Debbie Burke has published her sixth book, this time about klezmer. While her books are primarily about jazz – both fiction and nonfiction – this time she’s reached way back in her family tree more than a hundred years ago to muse about her paternal grandfather who came from Lvov. What music would her ancestors… Continue Reading →
Debbie Burke has published her sixth book, this time about klezmer. While her books are primarily about jazz – both fiction and nonfiction – this time she’s reached way back in her family tree more than a hundred years ago to muse about her paternal grandfather who came from Lvov. What music would her ancestors have been listening to? Were there roving musicians? And what did they play? Her conclusion: based on the location and time period, in there somewhere, there must have been klezmer. This is the story behind Burke’s newest book, “Klezmer for the Joyful Soul” (Queen Esther Publishing LLC).
“When I looked at the genealogy study that my uncle sent to me in 1998, a few stunning things came to light about the towns my forebears lived in, their ultimate extraordinary passage to America and their hardships once they got here (in my case, taking them to the Lower East Side of Manhattan),” relates Burke. “Their ebullience to be on American shores was blemished by experiencing abject poverty, alcoholism, business failure, infidelity and general existential malaise. With all that, I have to believe that some new joys occasionally infiltrated their lives in the form of music. Somewhere in the air, there was music: Yiddish music, Yiddish theater and klezmer.”
The book immediately shot up to the #1 New Release on Amazon for five weeks and occupied the #1 spot in three categories: Ethnomusicology, Jewish Sacred Music and Jewish Music. Starting with the background and history of the music, the book progresses with Burke’s signature interview format using carefully researched questions that elicit fascinating responses. Included in the book are many of the art form’s luminaries, including David Krakauer, Alicia Svigels, Hankus Netsky, Michael Winograd, Eleonore Weill and many others with a foreword from Pete Rushefsky from the Center for Traditional Music and Dance/Yiddish New York.
Burke was a recent guest of radio host Hal Slifer on Boston’s Chagigah Radio (WERS-FM) where she talked about her book and introduced two of her favorite klezmer songs, “Di Sapozkelekh” [“My Boots] by The Klezmatics and “A Nakht in Gan Eydn” [“A Night in the Garden of Eden”] by The David Klezmer Quintet. The show can be heard here:
An incredibly luscious, stirring song whose ambience is delicate and nuanced, all 13 minutes of the new song “Eberhard” from recently passed pianist/composer Lyle Mays are like a much-anticipated train excursion through picture-perfect landscapes. The breadth of instrumentation adds to the journey as the listener is treated lovingly with a softly intricate sax solo, flavorful… Continue Reading →
An incredibly luscious, stirring song whose ambience is delicate and nuanced, all 13 minutes of the new song “Eberhard” from recently passed pianist/composer Lyle Mays are like a much-anticipated train excursion through picture-perfect landscapes. The breadth of instrumentation adds to the journey as the listener is treated lovingly with a softly intricate sax solo, flavorful notes from the marimba and vibes, and multiple meandering textural contributions from cello, bass clarinet, flute and more.
Vocalist Aubrey Johnson is featured on the song, Lyle Mays having been her uncle and musical mentor. He wrote her part, she said, to specifically fit her voice, which it does like a hand in a glove. Mays died in 2020, and Johnson (who is in charge of his estate’s intellectual property) says that every bit of what he taught her, including the intangibles, have been woven into the fabric of the music.
Mays, who was a member of the Pat Metheny Group, wrote the song as a “humble tribute” to bassist Eberhard Weber.
When did you become interested in jazz?
Aubrey Johnson: I first became seriously interested in jazz when I heard Dianne Reeves perform live in Green Bay, WI (my hometown) while I was in high school. I had fallen in love with her singing after listening to her album “The Calling”, a tribute to Sarah Vaughan with orchestral arrangements by Billy Childs. Though I had been playing (on piano) and singing jazz for several years at that point, hearing a jazz singer of Dianne’s mastery for the first time was life-altering; it made me realize I wanted to be a jazz vocalist.
What was your first public performance as a vocalist?
I performed a solo piece in front of my church congregation when I was six years old.
Major takeaways from your formal music education?
My time studying music in school greatly expanded my idea of what is possible as a vocalist. Being around other musicians who were better than I was and who had more experience and knowledge inspired me in ways I’d never imagined.
I learned the value of collaboration in music through the jazz choirs, classical choirs and jazz combos I was a part of, and grew as a musician through the wide variety of repertoire and genres I was exposed to. Classes in composition, arranging, improvisation, theory, history, ear training as well as classical and jazz voice lessons helped make me a well-informed and versatile musician.
After receiving a solid foundational education in music as an undergraduate student at Western Michigan University, I was able to develop my artistry and personal style and sound in a deeper way in graduate school at the New England Conservatory.
How do you take care of your voice?
I warm up and work on vocal technique most days, and make sure I spend enough time singing some kind of repertoire (whether it’s my own music, music for someone else’s project, jazz standards, pop, or Brazilian music) to keep my voice in shape. I also exercise regularly, generally eat well, and *try* to get enough sleep in order to care for my body, which of course affects my voice. I also study intermittently with an excellent opera teacher in New York City, Tami Petty, and with an amazing jazz singer who teaches at the University of North Texas (and who also sings on “Eberhard”), Rosana Eckert.
What do you like about the music of Jobim and other Brazilian artists?
I love the grooves, harmony, and melodic construction of Brazilian music, as well as the joyfulness and soulfulness of the compositions and the artists who perform them. I also love the unique sounds of the Portuguese language and how those sounds fit together with and accentuate the rhythms inherent in the music. I enjoy the frequent dichotomy between the lyrical meaning of a song and the grooves and harmonies. Often a song will sound very happy and fun but the lyrics will be incredibly sad. I love the idea that music can be joyful while also expressing darker emotions. It makes sense to me that the two can exist together, though I don’t hear it very often in other kinds of music.
What was it like working with Lyle Mays? How did you come to be involved in “Eberhard”?
