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Lafayette will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Alan and Wendy Pesky artist-in-residence program with a performance by Arturo O’Farrill and his new showcase band, the Riza Negra sextet, 8 p.m. today at the Williams Center for the Arts.

Tickets for this evening of on-your-feet Latin jazz are free for students, $4 with Lafayette ID for faculty and staff, and $18 for the public. They can be obtained by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

This year’s Pesky artist-in-residence, O’Farrill will join with Carlos Muñoz, professor emeritus of ethnic studies at University of California, Berkeley, to give a noon presentation on “The Transforming Power of Latin Music in American Society” at Interfaith Chapel, Hogg Hall. O’Farrill will discuss the evening’s concert 7 p.m. in Williams Center for the Arts room 123. Both events are free and open to the public.

O’Farrill’s other major Williams Center performance this year will be as director and pianist of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, which will give a concert 8 p.m. Thursday, April 6.

Lafayette’s music department founded the Alan and Wendy Pesky artist-in-residence program in 1986. The program brings to campus renowned musicians who share their performance and teaching skills with students in the classroom and on the concert stage. The impressive list of performers has included inaugural resident artist Mark Kroll (harpsichord), William Sharp (baritone), Robert Routch (horn), Joanna Jenner (violin), composer Philip Glass, Senba Kokun (shamisen & tsuzumi), Dave Leonhardt (jazz piano), contemporary trio Aequalis, noted guitar duo Michael Newman and Laura Oltman, master Indian musician Shafaatullah Khan, violin virtuoso Diane Monroe, African music-specialist and performer Valerie Naranjo, and jazz great Mulgrew Miller.

“The generous endowment program established by Alan and Wendy Pesky has given so many Lafayette students the opportunity to learn first-hand from some of this country’s finest touring musicians,” says Ellis Finger, director of the Williams Center for the Arts. “Our music department and the programs of the Williams Center are forever in their debt.”

Known in the New York jazz world both for his Latin roots and contemporary “straight ahead” jazz, O’Farrill created Riza Negraas a thrilling, tightly-shaped ensemble of Latino foundations and front-line solo work from three of New York’s most respected headliners. The group performed in a summer engagement at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club. Rhythmic pulse and constantly shifting dance figures flow from O’Farrill’s keyboard and the drums of the genial Dafnis Prieto, with melodic lines entrusted to veteran jazz stars Tom Harrell, Dave Samuels, and Willie Williams.

O’Farrill played piano with the Carla Bley Big Band from 1979-83, then developed as a solo performer with a wide spectrum of artists, including Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Turre, Papo Vazquez, The Fort Apache Band, Lester Bowie, and Harry Belafonte. In 1995, he agreed to direct the band that preserved much of his father’s music, Chico O’Farrill’s Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, which has been in residence at New York City’s Birdland for the past few years as well as performing throughout the world. Besides recording Bloodlines, A Night in Tunisia, and Cumana Bop as a leader for Milestone Records, 32 Jazz, and M&I, Arturo has appeared on numerous records, including Habanera with Alberto Shiroma and the soundtrack to the critically acclaimed movie Calle 54.

O’Farrill was guest soloist at three landmark Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts — Afro-Cuban Jazz: Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, November 1995; Con Alma: The Latin Tinge in Big Band Jazz, September 1998; and the 2001 Jazz at Lincoln Center Gala: The Spirit of Tito Puente, November 2001. In March 2002, he was featured artist in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz in the Schools Tour, when he led a Latin jazz quintet for 24 educational performances that reached over 5,000 people throughout New York City metropolitan schools. He again participated in this educational tour from Oct. 21-Nov. 1 2002.

Proficient on both trumpet and flugelhorn, Harrell’s work has been called “pure melodic genius” by Newsweek. “Like a lyricist who illuminates phrases with subtle internal rhymes, Harrell’s soloing captivates both the hearts and the minds of his listeners,” states The Los Angeles Times. Harrell has won many critics’ and readers’ polls in Down Beat and JazzTimes magazines and racked up numerous jazz magazine awards, such as top composer and trumpeter, “best jazz album of the year” by Entertainment Weekly, and a Grammy nomination (for his 1999 big band album Time’s Mirror). Entertainment Weekly calls him “the premier trumpeter of his generation” and JazzTimes states, “There is no one in jazz today writing with more intelligence, depth, and heart than Tom Harrell.”

After graduating from Stanford in 1969 with a degree in music composition, Harrell joined the Stan Kenton orchestra and played in Woody Herman’s trumpet section in 1970-71. He spent the next year in the Latin-jazz fusion band Azteca, then began a four-year stint with the Horace Silver Quintet. The Silver gig led Harrell to move to New York, where he was soon making records with Konitz, Bill Evans, Phil Woods, and other jazz greats. He spent much of the 1980s touring with Woods, who once called him “the best musician I’ve encountered in 40 years of music,” and has been leading his own groups since 1989. His already high profile received an additional boost when he signed with RCA Victor in 1996.

Samuels has established himself as the top mallet player of his generation. He has demonstrated his versatility and gained worldwide recognition by performing and recording with a broad scope of artists, including Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Peterson, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Carla Bley, The Yellowjackets, Pat Metheny, Bruce Hornsby, Frank Zappa, The Fantasy Band, Spyro Gyra, Double Image, and The Caribbean Jazz Project.

He received a Grammy in 2003 for “Best Latin Jazz Recording” with his group, The Caribbean Jazz Project, for the CD The Gathering and was nominated a second time for a Grammy in 2004 for “Best Latin Jazz Recording” for Birds of a Feather. During his time with Spyro Gyra (1977-94), the five-time Grammy-nominated group was named #1 Contemporary Jazz Artist and Contemporary Jazz Group of the 80s by Billboard magazine. Samuels’ other awards include being voted Best Vibes Player in both Jazziz and Modern Drummer Magazine.

Saxophonist Willie Williams excels with musical brilliance honed through collaborations with Bobby Watson, Abdullah Ibrahim, and T.J. Monk. He has recorded his music as a leader three times on ENJA Records. While still in high school, Williams started getting nightly gigs in the then-thriving Philadelphia club scene. When he studied at Philadelphia College for Performing Arts, he was in high demand for studio works with pop musicians. He estimates having appeared on over 60 albums. In 1980, Watson persuaded Williams to move to New York, where he restarted his career from scratch. He was a regular member of Arthur Taylor’s Wailers until his death in 1996 and played in Clifford Jordan’s Big Band before joining Monk.

The nationally recognized Performance Series at Lafayette attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2005–2006 Performance Series is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, the James Bradley Fund, and the Ed Brunswick Jazz Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, the Dexter and Dorothy Baker Foundation, and New England Foundation for the Arts.

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