Jazz, Pop & World Music, Radio Mundial Album Debuts

Posted September 7th, 2011 at 10:44 pm (UTC+0)
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Radio Mundial

Album Releases in Oct. 2011

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Dutch saxophonist Aart van Bergen and his group, Crescent Double Quartet, present their debut album “Radio Mundial,” a mix of Jazz, Pop, classical and World Music.

Radio Mundial has 13 songs inspired by places, folk tales, travels and music from all around the world: from the Sahara desert in North Africa to the Mayan temples in the Guatemalan jungle; from Japanese anime to Hindustani classical music.

Enjoy the feeling of cross-border, multinational music as you listen to Sahara (feat. Niti Ranjan Biswas) and Belly Dance:

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Interview:
The idea behind the album says Van Bergen, is to create and play a versatile repertoire of new music that fits the 21st century and its globalization of music.

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The multi-national group will perform live at the De Badcuyp Centrum voor Muziek in Amsterdam on October 13 to officially launch the album. Then, it will launch its Netherlands-wide tour of concerts in autumn as it gears up a larger whirlwind international tour next year.

Crescent Double Quartet

Crescent Double Quartet (Courtsey: Aart van Bergen)

Crescent Double Quartet was founded in 2010. It is a unique combination of a jazz quartet and a string quartet:

Saxophones: Aart van Bergen (Netherlands)
Piano: Kaan Biyikoglu (Turkey)
Double Bass: Sandor Kem (Hungary)
Drums: Remco Menting (Netherlands)
1st Violin: Anastasija Zvirbule (Latvia)
2nd Violin: Anne Bakker (Netherlands)
Viola: Yanna Pelser (Netherlands)
Cello: Eduard Ninot (Spain)

The quartet plays new music written specially for this uncommon instrumentation by Dutch saxophonist Aart van Bergen and Turkish pianist Kaan Biyikoglu.

Aart Van Bergen studied world music: jazz, pop, contemporary expressions of music, Western classical music, music cognition, theory of music, and cultural musicology.  He graduated from the University of Amsterdam in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in Musicology. His thesis ‘Freedom and Limits of Jazz Improvisation’ posed the question of how free and limited the jazz improviser is in his music.  He was invited to present his thesis at the ICT Sangeet Musicology Conference in Bombay, India.

In 2009, van Bergen founded his first band, “Aart van Bergen Sextet,” and released his first CD.  Three years earlier, in 2006, he had another group called “Starlight Jazz Trio.” It still exists and it plays traditional jazz in the trandition of American jazz icons John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lester Young and Hank Mobley.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

 

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Honoring The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin

Posted August 15th, 2011 at 4:59 pm (UTC+0)
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President Clinton prepares to kiss singer Aretha Franklin after awarding her with a National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in Washington, Sept. 29, 1999

President Clinton prepares to kiss singer Aretha Franklin after awarding her with a National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in Washington, Sept. 29, 1999 (AP)

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz will honor America’s Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, at a gala concert on September 12 to mark the 25th anniversary of the institute’s founding. Founded in 1986, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz bears the name of jazz icon Thelonious Monk, who died in 1982 at the age of 64. Its mission is to identify and train a new generation of jazz musicians.

I first profiled the 21-time Grammy Winner, Aretha Franklin, on VOA’s Jazz Club USA in 1992 after she sang “Someday We’ll All Be Free” on the Malcolm X soundtrack, and in 1993 when the celebrated singer performed at the inauguration ceremony of President Bill Clinton. Listen to the “Queen of Soul.” Songs from 1998 profile of her follow Arabic presentation:

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Franklin who first charted in 1961 has a 55-year-long career, during which she recorded more than 40 studio albums (17 of them Gold), 131 singles, 44 compilation albums, four live albums and at least one soundtrack.

Jazz greats Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dianne Reeves will perform during the September 12  Kennedy Center concert. I’m sure there will be a lot of pressure on Aretha to sing at the gala.  Former secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, as well as music icon Quincy Jones will chair the gala.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Ella Fitzgerald, 10th Anniversary of America’s First Lady of Songs

Posted July 31st, 2011 at 3:21 pm (UTC+0)
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Ella Fitzgerald figure at Madame Tussauds wax museum in Washington, Sept. 12, 2007 (AP)

Ella Fitzgerald figure at Madame Tussauds wax museum in Washington, Sept. 12, 2007 (AP)

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC –  Any time I take a trip to New York, I remember the great American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, who died 10 years ago. Ella, with her amazing, haunting, crisp voice, is always my tour guide in the Big Apple. Just listen to her hit “Manhattan” and she will tell you where to go for a fun time in New York. The song still gives me fever 22 years after I first heard it, when Ella says “The great big city’s a wonderous toy just made for a girl and boy. We’ll turn Manhattan into an isle of joy!”