My experiences performing and recording with Lyle will always be among the highlights of my career, and of my life. Lyle was an incredibly generous and incredibly exacting bandleader. His standards were other-worldly, but his music is so good and he knew so clearly what he wanted that he inspired everyone to be their best and to enjoy doing it. The way he worked with me showed me that I was capable of much more than I had imagined.
I became involved in “Eberhard” in 2009 when Lyle wrote the piece for the Zeltsman Marimba Festival. The parts that I sang on that concert, and later on the recording, were written specifically for my voice. Lyle was excellent at writing for individual instruments and for individual players/singers. He took the time to ask me in-depth questions about my singing and listened to a wide variety of my recordings, so that what he wrote for me both showcased my capabilities and challenged me but also felt good and easy in my voice.
What is involved in handling your mentor’s musical estate?
Managing Lyle’s musical estate is a tremendous honor that I take very seriously. All of my attention is on the release of “Eberhard” at the moment–I have self-released the album, which is quite a time-consuming process. Moving forward I’ll be working on other ways to further Lyle’s legacy and to keep his memory alive.
How would you characterize his creative process?
Lyle spoke often of the composition process having two distinct phases. The first phase consisted of a lot of improvisation and creative exploration. Then, once he was happy with a particular melodic, rhythmic, or harmonic cell or motif, he would move to the second phase which he liked to call “mining your material”–taking the idea or ideas and studying them and experimenting with them like a scientist. He imparted to me how important it is to develop new material based on the original material, as opposed to trying to generate a bunch of different ideas.
How would you describe your creative process?
My own process is very much the same (albeit considerably less advanced), due to my time studying with him. I usually sit down at the piano and play and sing until I find some good ideas that feel interesting and inspired, and then move to work on exploration and exploitation of the material. Some parts of the process occur very quickly and some are painstaking, but together I think the resulting music feels organic and interesting, as well as logical and connected.
Explain “singing wordlessly” – are you talking about scatting or something else?
Singing wordlessly could include scatting, but generally it’s singing a melody (or counterline, soli, background part, etc.) without lyrics that’s already been composed. Scatting typically refers to improvisation.
How did you keep musically busy during lockdown?
My circumstances as a teacher during the pandemic necessitated learning new technology; I was leading a few different vocal jazz ensembles online and I realized quickly that the best way to work with those ensembles online was through remote video and audio recordings. I would record demos of myself singing all of the vocal parts of the arrangements we worked on, they’d record, and then I would mix and edit their audio in Logic and assemble and sync the videos in Adobe Premiere Pro (both programs I knew little about prior to the pandemic). I also performed solo concerts for several concert series and organizations from home, sang at a few outdoor live-streamed concerts in the warmer months, and collaborated virtually with several different artists/ensembles.
What venues are opening back up and what is gigging like now?
Many of the venues in New York City are open again, though there are several important ones that are either permanently closed or haven’t yet reopened. I just found out the Village Vanguard is reopening in September, which is very exciting. Gigging feels fairly normal at this point–people generally don’t wear masks on stage or inside the venues, which have become quite packed again (because most places have a vaccine requirement to enter), though it’s becoming clear that we might be shifting back to more precautions in the coming months.
Lyle gave every last bit of the time and energy he had during the last months of his life to the completion of Eberhard. I’m extremely excited for the world to hear the music and to enjoy this incredible final gift that he left for us. Thank you for taking the time to listen!
Imagine a vibe that evokes dubstep, reggae, Dixieland and big band and you have a sliver of a glimpse of the Intergalactic Brasstronauts. Leader and sax player Sam Thornton and his band have a new CD called “Music for the People” which is best described as a huge, screaming heap of fun. An incredible 16… Continue Reading →
Imagine a vibe that evokes dubstep, reggae, Dixieland and big band and you have a sliver of a glimpse of the Intergalactic Brasstronauts. Leader and sax player Sam Thornton and his band have a new CD called “Music for the People” which is best described as a huge, screaming heap of fun. An incredible 16 tracks that leaves the listener breathless, heart pumping, stomping away. Inventive instrumentation, counterpoint that’s off the chain and sizzling hooks crash together to make this a memorable offering. Catchy as all get-out.
Sam Thornton – voice, tenor & baritone saxophones, melodica, piano, organ, percussion, lead guitar Tasha B – voice B Dubs – voice Andy Morgan – rhythm guitar John Settle – drums Joe Love – drums James Lancaster – sousaphone Stuart Garside – trombone Will Osborne – trombone Chris Williamson – trumpet Dan Webster – trumpet Tom Ashe – trumpet Stu MacDonald – soprano saxophone & contrabass clarinet
Why and when did you form this band?
This band was conceived just before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and the consequent long periods in lockdown provided the opportunity for me to write the brass arrangements and start producing the album. I was inspired by the New Orleans-style street bands, which have become very popular in the UK over the last decade. I love the energy generated by players moving around the audience rather than being confined to a stage. I love the sound of two screaming trumpets sitting on top of a thick wall of brass. But, certainly with the UK bands, I found the repertoire to be mostly limited to cover versions of classic pop and soul hits, with a bit of NOLA on the side. I decided to write some original music for the street band lineup, but to change it up a bit, with some unusual instruments and electronic effects.
How did you come to your own sound and which elements of Nawlins did you want to riff off of?
We have adopted the mobile, “pop-up-party” feel of the New Orleans street bands, but there are many other elements that have shaped our sound. I grew up playing in big bands and jazz orchestras, and have been heavily influenced by composers and arrangers such as Duke Ellington, Sammy Nestico, Charles Mingus and Thad Jones. Myself and the guitarist from the band, Andy Morgan, have played in ska and reggae bands for the last 15 years too, so there is a heavy off-beat emphasis in our music and long, dubby passages, where we strip everything right back to drums, guitar and bass, awash with tape delay and spring reverb effects. The bass lines are doubled-up on sousaphone and contrabass clarinet, giving extra emphasis to the bottom end. We also have a vocalist, B Dubs, who specializes in the Jamaican tradition of “toasting” (an early form of rap, long before that term was coined) over instrumental sections.
