The Penguin Cafe Orchestra (PCO) was a collective of performing musicians founded by classically-trained English guitarist, composer and arranger Simon Jeffes. He and cellist co-founder Helen Liebmann were core members throughout the group's life. As the group grew and developed, a number of other musicians joined it, many of whom appear on the PCO's six studio and two live albums.
The PCO toured extensively during the 1980s and 1990s, and two albums, When in Rome... (1988) and Concert Program (1995) captured the sound of the live ensemble. The Penguin's sound is not easily categorized, but has elements of exuberant folk music and a minimalist aesthetic occasionally reminiscent of composers such as Philip Glass.
The Penguin Cafe Orchestra recorded and performed for 24 years until Jeffes died of an inoperable brain tumour in 1997. Several remaining members of the original group reunited for three concerts in 2007. Since then, five original members have continued to play concerts of PCO's music, initially as The Anteaters and more recently under the name The Orchestra That Fell to Earth.
In 2009 Simon Jeffes' son Arthur founded a distinct successor band called simply Penguin Cafe. Although it includes no original PCO members, it features many PCO pieces in its live repertoire, and records and performs new music written by the younger Jeffes.