“Manhattan” is part of the Great American Songbook which is probably one of the finest-ever recorded versions of classic American songs by music icons like George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington and others.

In my music show, I profiled phenomenal Ella Fitzgerald three times between 1992 and 1996 – the year she died. I used her songs so many times in the nostalgic “Down Memory Lane” segment of my Jazz Club USA show, to explain to our international audience how America’s first lady of songs used her voice like a musical instrument and manipulated the melody in many ways with her unerring pitch.  Here’s a combined sample: the songs follow Arabic narration.

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Ella’s sweet, powerful three-octave voice and perfect diction made her the best candidate to record a splendid series of Songbook albums for Norman Granz, who directed the Jazz At The Philharmonic (JATP) concerts. Those concerts featured the era’s preeminent musicians, including: Louie Bellson, Ray Brown, Benny Carter, Nat “King” Cole, Sonny Criss, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Bill Harris, Coleman Hawkins, J.C. Heard, Billie Holiday, Gene Krupa, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Buddy Rich, Ben Webster, Lester Young and many more.

A postage stamp honoring Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song, Jan. 10, 2007
A postage stamp honoring Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song, Jan. 10, 2007 (AP)

Lady Ella, used to say “I sing like I feel”. At Yonkers Metro station, you will see the first-ever life-size bronze statue of her .  Ella’s story is a classic rags to riches tale.   She was born in Yonkers in 1917 and grew up in near School Street and Park Hill Avenue. She also attended Benjamin Franklin Junior High School. Ella eventually became the most popular female jazz singer in the United States – a title she held for more than 50 years.  She had to quit her musical career because of vision problems and physical frailties. The statue (not the only one in America) was created by Yonkers sculptor Vinnie Bagwell as a tribute to the most celebrated jazz singer of her generation. Ella died on June 15, 1996 at the age of 79.

Manhattan” is a very popular song. I’m sure after you listen to it, you will remember New York. The music was written by Richard Rodgers and the words by Lorenz Hart for the 1925 revue “Garrick Gaieties” that debuted in 1925 on Broadway. It was the first of three Garrick Gaiety revues. The song was considered to be the simplest and shortest tourist guide for the city’s visitors.

The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in 2007 as a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. She is also honored in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, which was established in 1969 in Seneca Falls, New York.  Many of the All-Star albums pay tribute to this iconic singer, whose light, distinctive and extraordinary voice always left me longing for more, especially when she improvised and scat sung with great freedom, making you feel that her voice is a musical instrument itself.  Here’s her 1938 major hit A-Tisket, A-Tasket:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUYpUogn91U

Ella Fitzgerald also had a great sense of humor. She once commented on being a jazz icon saying, “Some kids in Italy call me ‘Mama Jazz; I thought that was so cute. As long as they don’t call me ‘Grandma Jazz’.”
For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

 

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Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Pat Metheny, a Vibrant, Versatile and Prolific Guitarist: Interview

Posted July 23rd, 2011 at 12:29 am (UTC+0)
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Pat Metheny's What's It All About

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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC –  Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, one of America’s most influential guitarists and jazz composers, is back in the United States after a very long and successful tour that took him to Japan and several European countries.  Metheny recently released a new solo album called What’s it All About. It is his second solo record to feature custom-made acoustic baritone guitar. The first was One Quiet Night, recorded about 10 years ago.

But despite his prolific history of writing so music, film scores and soundtracks, Metheny doesn’t have a single composition of his own on What’s it All About. Instead, the new album features re-arrangements of 10 classic compositions by Paul Simon, the Carpenters, Henry Mancini, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, and other music icons.  I asked Metheny why, when we talked about his recent tour.

