemble album is Arturo O'Farrill. As CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports, O'Farrill's musical journey covers a lot of personal history.

This is Latin jazz and Sunday nights at New York's Birdland, Arturo O'Farrill can't sit still. This blend of American-style jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms is in his blood.

"You can't define jazz without Cuba," he said. "American jazz is just one small strand of a very large fabric."

O'Farrill is a piano player, composer, and band leader. His latest release "40 Acres and a Burro,"is up for a Grammy this year. He won the award back in 2008 for his album, "Song For Chico," a tribute to his father, Chico O'Farrill, a Cuban-born composer who pioneered Latin jazz. Chico left Cuba before Fidel Castro came to power, but Castro and the decades-long U.S. embargo meant he could never return.

"It was the one thing that could make him weep," said O'Farrill. "It was the one thing that I ever saw my father cry about."

Chico came to New York and worked as an arranger for Benny Goodman and Dizzy Gillespie before founding his own orchestra. He taught Arturo his music, and after Chico died in 2001, Arturo took over.

The following year, Arturo visited Cuba. He went again in 2010. That visit was filmed for the forthcoming documentary, "Oye Cuba! A Journey Home."

"People have politicized Cuba and politicized your visits there," Miller said to O'Farrill.

"I got a lot of hate mail...that I was a disgrace to my father's name. That my father was rolling in his grave."

"What were hoping to accomplish?"

"I brought my father's music back to Cuba to be played by his orchestra."

Arturo's sons -- Zack, a drummer, and Adam, who plays trumpet -- shared the stage in a tribute at the Havana Jazz Festival.

"Man, I'll tell ya, there wasn't a dry eye in the house," O'Farrill recalled.

O'Farrill's sons aren't the only ones to inherit his musical legacy. Twice a week, when he's not on the road, O'Farrill mentors school kids in Manhattan and the Bronx. Through his non-profit Afro-Latin-Jazz Alliance, he's raised a million dollars to help groom the next great Latin jazz musicians.

"What do you teach? Miller asked O'Farrill.

"You teach them life. You teach them who you are, how you walk, how you carry yourself. the commitment and dedication it takes to become a musician. That's real mentoring."

On stage and off O'Farrill's devotion to his roots is for all to hear.

  • Michelle Miller

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