Why did you decide to incorporate all kinds of instruments in your music?
I originally toyed with the idea of the sousaphone parts being doubled on bass saxophone but our reeds player, Stuart MacDonald (also of the Hallé Orchestra), pointed out that the contrabass clarinet is capable of playing an extra fifth below the lowest saxophone note and he had one, gathering dust, in his cupboard. He brought it along to one of the recording dates and it was settled. The sousa/contrabass clarinet combo was THE sound I had been striving for… incredibly low and subby, but still organic and mellow. The melodica is another feature of our music which you wouldn’t normally see in a brass band. A reed instrument, similar in sound to a harmonica or an accordion, it cuts through the dense brass and is a familiar sound to fans of dub and reggae, thanks to its main protagonist Augustus Pablo.
What inspired “Music for the People”?
This is a concept album where we (the band) are members of an alien race, having recently arrived on a deserted Planet Earth. The discovery of a human bunker, full of musical instruments and tape recordings, has enabled us to start piecing together a picture of what life was like for our predecessors on this planet.
Back in the real world we have a tendency to focus on what divides us and, in recent years, social media seems to be amplifying our differences. I feel it is important that art and music exists which encourages us to take a step back and examine ourselves from the perspective of an outsider looking in, so we can ask the important questions like “are we really that different?”, “should we be fighting?” and “are we being ridiculous?”
What was the most fun part and the most challenging part of producing this album?
The whole process has been incredibly fun. The main brass recording session, earlier this year, was the first time many of us had been in the same room as other musicians for months. That alone was exciting, but also challenging in some respects. I, for one, had been putting all my time and energy through the lockdown period into writing and arranging, and had neglected my saxophone practice. I didn’t think it would matter, as I was only meant to be directing the band on the first few sessions; however, our tenor saxophone player had to quarantine which meant a dusting-off of the horn, and a baptism of fire for me.
We had financial support from an Arts Council of England National Lottery Project Grant, which covered the costs of recording and producing the album. It was really nice to be able to pay everyone involved, fairly and handsomely, at a time when work has been scarce. The challenging part for me is rarely the music-making, but rather how to promote the finished album. As a brand new band we haven’t toured yet or built up a pot of money, so we are a self-contained unit at this stage, taking care of bookings and promotional work ourselves.
Your favorite track?
My favourite track… actually two tracks that segue into each other… is “Dubfart/Al Baba,” as it features the very talented B Dubs on vocals and has just the right balance of sparse, dubby reggae, and bold, brassy ska, with a good helping of big-band-jazz-style sectional writing.
How did you meet your bandmates and what do they bring to the table?
I’ve known trombonist, Stuart Garside, and reedsman, Stuart MacDonald, for many years through playing in various big bands and jazz ensembles with them, including Doncaster Jazz Orchestra and The Al Wood Big Band. Those guys play regularly with New York Brass Band, who have a slightly misleading band name (they have no connection to the Big Apple).
I guested with the brass band a few times at Glastonbury Festival in the UK a few months before the pandemic struck, and I was gobsmacked by their energy, their stamina and the creativity and quality of their soloists. When they play at Glastonbury, they play around 25 sets over the course of the weekend. At Rio Carnival they play relentlessly in “bloco” street parties for 4 or 5 hours at a time without a break. Those of you who have ever picked up a brass instrument will understand how physically tiring this would be yet, when watching the players in NYBB and Intergalactic Brasstronauts, they never look tired and always give 100%. This stamina has allowed me to write continuous passages of music for the band and our album is 60 minutes in length with no breaks in between songs, much like a classical suite or a DJ mix. Our live shows are similar.
How is the scene where you are, especially getting gigs right now?
Things are starting to pick up in the UK after the restrictions have been lifted. There were periods of full lockdown where live music ground to a halt, along with everything else. There have also been small milestones along the way, such as some venues opening outside seating areas, suitable for live music, and a gradual relaxation of the rules around audience members being allowed to dance.
At the time of writing, all restrictions around social-distancing have been removed, and music venues are allowed to open at full capacity again. However, many large festivals are unable to operate, due to insurance issues. There is still a way to go and, if the last 18 months has taught us anything, it is how quickly things can change. It is however great to be playing live music again and, so far, audiences seem to enjoying it too!
Upcoming gigs and projects you are working on?
At the moment, we don’t have many events set in stone, due to the uncertainty of what’s around the corner. We’re taking baby steps first, with a gig in our local city of Leeds on 29 October 2021. We are planning a UK tour for April 2022 and a European tour for April 2023, including a confirmed appearance at Freedom Sounds festival in Germany. We’d love to travel further afield eventually but, as a new band, we’re enjoying taking it one step at a time and seeing how it all unfolds.
The value of space between notes that are placed perfectly into a fascinating tonal tapestry is the strength of the new album “Phylum” by vibist Nazareno Caputo. The track “Dulce” is so much like skipping stones with unexpected harmonies and shifting rhythms, and the interplay between vibes and percussion is pure play. Soft, gradual, mysterious… Continue Reading →
The value of space between notes that are placed perfectly into a fascinating tonal tapestry is the strength of the new album “Phylum” by vibist Nazareno Caputo. The track “Dulce” is so much like skipping stones with unexpected harmonies and shifting rhythms, and the interplay between vibes and percussion is pure play. Soft, gradual, mysterious “Adi” is brought to life by the bass in its stunningly clarity and simplicity; setting the tone, establishing the motion. Caputo shows his dreamy side in “Postludio” which is filled with slivers of melody and time for thought and contemplation, in sharp contrast to the way things progress in the energetic and inventive (he plays his vibraphone bars with a bow) “Abside.”
The discovery of the vibraphone was somewhat accidental. Like many vibraphonists, I took my first steps in music thanks to the drums. Until I was 14 years old, I didn’t even know what a vibraphone was!