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Metheny was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1954 into a musical family. He started on trumpet at the age of eight. “My whole family is trumpet players,” he explains. “My brother Mike is a trumpet player, my Dad was a trumpet player through his college years and still is good, my Grandfather on my Mom side was a professional trumpet player his whole life. So, to sort-of keep the family thing going, I became a trumpet player, too at a pretty young age around eight.”

But at the age of 12, Metheny decided to quit playing trumpet and switch to guitar. Why?

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“Because my brother [Mike] was so good, and he’s five years older than me I was always being compared to him,” he says. “So, I was kind of interested in doing something to separate myself from the trumpet, and that’s when I got interested in guitar.”

Metheny gained international attention in 1974 at the age of 19 when he joined the quartet of vibraphone great Gary Burton.  That same year, Metheny also became the youngest teacher ever at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where he received an honorary doctorate in May, 1996.

Like other musicians who started during the 1960s, Pat Metheny was very influenced by the Beatles. One of the really interesting songs on his new album is “And I Love Herwritten by legendary Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

“In fact, the story about that particular track [“And I Love Her”] is that I had done the nine major tunes that sort-of came from that era [the 1960s], and I thought Wow, I can’t do a record like this and not have a Beatles’ tune because in so many ways that, you know, hovers above the whole thing,” says Metheny, who now has over 40 records under his belt.

“The Beatles were not just an influence for me,” notes Metheny. “It was like, without the Beatles I don’t even know if I would be a musician. You know, seeing them on TV when I was a kid was part of the reason I got interested in the guitar in the first place.”

One of the great tunes on What’s it All About is the Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays”. I would have hoped that Metheny would have added his personal baritone guitar and smooth jazz touch to the Carpenters’ all-time favorite, “It’s Yesterday Once More”. I have a personal interest in that tune because it was one of the great songs of my generation in the mid 1970s, either in English or the French version by the late icon Claude François.

Pat Metheny has netted 18 Grammy Awards in different categories. In 2006, Metheny and acclaimed pianist Brad Mehldau released their first joint album, Ahmid 6.  The CD, a rare instrumental combination of guitar and piano production, was a culmination of about 70 tours they did together.

Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau“The music just kept getting better and better as we went along,” says Metheny about the duet’s performances.

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“Brad is one of my favorite musicians, somebody that I really have admired from the first time that I ever heard him. I thought he was just a fantastic new [musical] force in the world,” says Metheny. “He is just really one of those heroes in a lot of ways. I mean, he’s kind-of the guy in the generation directly younger than me that kind-of gave me hope that everything is going to be OK.  It had been a long time that somebody at that level, especially on the piano, had appeared.”

Previously the last such rare collaboration had been in 1962 between pianist Bill Evans and classic guitarist Jim Hall.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Eva Cassidy, a Jazz, R&B, and Pop Songbird

Posted July 12th, 2011 at 11:14 pm (UTC+0)
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Eva Cassidy

Eva Cassidy

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Simply Eva is a posthumous 2011 album featuring 12 performances by Jazz, Blues and Pop guitarist-singer Eva Cassidy. It is the eighth posthumous album by Cassidy, who died from melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer in 1996.

I first introduced Eva Cassidy to our VOA international audience (particularly, Arabic-speaking Middle East) when she released her debut album, The Other Side, in 1995. I also profiled her in 1996 when she sang live at Blues Alley – actually, her last album carries the same title: Live at Blues Alley. Songs follow Arabic narration on the show.

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Cassidy was not famous when she started in the early 1980s. Her music was not well-known, and her real talent went largely unnoticed outside her native Washington, DC, until after she died at the age of 33.  Two years later, in 1998, music critics realized that Cassidy, also a talented painter, was a “Songbird” and her music was a must-have.

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The majority of the songs on Simply Eva, released by BlixStreet records, was collected elsewhere in Cassidy’s discography.  However, the album compiles previously unreleased songs and performances featuring the late singer as solo artist on her expressive acoustic guitar.

Eva By Heart

Eva By Heart

The previously unreleased tracks are the acoustic versions of Cassidy’s now-famous recordings such as “Songbird“,  “People Get Ready”, “True Colors”, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, “Kathy’s Song”, “San Francisco Bay Blues”, and “I Know You By Heart (a cappella)”, which ironically sounds like her finale.

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Simply Eva, which made it to number four on the UK Charts last February, has been certified silver and gold.

