Arturo O’Farrill, the Grammy Award-winning pianist and composer, spends his Sundays in a frenzy of improvisation. By day he directs a youth orchestra, the Fat Afro Latin Jazz Cats. By night he takes the stage himself with his own group, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, at Birdland. On Sept. 20, the two groups will play together at Pueblo Harlem, a cultural festival. Mr. O’Farrill, 54, lives in Park Slope with his wife, Alison Deane, 62, a classical pianist. “I made one rule for myself, and I really try to live it: Play music you love, with people you love, for people you love,” Mr. O’Farrill said. “If I can’t be that kind of musician, I’ll drive a cab. Creating music based on art and giving away from your spirit is more important than making a living.”
SWIM GYM My alarm is usually set for 5:40 a.m. The pool at the Prospect Park Y opens at 7. I get to the gym at 6 and immediately hit the treadmill. I do 40 minutes on the treadmill. I do an abdominal machine and an arm thing for 90 minutes. I’ve developed a bit of a rotator cuff problem because of conducting. I won’t give up swimming, even if it kills me. I love the rhythm of it. I do 20 laps, go in the steam room, and I do yoga stretches.
PROTEIN HIT After that, I will probably have an egg. Alison will make it for me. Sometimes I go from the gym to the office, in which case I’ll pick up a bagel from the Bagel Hole.
SIT IN THE PEWS It’s now 9 or 9:30 and I head to All Saints Episcopal Church on Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street. I used to be the choir director, the organ master, years ago. I try to keep a low profile.
TWEEN/TEEN DRILLS Usually, next I rush over to Fat Cat. Last year, the demand was so great, we had to make two big bands and I gave them lucha libre names. I called Band A Los Gatos Gordos, the fat cats — that’s the older band. The second band, the younger band, I called Los Perros Flacos, the skinny dogs.
EARLY CRESCENDO For me, learning music and playing music and learning your instrument has incredible parallels for our day-to-day existence as human beings. All the ideas of discipline, and having a sense of yourself and translating that to music, that’s all part of life’s journey. When I’m able to see the lights click on in their eyes, that’s completely energizing to me. By the end of that three hours, I’ve hit the peak of my day. But it’s nowhere near over.
QUIET TIME At that point, I usually go home and have either brunch or order something. And then I attempt to sit and relax for a period of two hours. Sometimes I’ll go to my studio — Eighth Avenue and 17th Street. It’s my sanctuary. Or I nap. Sometimes I can’t get myself to sleep because I’m such a mess. If I am able to, I’ll sleep from 5 to 6:30 or 5:30 to 7, at which point I get ready for Birdland.
GOING SOLO My wife? No, she comes to Rareland, birdly. [He giggles.] Birdland, rarely! She’s an incredible pianist. Alison has that gift of a really unaffected, simple, lean, natural talent. She’s seen me play a lot over the years; we’ve been married 22 years.
GET WITH THE PROGRAM I drive to Birdland. I’m tired, I don’t want to get on the train. I’ll get there an hour before the show, go backstage and pick out the repertoire for the evening, and it’s always different. My A.D.D.-ness extends to my programming. I’m bored so easily. My bandmates think I’m nuts because we try to play a different program all the time. I make them rehearse once a month. I’m always trying to mix up Peruvian music with hip-hop, Colombian music with Mexican mariachi.
EXTENDED PLAY Shows are supposed to be 60 minutes. I usually stretch them to 70 to 75 minutes. In between, I go out and meet fans, sign autographs and take pictures. It’s insane. The gig ends at about 12:15, 12:30.
DRINKS AFTER WORK At the end of any gig, I am so worked up. I put out so much energy. When I finish a set, or a concert, I’m drenched. I have to take three shirts to Birdland. For the first set, the second set and for afterward. I wear a white cotton shirt. Usually with one of my oldest friends in the world, Jim Seeley, an incredible trumpet player, we pack up and go to the Monro Pub in Park Slope.
CODA I get home at 2:30, 3. At that point, I fall asleep in probably about two seconds.
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