Once I started my studies at the conservatory in classical percussion, I also started to play the piano and shortly after the vibraphone. It was love at first sight with the vibraphone. It was the instrument that allowed me to combine my percussive instincts with my desire to learn and enjoy harmony.
Do you remember the first time you heard the instrument, and the first time you heard jazz?
The first time I heard the vibraphone was at the conservatory. My first teacher specialized in vibraphone, so I listened to him playing it. I was enraptured by its sound, so sweet and soft and at the same time crystal clear and pure. A timbre that has always seemed abstract and ethereal to me.
However, I did not have a vibraphone at home. The classical studies at my school, during the first years, were dedicated mainly to the snare drum and orchestral percussion, but I gradually lost interest in them.
The discovery of jazz happened while I discovered the vibraphone. By chance, I had heard Chet Baker at a friend’s house and he intrigued me. One day I went to my local record shop, whose owner was a drummer and family friend, to buy my first jazz record. I had independently searched for something on the internet and came across Chick Corea. That hit me a lot. But I didn’t have a clear idea of the different jazz styles and what would interest me most. I asked the shop owner for advice and he suggested Mehldau’s latest release, “House on the Hill.”
I was literally shocked to hear it. That peculiar music, that I could hardly understand, had an incredible attraction for me. From that moment on, jazz listening began to juxtapose with classical music in an important way.
What was the hardest aspect of learning vibes?
The most difficult phase was to start playing with the four sticks. Especially at the beginning, having two sticks in each hand is not very comfortable!
Talk about why jazz is so rewarding for you.
When I met jazz, I immediately felt the freedom that this music brings. I have a classical background that has left me many things. I have always felt that the academic classical approach is a limitation for my personal artistic research.
The jazz experience best embodies a ‘collective’ experience in which the individual finds his personal expressive dimension within a shared language, which draws its strength and legitimacy from tradition. Innovation, in turn, does not spring from a ‘genius’ stunt but from the union of many small contributions from individual artists.
How did you come to perform in TOTEM?
When TOTEM was born, I had just moved back to Florence after a few months in Vienna. When I came back, I had the opportunity to perform with TOTEM, which was then a quintet group, and was playing some rehearsal concerts. For one of these concerts the pianist couldn’t go and Ferdinando called me to replace him to try out a new sound. The concert was beautiful! From that moment on, Romano decided to make the group bigger, including my vibraphone and I.
What inspired your new work, PHYLUM and why is it named that?
PHYLUM takes inspiration from various things.
The PHYLUM project is a musical research focused on the structural, timbric and melodic elements of music.
My musical experiences in the field of jazz and contemporary music were fundamental to the birth of this record. My studies in architecture (I have a degree in it) also played an important role in the form and structure of the compositions on the record.
But the inspiration for the project comes from botany and zoology. In fact, the word “phylum” is used in zoology and botany to refer to a precise taxonomic group. Organisms belonging to a certain phylum share the same structural plan but their morphological development doesn’t necessarily lead them in the same directions. The music of the Trio sets up from the development of a musical structure and then elaborates its own idea following different and complementary paths.
How long did it take to write, arrange and produce this album?
The project started about three years ago. We started working on the first compositions and, playing together, I better understood the ultimate meaning of the music we were playing. After a year of work, the repertoire was ready and only the last details of arrangement were missing. We had planned to record in spring 2020…but we all know what happened. So we postponed the recording till June of the same year. To record right after the end of the lockdown was very special and exciting.
Your favorite track?
It’s hard to choose a favorite one among your own compositions. If I had to choose, I would say “Adam R.” because playing it is always a great challenge. It has a very particular structure, which tries to retrace the story of this very particular character (I invite readers to look for Adam Rainer’s story) and I always feel a particular thrill when I reach the end of this piece.
The most rewarding part of producing this album?
The best moment was being in the recording studio. Recording and hearing the result of our work was exciting.
How would you characterize your particular sound on vibes?
I like my instrument to sound as pure and crystal clear as possible. The vibraphone has a clear timbre, which is spontaneously associated with an ‘abstract’ instrument (at least, I feel it that way). So I try to enhance this quality, searching for an essential, conceptual sound. For these reasons, to ensure this idea of sound, I very rarely use the vibrato effect given by the vibraphone motor (never on the record).
Many musicians have had a great influence on me. Certainly, my teacher Andrea Dulbecco was important for me, as he’s also a reference vibraphonist in Italy and throughout Europe. Other vibraphonists are some great masters with whom I have only attended masterclasses, but I consider them exceptional musicians: David Friedman and Mike Mainieri. Among non-vibraphonists I would mention at least some pianists such as Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau and Craig Taborn.
Where are you based, and are gigs opening up?
I live in Florence, a touristic city that really suffered the lockdown. Fortunately, the influx of tourists is picking up again, and with it, the city is coming back to life and slowly, the cultural life too.
Do you have scheduled performances?
We were recently lucky enough to present our album at a beautiful festival near Florence (MetJazz in Prato) and more concerts are coming in autumn. We hope this is just the beginning!
What did you do during the lockdown? What was one thing you learned?
I was lucky enough to experience the lockdown in nature, as I lived in a house in the countryside. I have had further confirmation of how essential it is for me to regain a healthy connection and relationship with nature. I am increasingly convinced that this is the determining challenge of our time for humanity.
What do you hope audiences get from your new music?
The moment you choose to release a record, you make a strong choice.
You hand one of your ‘creatures’ to the community. At the moment of the ‘gift’ this creature becomes everyone’s and stops being yours.
PHYLUM is a sort of act of love towards complexity, towards everything that is hidden, that does not appear immediately, that needs to be discovered, towards everything that is not always easily intelligible, towards what proceeds slowly, towards the anomaly, towards the exception; “the link that doesn’t hold.” Dealing with complexity is one of the most beautiful activities that our mind can do.