Cassidy’s work is all over the social networks now, including YouTube. Her single “Songbird”, the title cut from an album of her works that was compiled and posthumously released in 1998, is actually a YouTube hit, registering almost seven million views. The album was certified Platinum in 2008 after it sold over one million copies.

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Another song, “Fields of Gold”, got more than four million views on YouTube. But Cassidy’s fame reached a new high in 2007, when her song “What a Wonderful World” – with British singer Katie Melua – hit number one on the music charts and remained there for five weeks.

“If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have picked up the guitar and started writing songs and singing on the guitar,” says Melua, who admits Eva Cassidy inspired her. “And I just think she had such an incredible voice, and I don’t think it’d be much of an overstatement to say she’s probably the greatest singer of my generation.”

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Cassidy’s “Songbird” featured five songs from her 1997 album, Eva by Heart. They are: “Wade in the Water”, “Wayfaring Stranger”, “Songbird” and “Time is a Healer”.

Eva Cassidy outside Blues Alley in Washington DC

Eva Cassidy outside Blues Alley in Washington DC

It also featured four tracks from her Live at Blues Alley album: “Fields Of Gold”, “Autumn Leaves”, “People Get Ready”, and “Oh Had I a Golden Thread”.

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The last song on Songbird is “Over the Rainbow” taken from Cassidy’s 1995 debut album The Other Side. The song was Cassidy’s single hit on the United States and European music charts. The album was even broadcast on BBC’s Top of the Pops2.

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It is really difficult to put the quality of Eva Cassidy’s voice into words. It’s “simply magical,” to borrow the words of Pop superstar Sting.

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There’s a bestselling book about Cassidy’s life story — cut short by cancer at 33. Eva Cassidy: Songbird collects the intimate memories of relatives, close friends, and the musicians who collaborated with her. Also, a movie about Cassidy’s life is now in the works.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Wynton Marsalis, America’s Best Jazz Ambassador

Posted July 4th, 2011 at 1:29 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – If you love jazz, America’s most distinctive art, and you want someone to take you back in time and then bring you back to the future, you must listen to musical prodigy, Wynton Marsalis.  The prolific trumpeter is probably the only man who could start a New Orleans-style street jazz parade anywhere he goes – according to music critics.

Some critics describe  Marsalis , 49, as “a living legend,”. Others say he’s “America’s best jazz ambassador now.” CBS television describes him as “the best known living jazz artist and leader of Jazz”.

Marsalis recently spoke with VOA’s Jazz America about his music and his historic two-night stand at Lincoln Center with country star Willie Nelson:

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The 2007 joint event was called: Two Men With The Blues:

The son of New Orleans jazz great Ellis Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis started on trumpet at the age of six, and performed with the New Orleans Philharmonic in 1975 at age 14.   When he was 17, Marsalis became the youngest musician ever to be admitted to Tanglewood’s Berkshire Music Center.  Despite his young age, Marsalis was awarded the school’s prestigious Harvey Shapiro Award for outstanding brass student.

Marsalis’ real professional career started when he joined the The Jazz Messengers band, headed by legendary jazz drummer and bandleader Art Blakey. The distinguished musician, who has won nine Grammy awards, says on his Web site it was from Blakey that he acquired his concept for band leading and bringing intensity to each and every performance.

Marsalis has also performed with other jazz icons like Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Sweets Edison, Clark Terry, Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Duke Ellington who described him as “a decorated hero and a symbol of glamour.”

Several Books have been written about Wynton Marsalis, who was born in New Orleans, the ‘Cradle of Jazz,’ in 1961. The books highlight his life from rising star to music icon in the making in the 1980s.

In 1990, Wynton Marsalis was pictured on the cover of Time magazine. The magazine celebrated him as one of America’s 25 most influential people in 1995, and 1996. Time magazine says Marsalis is “an original in so many ways and has a tremendous influence on the popularity of modern jazz and its deep roots in New Orleans history. We share a love for our universally beloved hometown and were shattered by its recent destruction.”

In 2001, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proclaimed Marsalis an international ambassador of goodwill for the United States.  Annan later appointed Marsalis a U.N. Messenger of Peace.

