This morning brought
news that pianist Arturo O’Farrill has been commissioned to write a piece for judge Sonia Sotomayor, premiering in November.
the best of my knowledge, this will [NOT] be the first time a jazz musician has
composed new music inspired by a Supreme Court Justice nominee -- though I
suppose Don Byron could have an acerbic “Clarence Thomas Suite” stashed in a
drawer somewhere. [Oops. See comments below.]
The selection of O’Farrill for this commission makes all kinds of sense from an institutional perspective. He has experience with arts commissions, and a former affiliation with Jazz at Lincoln Center. His Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra is one of the city’s eminent large ensembles, with resident status at Symphony Space, which is sponsoring the new work in partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
But unlike, say, Eddie Palmieri, who has also been known to roll out a dynamic big band every now and again, O’Farrill doesn’t share Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican heritage. Born in Mexico, he hails from a different substratum of Latino culture. So while there are in fact jazz musicians forging rigorous new hybrids out of Puerto Rican music -- the best examples are saxophonists Dávid Sanchez and Miguel Zenón -- O’Farrill holds a less literal (i.e., ethno-political) claim on Sotomayor: La Celebración. (Need I point out he’s also not a woman?)