Benjamin Sutin is a jazz/klezmer violinist, composer, educator and founder of Klazz-Ma-Tazz who finds both jazz and klezmer inspirational. He is a leader and sideman who has played venues including Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, the Lincoln Center’s Appel Room, the Apollo Theater and many others. For more info on his band, please see the new… Continue Reading →
Benjamin Sutin is a jazz/klezmer violinist, composer, educator and founder of Klazz-Ma-Tazz who finds both jazz and klezmer inspirational. He is a leader and sideman who has played venues including Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, the Lincoln Center’s Appel Room, the Apollo Theater and many others. For more info on his band, please see the new book “Klezmer for the Joyful Soul” at https://bit.ly/klezmerjoyfulsoul.
Was your initial attraction to klezmer because you grew up listening to it, or did your musical or spiritual exploration bring you there?
I grew up listening to and playing Jewish music in my synagogue’s congregation bands and around the house, but not specifically klezmer. That came later. I started getting my feet wet in the summer of 2012 when I met Yale Strom at a summer string camp at Berklee College of Music in Boston. I would study with him on and off from that point forward.
Then in the winter of 2013/2014 I went to Israel on Birthright. Although I wouldn’t consider myself too religious (more spiritual), from that point forward it was important for to me explore my roots in some capacity and doing it via my music was the most natural path. At the time I was studying jazz violin at Manhattan School of Music and still exploring my voice on the instrument and within the jazz idiom. My private instructor was Sara Caswell (violinist for David Krakauer’s “Big Picture”). David was also on faculty at MSM and after going through many hoops I was able to form an MSM Klezmer Ensemble in my senior year directed by David himself.
My klezmer instruction from Strom and Krakauer combined with my jazz training paved a genuine path forward for my musical voice that finally made sense to me, something I called, “Klazz” (a fusion of jazz and klezmer as the name suggests). This was all coupled with motivation I received from my then-roommate and good friend, bassist Mat Muntz to start a band dedicated to this very concept, and hence Klazz-Ma-Tazz was born.
Why do you play it today?
Klezmer is my blues. It’s very much the blues of the Jewish people. That is something I can relate to on a deep and personal level. I believe all musicians need something that not just inspires them artistically but that motivates and moves them spiritually. For me, that something is klezmer and Jewish music. That’s where my musical soul derives, it’s the root of my passion.
There is a very rich history of jazz musicians fusing the folk music of their roots into what they bring to jazz while still being jazz musicians. To that end, I would consider myself primarily a jazz musician, drawing on my Jewish roots as a means of expressing my inner passion and life experiences via jazz.
As a side note, I continue to study klezmer fiddling on and off with Alicia Svigals (founding member of the Klezmatics).
What are the elements that resonate the most with you: the melodies, harmonies, rhythm, lyrics (when applicable) or other?
For me it’s an odd combination of all of the above. I find klezmer extremely powerful and therapeutic, pulling at such a wide range of emotions all at once. It’s undoubtedly sad, pensive and nostalgic at times. But it’s also always uplifting, optimistic and full of joy, finding the silver lining in life, full of a sense of humor, playfulness and a carefree attitude. Life is a mix of sadness and joy yet arguably always with a strange sense of comedy or irony. Life can be straight up weird. I feel like klezmer captures all of this on such a deep level more so than any other genre of music.
Why do you think as an art form that it has survived?
I’m not a historian so I can’t speak for precisely why. What I can say is that klezmer is a way for us as a Jewish people to keep our memories and traditions alive and thriving from generation to generation.
What are some of your favorite songs?
I’ve never been one for favorites. I have a laundry list of arrangements and compositions to write, projects to head and albums to record, all involving klezmer and Jewish music dear to my heart.
While my first album (“Tangibility”) mostly explored combining elements of klezmer in original jazz compositions, which is an endless exploration, of course, my second album (“Meshugenah”) explored some of the old Yiddish Theater and folk tunes (such as Mein Shtetele Belz, Sunrise Sunset, and Tumbalalaika) in a modern jazz context, and my latest album (“Hard Bop Hanukkah”) is a live recording full of hard bop arrangements of popular Hanukkah classics such as Dreidel, Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah and Sevivon, Sov Sov Sov.
Why do you like playing klezmer as part of an ensemble, and what brings in the audience?
Playing (traditional) klezmer in an ensemble is a much different experience than my default and primary experience of playing in a jazz ensemble. There’s a much stronger sense of community, teamwork and common purpose. It’s less individualistic and often a greater sense of joy and play (less serious in nature, while still taking the music itself seriously).
klezmer has always been a means of bringing people together (namely at large celebrations and gatherings such as bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings). The very nature of klezmer is that it’s entertainment; it’s dance music. It’s nearly impossible to listen to klezmer and not at the very least tap your foot, dance, sob, be moved in some way or other. When performing klezmer, the trance of the music takes over both the musician and the audience – you can’t escape it – and brings everyone together in the most beautiful humanistic dance (literally and figuratively).
In his debut as a leader, sax and clarinet player Andrew Woolf’s “Song Unsung” makes a huge splash. The title song begins almost with an orchestral feel; as if the sax’s double-reeded cousin, the bassoon, is there instead, cracking open the scene with a mournful declaration. The harmonies have a distinct Copland-like feel, a bright… Continue Reading →
In his debut as a leader, sax and clarinet player Andrew Woolf’s “Song Unsung” makes a huge splash. The title song begins almost with an orchestral feel; as if the sax’s double-reeded cousin, the bassoon, is there instead, cracking open the scene with a mournful declaration. The harmonies have a distinct Copland-like feel, a bright golden horn sitting on top; very American for this UK musician. However, flatted, bluesy notes waft in and you know this ain’t no early 20th century material. “Trieste” opens with crashing cymbals, also hearkening to a large orchestra setting. This is a truly gorgeous piece as the high hat continue to shimmer and seamless harmonies weave their way through and around unexpected chord changes. And then there’s a surprise: a sultry “Twenty Years Ago” that pulls back deliciously, allowing each musician a space and place. A thoughtful and obviously lovingly rendered album.