Wynton Marsalis, who became the first jazz musician ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1997 for his epic oratorio, “Blood On The Fields”, is now Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Opera.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Renowned Pianist Makoto Kuriya Focuses on Maintaining Japan’s Jazz Identity

Posted June 24th, 2011 at 8:01 pm (UTC+0)
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Japanese pianist Makoto Kuriya

Japanese pianist Makoto Kuriya

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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Japanese pianist Makoto Kuriya has released a new album called Art for Life. The release coincides with the 20th anniversary of his homecoming. “It’s a summary of what I have been doing for the past 20 years in Japan,” American-educated Makoto tells Jazz Beat. “It’s been 20 years already ever since I came back here to Tokyo after living in the [United] States for 11 years. Time does fly.”  Here’s the album’s title cut:  Art for Life.

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Makoto graduated from West Virginia University with a major in linguistics, but he was attracted to studying music. During his 11-year stay in the U.S., he frequented American classic and modern jazz clubs in Washington, DC, including the world-famous Blues Alley in Georgetown and One Step Down near the US Congress headquarters on “Capitol Hill”.  While there, Makoto had the opportunity to talk with jazz legends like pianist McCoy Tyner, saxophonist Dexter Gordon and others. When he became a professional musician, he regularly performed gigs at those clubs.

Makoto mainly performed on the East coast of the United States with famous jazz artists. He toured with Grammy award-winning trumpeter Chuck Mangione in the late 80′s, and performed with Panamanian American jazz bandleader Billy Cobham. When he returned to Japan, he did an ensemble with jazz-legend and pianist Herbie Hancock at the Tokyo Jazz Festival, one of the biggest festivals in Japan. The country now boasts many popular jazz clubs including Blues Alley Tokyo, Sweet Basel, Billboard Live Tokyo and Blue Note Tokyo.

Japanese pianist Makoto Kuriya

Makoto Kuriya

Listen to the Interview in Full:
Jazz Beat talked to Makoto Kuriya about his American jazz experience, and how he felt as a Japanese playing American jazz while wanting to maintain Japan’s jazz identity. Makoto also told Jazz Beat about his Latin, Western and Japanese jazz fusion, his memorable visit to Cairo, Egypt, his Nile cruise surprise, and performance at the TanJazz Festival in Gibraltar, Morocco. You will have a chance to listen to some of Makoto’s songs in full here on Jazz Beat.

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Makoto studied and taught music with his mentor, American professor and music historian Nathan Davis, at the University of Pittsburgh. “He taught me how to play, how to listen, how to swing. I owe him a lot,” the musician said.  Makoto praised Davis for launching an outreach music program that included tours in many countries, including Ghana, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Jordan.

Localizing Jazz in Japan:
Makoto is one of a few Japanese artists who are trying to put their own cultural imprint on the music. He is now devoting his efforts to authenticating Japanese jazz, maintaining a distinctive cultural identity and bringing a Western-free localized Japanese jazz music from Nippon, the Land of the Rising Sun, to the world.

Makoto Kuriya’s Discography

  • Art for Life 2011
  • RHYTHMATRIX 2009
  • EVOLUTION / Rhythm of Elements 2008
  • My music is Your music 2006
  • Paris To The Moon 2006
  • Latin Touch 2003
  • TV Jazz Anthology 2002
  • Style ~ Euro Modern Revival 2003
  • ANTITHESES #2 1999
  • ANTITHESES 1998
  • Mercy, Mercy, Mercy 1999
  • X-BAR TRIO 2 1994
  • X-BASED MUSIC 1993
  • X-BAR TRIO 1992
  • The Baltimore Syndicate 1991
  • Always Your Friend 1991

During the past 10 years, Makoto has performed in many countries, especially in Europe, but he noticed that people wonder how a Japanese man came to play American jazz. He says he didn’t want to people to see him as copying his American influences.

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“Whenever I play in Paris, London … you just name it … in Germany, in Spain, in Rome whatever, you know, people ask you are Japanese, how come you’re playing Jazz, American music! ” he explained.

“The more I play in Japan, the more I come to notice that I have to do something really special that only Japanese people can make, like Japanese jazz,” he said. “I’m really fortunate to be able to go abroad, not just to the United States, but to European countries and elsewhere to play American [jazz] music for those people out there. And that makes me realize that I’m a Japanese man, my identity as a Japanese man and I have to play something really original,” Makoto said.

His “Fly Me To The Moon”, the end theme for the widely-popular Japanese TV animation “Evangelion” is a big hit.