The personnel includes:
Andrew Woolf – tenor saxophone Joe Auckland – trumpet Rob Updegraff – guitar Dave Manington – double bass Simon Roth – drums
What inspired the name “Song Unsung” and what inspired you to write this music?
“Song Unsung” is a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, which really resonated with me when I first encountered it several years ago. I wrote a few chords in response to it, which then became the basis for a collective improvisation, as you hear it on the album. I wanted to try to express the essence of the poem, which is about longing, waiting and uncertainty. Compositionally it’s very simple and open, with just a general planned arc to it.
After the recording, I decided it made sense to make it the title of the album too. It took me a long time to feel ready to make this album, so in a way it has been my own unsung song that I’ve finally come round to releasing out into the world.
You’ve played in different genres including African, Brazilian and experimental. How would you say you bring these together here?
I wasn’t consciously trying to integrate them in this project, but I’m aware of how some of the
compositions were influenced by other styles that I was working with at the same time as writing them. For example, when I wrote “Paradise”, I was playing a lot of Afrobeat music, and giving a lot of thought and attention to the lightness and bounce that goes on in the groove of that music. So while I wasn’t trying to write my own Afrobeat tune or some kind of fusion, it was more just a feeling and an attitude that got carried over into my own composition.
I play a lot of Brazilian music, and the one tune on the album not by me – “Miragem de Inaê” – is by a Brazilian friend, Anna Paes. I first heard her playing it at a concert in Rio de Janeiro and couldn’t get it out of my head afterwards.
That led me towards thinking of it for an arrangement in a jazz setting. I kept some of Anna’s guitar patterns in my arrangement, so even though we’re playing it in a very different way, there are some hints of Brazilian rhythms in there.
Do you have a favorite track or does it depend on your mood?
It comes and goes. The compositions date back over a very long period of time, many years, so they also relate of different times of my life. “Trieste,” for example, was written in memory of a holiday with a special group of friends in my very early twenties and evokes a deep fondness. I’ve always been very happy with “Sway” because it just came out very naturally when I wrote it, and has a certain flow to it. Lots of musicians have enjoyed playing that one. And I’m also very attached to “Song Unsung” as described earlier.
When you write, are you primarily hearing it through the ears of a sax player or clarinet player? How do you decide which instrumentation to use?
These compositions weren’t generally written with instrumentation in mind. Usually later on I’ll
consider whether to use sax or clarinet. I’ve played clarinet on lots of these tunes before, and like using it on lots of them. I ended up playing sax throughout on this album.
Which jazz icons do you feel have influenced you as a musician?
Kenny Wheeler, Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Lee Konitz are all really important to me. Of the biggest ‘icons’, I’d say probably Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter – as much for the philosophies behind their profound and deep attitudes to music-making as anything else. Also several saxophone players from more recent generations, Chris Cheek, Bill McHenry, Julian Argüelles and others – in terms of my own personal sound, I think those players have had as big an influence on me as any of the ‘greats’.
What was it like to create/produce your first project as leader? What were some of the new challenges you haven’t faced before?
I’ve played in a fair amount of projects either in side-man role, or groups that were collectively led, so it has felt different doing my own project for the first time. But it also meant I’d had lots of time for to form my ideas and thoughts about being in the role of bandleader before doing it myself. I’ve enjoyed embracing the opportunity to make something that feels very personal, and being able to have the final say about how I wanted certain things to be, getting them just as I liked – whilst also trying to leave plenty of space for the other musicians to bring something to it. But even then, they were my choice of musicians, of course. Joe, Dave, Ben and Simon all bring something special and different to the music, including choices that I wouldn’t make myself, and that’s why I like having them there.
The flip-side of it being solely my project was in maintaining conviction in what I was doing throughout all stages, so that was the biggest challenge really. There’s been a fair amount of procrastination! But it’s all part of the process.
What was the most enjoyable part of this journey?
There are lots of pleasurable aspects, but right now I’d say just the satisfaction of finally bringing it all to fruition. It took a while, but I reached a stage of feeling good about how it turned out, feeling like it was the right time to do it, and finally being excited to release it.
I also really enjoyed working with Max Franosch, who provided the beautiful design and artwork, and also a video artist, Henry Edmonds (aka Odourless Aunt), who has created a film for one of the tracks called “Song Unsung.” Thinking about those other creative aspects was a really enjoyable way of bringing the album to a completed final form. They were also a really good focus to have during lockdown, a way to stay creatively connected with the project whilst not able to perform.
What was going on in your life “Twenty Years Ago” that inspired you to write this song?
Well, the reason it has that title is that that’s roughly when it was written. It’s the oldest tune on the album, I wrote it in my late teens. I don’t particularly remember what was going on at the time I wrote it. I always stayed fond of it though, and wanted to include it on the album. For most of its life it had no title, so when we came to the recording session, I decided to give it that name as a way of marking it.
What is it like to improv with these musicians; what flavors do they bring?
I really enjoy the contrasts that the others all contribute, and that they bring things to the music
that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Even though I had a lot of specific ideas about how I wanted the music, it’s still been really shaped by the way they play it. Joe and I have a really great connection, having played together lots over the years, and we always enjoy getting together. We have a previous EP with a band called Soma Quartet, from the early 2000s, and lots of what we did with that band back then carried into what I did with this album. One of the many things Joe brings is a lighter, more whimsical side, which I love. Rob brings a really different aspect to the music as well, often a bit grittier or rougher round the edges, and he also has a great sense of space and texture. I’ve played with Dave lots too, in the Button Band, so I feel we’ve developed a very familiar way of playing and interacting, and he’s always so switched on. He has a great positive attitude towards making things work and happen. Simon was the latest addition to the line-up (which I’d experimented with over the years), but got the vibe of everything really quickly. He’s really receptive and open to possibilities for where the music might go, and I really enjoy the way he responds to things.
Has performing opened up in London, and if so, how do you think the scene has changed or will continue to change?
Things are picking up slowly. I’ve done a few gigs with other groups. The next thing is to do a launch gig for this album. My biggest worry is for the small venues, which are so vital for the scene. They were already struggling to keep going even pre-pandemic, and they haven’t been well supported since either. It’s sad to see some venues closing, as without them so much vibrancy is lost. At the same time, I’m a big believer that creative people will always find ways to keep being creative, so I do think new things will arise too. I’d like to think that there’ll be a renewed appreciation for live performance, after it having been limited for so long.
What is your advice to players getting back to gigging?
It’s going to vary a lot for each person, I guess the important thing is to take it at whatever pace
feels comfortable. I know some people who are desperate to do as much as possible straight away, and others who feel the need to ease themselves back a bit more gently. I’m more the latter myself.
I feel rusty, and that I’ve neglected a lot of things in my music during the pandemic, but I’ve also managed (mostly) not to be too hard on myself about that. I feel like I’m building myself back up a bit. I try to remember that it’s okay to take time, and that having patience and compassion are important things.
A new book by jazz author Debbie Burke looks at the history of klezmer and lavishes the most love on today’s klezmer artists. In-depth, personal interviews with over thirty musicians, authors, ethnomusicologists, historians, klezmer professionals from radio and the movies, and others involved in sustaining this art from the shtetls of Eastern Europe include the… Continue Reading →
A new book by jazz author Debbie Burke looks at the history of klezmer and lavishes the most love on today’s klezmer artists. In-depth, personal interviews with over thirty musicians, authors, ethnomusicologists, historians, klezmer professionals from radio and the movies, and others involved in sustaining this art from the shtetls of Eastern Europe include the insights of klezmer luminaries like David Krakauer, Michael Winograd, Anna Shternshis, Cantor Pavel Roytman and many others.
Pete Rushefsky of The Center for Traditional Music and Dance and Yiddish New York says, “Debbie Burke’s book is a much-needed addition to the growing library of writings on the topic, uniquely providing first-hand testimonies from a diverse range of today’s Yiddish cultural heroes.”
The book immediately took its place as the #1 New Release in Jewish Music on Amazon.
There’s nothing like wailing out on your sax or hitting those highs on your trumpet when you have a gorgeous showpiece as well; something that’s individual to you and expresses who you are. Robert Majzik (a Hungarian craftsman now residing in Tokyo) has been engraving for over 35 years. He’s working on a (secret) new… Continue Reading →
There’s nothing like wailing out on your sax or hitting those highs on your trumpet when you have a gorgeous showpiece as well; something that’s individual to you and expresses who you are. Robert Majzik (a Hungarian craftsman now residing in Tokyo) has been engraving for over 35 years. He’s working on a (secret) new project that he says will absolutely rock the saxophone world. Stay tuned!
How did you learn to engrave?
I used to be a glass engraver. I started when I was 14 years old.
What was your first project/commission?
My own cheap alto saxophone (from an internet sale), just to try it. And it looked very bad!
What was your most unusual commission?
A Japanese Himeji Castle on a saxophone.
Can you engrave no matter what condition the instrument is in?
Yes, I can remove an old engraving and put a new one over that!
What are the tools you use and are they different for different instruments?
It’s all about the material…silver or brass are the same, but glass is more sensitive.
What does a sax player and a trumpet player need to know about engraving their instruments?
I love to make engravings on new instruments, because players are worried that the sound will change after it.
How long does the process take?
It’s all about the design. From 1 week to 1 month.
How does a musician take care of it to avoid scratching the design?
If there are too many scratches, re-engrave it.
What are the most common designs people ask for?
Simple names or logos.
What do you like about your job?
I love to see a musician play onstage with my designed saxophone and they love it.
What other artwork do you do?
Engraving but on different materials, like glass, leather or wood.
Would you recommend this line of work to other artists? How would they get started?
So many artists ask me about it. I tell them it’s a lot of practice, time and being happy with what you make, no matter how long it takes. Time and practice make a master.
Only one…for engravers: Be yourself and don’t copy anyone else. Be proud of your own talents.
There’s a famous photo of Louis Armstrong that the young Valery Ponomarev first saw in Amerika Magazine sold in Russia during the Cold War. He decided to paint his own version of it in watercolor. He had already been grabbed by American jazz and the painting is a symbol of his creativity and free spirit…. Continue Reading →
There’s a famous photo of Louis Armstrong that the young Valery Ponomarev first saw in Amerika Magazine sold in Russia during the Cold War. He decided to paint his own version of it in watercolor. He had already been grabbed by American jazz and the painting is a symbol of his creativity and free spirit.
Valery moved to the US from his native Russia in 1973. Since then, he’s as much a part of the American jazz scene as are all the big names he mentions: Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker and his musical fulcrum Art Blakey.
My mother sent me all the photos that I used to have on my walls when I first heard jazz music at age 15. There’s a photo sketched in pencil of myself with the trumpet. I didn’t know how to hold the trumpet yet. I was a prodigy, hearing American jazz for the first time. I was swept off my feet with the clouds of truth and real expression. It was overwhelming. Art Blakey, Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker are a projection of that truth for me. I learned to identify what I liked. The music is about the positive, looking into the future; a surge, growth, development, evolving. Jazz keeps evolving just like any language. The first time I heard it, I knew right then that was the music I wanted to play and that’s the goal of my life until this day.
I always knew, even when I was a kid in Russia…I remember walking to the skating rink but knowing I would end up somewhere else; I didn’t know exactly where. When I heard jazz music I said that’s my star, my matrix, a dream that was somehow in me already. I was already without my own will.
In those times jazz music was looked upon like it was foreign, from the West, from the US. And whoever listened to VOA [Voice of America radio] they were really under suspicion because they were listening to Western information. At one point they stopped the news but the music they left alone so you could still listen to it. Willis Conover was running the jazz hour program on VOA and that program went out all over Europe. The whole world was mesmerized by jazz music. America really gave jazz to the world.