Makoto in ‘Cairo, Hollywood of Arabia’

Makoto Kuriya at Cairo Jazz Festival 2010

Makoto Kuriya at Cairo Jazz Festival 2010

Makoto has also played his music in Arab countries, including Egypt and Morocco. Jazz fans at the second Cairo International Jazz Festival in particular were “crazy” about his music. “Cairo is believed to be like a Hollywood of Arabian culture … the palace was packed. I loved the people. 

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It was such a memorable experience,” said Makoto who was fascinated by the young Egyptians who seemed to love his music. “ I really respect the energy of those young people in Cairo. They are so fantastic. [If there’s] anything I can do for them, I’ll love to do it,” he said. Makoto says he was surprised to hear his hit, “Fly Me To The Moon” being sung by sightseers doing Karaoke on a Nile Cruise.

Makoto has played at the jazz festival in Gibraltar, Morocco too, where many famous jazz artists including Cameroonian saxophonist Mano De Bank have performed.

“I believe in the power of music. People can be friends, and people can transmit their thoughts to each other, and can share thoughts … and that’s why a lot of artists are writing charity music,” said Makoto. He donated the proceeds of a recent performance in London to the victims of earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The show was broadcast live on BBC channel 3 a few days ago.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Jazz Legend Nat King Cole and the Untamed Wild West

Posted June 17th, 2011 at 9:09 pm (UTC+0)
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Nat King Cole in London (AP)

Nat King Cole in London (AP)

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Banjo music always makes me think of jazz icon Nat King Cole, the American Wild West, the vast and flat sagebrush plains, the majestic Rocky Mountains and the Marlboro Man. It makes me want to go to Montana, Arizona or Texas to ride a horse on a mountain range, where the sky is so big that you must see it to believe it.

But WHY BANJO? Well, because it evokes memories of the first Wild West movie I ever watched at Salma Movie Theater in Zagazig, Egypt when I was 14. The movie starts with Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye playing banjo and singing.

The box-office hit movie, Cat Ballou, was one of the best western comedies ever made. It starred the talented Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda — two of my favorite Hollywood stars. Cole later became one of my favorite jazz artists. The legendary singer-pianist-composer was the first to be profiled on my Jazz Club USA radio show in 1992. Two years later, his romantic, hit “Autumn Leaves” (that I highlighted on my show) was the first song played at my wedding on a Nile cruise boat in Cairo.

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VOA's Diaa Bekheet

VOA’s Diaa Bekheet

Many articles have been written about Cole, who made it big as a singer after Cat Ballou. His grainy but smooth baritone voice made it unimaginable for anyone else to sing “Mona Lisa”, “Autumn Leaves” or “Unforgettable” as far as I was concerned. I talked about Cole, his life and those three songs in  particular, during a 1996 live show here with my fellow broadcaster Nermine Mahmoud.

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In Cat Ballou, the utterly brilliant, Oscar-winning dual-role Lee Marvin — in one hilarious scene — was leaning on a pub wall, dead-drunk in the saddle with his horse cross-legged. Former Academy Awards director and filmmaker, Robert Wise, who made the West Side Story and The Sound of Music, once told me in Cairo that Marvin’s unrepeatable act was not only comedic, but iconic.

Those are the comedic performances and images that click into my mental view-masters when velvet-voiced Nat King Cole is mentioned or when I listen to banjo music.  Such wonderful memories made me want to come to the United States to ride a horse across landscapes, drive a horse-drawn wagon and herd cattle to get the feeling of a cowboy, although not the real McCoy.

Cole, Marvin and Fonda bring to mind all those fantasies about cowboys and the old Wild West. How I wished I had lived with them at the time! I was fascinated (and still I am) by American cowboys and classic cowboy movies. In 1989, 10 months after I came to the U.S.,I had the chance to see the Great Centennial Cattle Drive in Montana. It was a great time to recapture those memories and get a feel for what was it like to be a cowboy.  I thought the Marlboro Man had never really existed, but I was wrong. There are many guys like him in Montana.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

 

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Boney James, One of America’s Top Saxophonists, Playing ‘Better’ After a Car Crash

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 5:53 pm (UTC+0)
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Saxophonist Boney James (Reuters)

Saxophonist Boney James (Reuters)

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Grammy-nominated saxophonist Boney James made a full and strong comeback after a car crash that kept him from performing for several months. He is currently crisscrossing the United States on a year-long whirlwind tour of concerts and appearances. James and other award-winning artists performed last week in Washington and Alabama, where music fans braved hot summer temperatures to enjoy smooth and cool jazz fused with R&B (Rhythm and blues).

Boney James talks with VOA’s Jazz Beat about his tour, his new album and the car crash. Here’s the interview in full:

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The accomplished saxophonist was driving home from a performance at the Newport Beach Jazz Festival in California last year, when he was stopped on a Los Angeles highway in traffic. “I got rear-ended by a drunk driver going at full speed. It was a terrible crash,” recalled James. “I couldn’t play my horn for two months, but once I got back into it I’m just happy to be alive,” he said.

James suffered a fractured jaw and two missing front teeth in the accident. He also received 14 stitches on his face. “I’m fully recovered now, and so grateful it’s a fading memory.” He had to undergo a plastic surgery. But all in all, the accident didn’t have any effect on his playing. “You know, I think I’m playing better,” the musician joked. He says the experience has actually had a positive effect on his shows and it was a great influence on the new album, Contact.

Boney James’ Discography

  • Contact released 2011
  • Send One Your Love 2009
  • Christmas Present 2007
  • Shine released 2006
  • Pure released 2004
  • Ride released 2001
  • Shae It Up 2000
  • Body Language 1999
  • Sweet Night/It’s All Good 1998
  • Sweet Thing 1997
  • Boney’s Funky Christmas 1996
  • Seduction 1995
  • Backbone 1994
  • Trust 1992

James plays a variety of music, although some are trying to typecast him as a jazz artist. “I don’t even really consider myself a jazz musician. You know, people would see you with your saxophone and think what you love is jazz,” James said. “My music has elements of jazz, but it’s also mixed up with R&B and pop music, and Latin music and all kind of things mixed up together; so hopefully it’s something original sounding.”

Boney James was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1961, and raised in New Rochelle, New York. Although he started on clarinet at the age of eight, he switched to saxophone at 10. He studied history at the University of California at Los Angeles, and began playing music full-time after graduation. He’s married to actress and filmmaker Lily Mariye, who is best-known as ‘Nurse Lily Jarvik’ on the popular 90s TV series “ER” (Emergency Room).

Considered one of the most prolific American saxophonists, James has released 14 albums since 1992 that have sold over three million copies each.  His latest album, Contact, is still number one after eight weeks on the jazz charts. Eight other albums also ranked number one on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. He has four Gold albums, and 3 Grammy nominations.

“It’s all very exciting. You know, whenever you have a number one record or a gold record or you get Grammy nominations, of course it’s a dream come true for every musician,” said James who turns 50 next September. “All that stuff is sort of affirming. It’s makes you feel that you are on the right path.”

Boney James cites Grover Washington Jr. as an influence. “When I was about 13, I heard Grover Washington Jr. for the first time,” he explained. “He was the first guy I heard that was combining the R&B that I loved with the saxophone that I also loved. So, that’s the sort of the tradition that I’m still playing today.”

Grover Washington Jr.

James says his new album, Contact, is kind of special to him. “It’s reflective of where I am right now… all original music, and it’s featuring some wonderful guest vocalists,” he said.

Contact was released late last March. It features high-profile vocal guest appearances, including platinum-selling singer and former member of Destiny’s Child, LeToya Luckett who sings “When I had The Chance”, R&B superstars Mario who sings “That Look On Your Face,”  and Donnell Jones, and Grammy and Tony Award winner Heather Headley.

Earlier, Boney James and Latoya Luckett performed “When I had the Chance” on the Mo’Nique Show in Atlanta. He said the show will air on BET channel on June 22.