When I first heard “Moanin’” by Art Blakey I was totally swept off my feet. I went looking for records on the black market.
When I came to New York in 1973 I was bug-bitten. I was the person running around the city sitting in. It was at Churchill’s on 3rd and 28th and it was beautiful and excellent, really swinging. I sat in with everybody…the only one I was missing was Art Blakey because he was on tour in Japan. One day a friend called me and said Art is at the Five Spot.
I realized I needed to write this book, “The University of Jazz Messengers,” so I wouldn’t forget the events. The guiding idea of writing it was Art Blakey saying “truth is stranger than fiction. If you know the truth, don’t be afraid to say it. And buy my records!”
When people talk to me they want to hear that because I came from Russia I went to jail because I played jazz, but that happened in the past when people could have literally gone to jail for listening to US programs on shortwave radio. It was not happening by the time I came to jazz. I played at the Youth Café in the very center of Moscow and it was open every day of the week. At first it was open for foreign tourists only. Muskovites couldn’t get in! But slowly it opened for everybody. They wanted to show the world that Moscow has everything, we don’t prohibit anything, we’ve even got a jazz club.
I can read, write, compose and arrange. I studied. But I was self-taught in a way that I was finding out info on my own. It was so appealing to me; it was so mine. I had to learn the language and speak it properly. When they talk about me playing, they say, “Val speaks jazz without any accent.”
There’s no point writing music or reading music if you don’t like it. You gotta play right and express what you truly like. It really awakens the human emotion. That you really feel it moves you; that’s what you should write and play.
The topic of my new book fascinates me. It was in my mind for a very long time, ever since I met Art Blakey. The idea of the book is about the music as a university because he had a load of knowledge and I was so fortunate to get that knowledge from the horse’s mouth. The essence is that he kept repeating certain postulates that made a lot of sense. Things like, “Look happy!”
You learn it from practice, not from books and a teacher, but from transcribing and analyzing music. I discovered for myself when I was around 18 and knew that there were parts of speech that musicians repeat from one key to another. Analyze it, figure out every note, transcribe it to every key, and practice it and apply it to your own solos.
Before the pandemic I played at Zinc Bar, a real jazz club in the tradition of the best times in jazz music. I just played a gig at the Cotton Room in Manhattan and Soapbox Gallery in Brooklyn. Another club that is also in this tradition is Small’s. I’ll be playing there.
With grunts and growls and poppin’ those harmonics, alto/tenor sax player Adam Nolan from Ireland waxes poetic on his new CD called “Prim and Primal” with his trio, comprised of Derek Whyte on bass and Dominic Mullan on drums. “The Magic Carpet” turns arpeggios inside out while the bass stays strong and true; drums stir,… Continue Reading →
With grunts and growls and poppin’ those harmonics, alto/tenor sax player Adam Nolan from Ireland waxes poetic on his new CD called “Prim and Primal” with his trio, comprised of Derek Whyte on bass and Dominic Mullan on drums.
“The Magic Carpet” turns arpeggios inside out while the bass stays strong and true; drums stir, collapse and occasionally spin out of control. Nolan launches into a bop opening on “The Modern Jazz Trio” and bass absolutely grounds it. As the tune turns the corner, it’s all voices on deck con intensidad. This song breathes, rolls and grinds. Always, even in the shortest phrase, the sax is melodic. “Latin Jazz?” has beats that riff off the Latin sound as Whyte’s notes slide up to the stratosphere in a call-and-response with Nolan’s animated imaginings.
Six fresh new tracks that gift the listener with overflowing creativity and an accessible flair. The new CD is out August 19th!
When did you start playing sax?
When I was 14. I’ll be 28 this year.
When did it become apparent this (sax, or jazz, or music) was going to be your forever path?
Hmmm I’m still tryna figure that one out probably when I was 17 I started to realize I was gonna be a musician for sure
Why and when did you form this trio?
I formed this particular trio just for this album, this recording was the first time we played together as a trio
How long was “Prim and Primal” in your mind as a seedling before you began writing it?
It’s all improvised but the concepts and thought processes + solo practice building up to the recording session in my mind took a few months, just another phase in the journey to express, each album I’m changing it up so I don’t get bored. This was interesting and demanding because it had two contrasting personalities I had to express so I had some practice days when I was playing really sweet but others when it was wild and explosive.
What did you like best about producing this CD?
I guess the process is pretty epic. It’s like training for a gladiator battle: all is in one take, so you gotta be ready whether you like it or not. Demanding stuff psychologically but the thrill is serious.
What track is the wildest- the calmest- and how do they form a picture of who you (all 3) are in this work?
“The Kung Fu Master vs. the Ape” has to be the wildest track really showing the album concept! It’s cool and we went for it. It displays both personalities well, I feel.
“Latin Jazz?” is probably the calmest track. It really shows the elements of Latin jazz and bossa nova style, mixed and transformed into something completely fresh and new.
What inspires you in the moments that you are improvising?
The energy of the room and mindsets I’m trying to convey along with style and attitude. You’ve gotta unapologetically display your style if you’re playing free jazz
Are you a fiend on the Circle of Fifths? And, advice for sax newbies?
Hmm sometimes but generally I think more in shape and color, emotion and style. Each note is a doorway into many worlds.
Also – Don’t try and be better than anyone else except yourself, and show the world your own version of creation. Do it do it do it. Go go go!
How do you feel about the label “free jazz” and how would you characterize this new music?
It’s okay I guess, I think it sounds cooler than jazz by itself. Life Music is what I really think it is but I think that may be a bit cheesy. Primal music but that sounds too much of the organic brain without the spiritual… something that encompasses all the elements of what it means to be human…human music? Hmm… Sapien Sounds??
Are venues opening back up and where do you see your next performances?
Yeah I like playing on the street. But as for a show probably somewhere in Germany and Europe.
Keep it real and let your ego go, just play like it’s your last show.