Some critics consider Boney James one of the most influential jazz artists of his generation.  Billboard magazine named him “The No. 3 Top Contemporary Jazz Artist of the Decade.”  But James prefers to not be labeled, saying, “I am just a saxophone player whose music has several different influences. Jazz is only one of them.” Here’s more in this report by VOA’s by Doug Levine:

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For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

Legendary Omar Hakim: From Miles Davis to David Bowie, Madonna & Sting to Trio of OZ

Posted June 4th, 2011 at 1:31 am (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet

Diaa Bekheet

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – At the foot of the Cheops [Khufu] pyramid in Giza, Egypt in 2007, I ran into a young man wearing a T-shirt stamped with the picture of a familiar American musician. I approached him and asked if he knew the man on the T-shirt because there was no written name on it.  “Of course I printed it myself,” he said. “It’s Omar Hakim, the best American drummer. He’s my hero.” The young Egyptian turned out to be a drummer with a startup band in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.  “I first learned about Omar Hakim from a jazz fan club in Alexandria where we listened to Jazz Club USA on the Voice of America in 1996,” the young Egyptian drummer recalled. He was in Cairo to perform at Al-Azhar Park.

Here’s a clip from an old show about the Weather Report and I mentioned Omar Hakim at 1:08.  In fact, the drum-legend was mentioned on several of my old Jazz Club USA shows in the 1990s. Many of our listeners sent feedback asking about Hakim. The station ID on that VOA show (mp3) was done earlier by jazz great Louis Armstrong.

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Legendary American drummer Omar Hakim

Legendary American drummer Omar Hakim

Hakim played drums for jazz legends like Miles Davis. He’s now planning to release another “Omar Hakim” album in the fall, titled We Are One.

“The idea of We Are One is just to speak about the spiritual oneness of all people, and to connect with the source of music and life and positive energy,” said the versatile and hi-tech drummer who was kind enough to speak with Jazz Beat (mp3) about his new projects.

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Hakim has played the hi-tech V-drums for International Pop Superstar Madonna. In fact he toured with her and with Lionel Richie for eight years in the 1990s. He also played drums for David Bowie and Sting and has collaborated with other renowned artists including Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Anita Baker, Bobby McFerrin, George Benson, Chaka Khan, John Scofield, Urban Knight‘s, Bruce Springsteen, Jewel, J-Lo, and D‘Angelo.

Omar Hakim

Omar Hakim

Hakim was born in the Big Apple (New York City) in 1959, and grew up listening to famed jazz musicians of the time. His father played trombone for Duke Ellington and Count Basie.  “ My father, a trombonist named Hasan, used to  play records around the house all the time when I was young by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, by Miles Davis, the Buddy Rich Big Band,” said Hakim who was a founding member of the Jazz Super Band Urban Knights along with Ramsey Lewis, Grover Washington Jr. and bassist Victor Bailey. The band featured Hakim’s songwriting and vocal talents.

His first encounter with an audience was in 1969 when he was 10 years old. His father wanted him to play in his band, the Nomads. Young Omar Hakim was shy but his father encouraged him. “He recognized my talents but I was very shy. He put me into that band and he was like … you can do it, you are the new drummer in the band, let’s go” he recalled. “It was a pretty amazing experience for me.”

Thanks to his father’s friendship with the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, young Hakim had a chance to spend time with jazz greats like, drummers Elvin Jones and Art Blakey. At the age of 15, Hakim did his first tour after he formulated his improvisational drumming techniques.

The Trio of OZ (O for Omar, Z for pianist Rachel Z)

Omar Hakim is married to the brilliant, post-modern jazz pianist Rachel Z who worked for award-winning jazz vibraphonist Mike Mainieri.  She also played piano for some of the best artists in the music industry, including the British rock star Peter Gabriel whose songGames without Frontiers” was a hit single in the UK and the USA in 1980. It was an iconic part of my college years, and number one on Radio Cairo chart in Egypt in 1980 and 1981.

Hakim and Rachel Z teamed up to form a new group called The Trio of OZ a few years after they met in a session with the famous jazz guitarist AL De Meola. “I’m very excited about it,” said Hakim whose famous solo album Rhythm Deep — a fusion of jazz, R&B, and pop– earned him his first Grammy nomination in 1989.  In 2000, he released another solo record titled Groovesmith, featuring his songwriting, arranging, singing and hi-tech drumming skills

His new group, The Trio of OZ, released its first album last year featuring Hakim on drums, Rachel Z on Piano and Maeve Royce on bass.  The group was joined at live shows by the new bassist Solomon Dorsey who’s been touring with the band lately. They are now working on a new album to be released later this year.

More on Omar Hakim and the Trio of of OZ here. And for more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

About

About Jazz Beat

Diaa BekheetCairo native Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows for the former Arabic Service such as Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site, VOAnews.com.

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