John Pizzarelli and Ahmed el-Gebali, Two Brilliant Guitarists

Posted May 25th, 2011 at 4:41 pm (UTC+0)
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American guitarist John Pizzarelli

American guitarist John Pizzarelli (Courtsey his web site)

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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – In the fall of 1980, a college friend introduced me to the music of some famous American and British guitarists who were making big headlines at the time. While he made mint tea for us at his home, I spotted a guitar catalog on his desk. I started flipping through the pages and looking at photos.  I was introduced to the work of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, the Bellamy Brothers, and the Who’s Pete Townshend, an artist known for smashing his guitars on stage many times.  At the time I was looking for a picture of Elvis Presley, America’s world famous guitarist-singer-actor.  I was spellbound by the way he shook his legs on stage. I found nothing, unfortunately!

But in one of the catalog’s photos, a young guitarist was sitting next to American guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli. That’s how I learned about John Pizzarelli.  “He looks Italian to me, not American” I said.

Egyptian guitarist Ahmed el-Gebali

My friend Ahmed el-Gebali, now Egypt’s top guitarist, said he cared about his guitar style not his nationality.

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“Music knows no boundaries, dude. We’re talking about guitar skills here. John Pizzeralli has them in spades,” he said. “One of the keys to success in guitar is to study someone who has gone before you and learn from his styles or often follow his footsteps,” explained Gebali who has tasteful, yet blisteringly fast, guitar skills.

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John Pizzarelli is an American musician who sings in English while playing the guitar. “You are always stuck to the guitar no matter what. It’s always sealed to my shoulder,” said Pizzarelli who turned 51 last month. He spoke briefly with VOA’s Jazz America.

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John is the son of acclaimed guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, who played a custom seven-string guitar with some of the biggest names in jazz in the 1930s and 1940s. The extra-low A-string, introduced by jazz guitarist George Van Eps, expands the guitar’s range to include bass lines.

Egyptian guitarist Ahmed el-Gebali

Ahmed el-Gebali is a guitar maestro who sings in English and Arabic thousands of miles away in Egypt. He’s known for fusing jazz with rock, classical and Arabic music for the first time at a live show in London. The style was so popular that he released it on a special album titled “Gebali Show.”

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“My past experience and guitar studies abroad harnessed my skills that I was able to come up with this music mix,” he said. “I loved American music, jazz, rock n’ roll, hard rock and heavy metal [stars], and I wanted to play guitar like them until I developed my own style,” said Gebali who bought his first guitar during a visit to Syria while in middle school.

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“I learned a lot from my guitar lessons in Canada and Germany, where I rubbed shoulders with professional guitarists,” said Gebali as he recounted challenges he’d had during a composing and arranging project in 1993. He has released more than a dozen albums since 1990.

The Beatles in New York, in this Feb. 9, 1964

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What do Pizzarelli and Gebali have in common? Both guitar virtuosos grew up in the 1960s and 1970s listening to the Beatles. In fact, the Beatles’ popular music culture was immense at the time. Their all-time hit, “Hey Jude,” inspired musicians around the world. I used to sing “Hey Jude” in the corridors of VOA when I first came to the United States in 1989. The song stuck with me since I had first listened to it at Gebali’s home in the Nile Delta city of Zagazig, Egypt in 1979.

I learned to play acoustic guitar at school, but I never wanted to be a star. From the time I was a little kid, it always baffled me how just a box and six strings could produce different kinds of music, including jazz, blues, classical, flamenco, rock, folk and more.

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.

Elegant Pianist Amina Figarova: From Baku to Amsterdam to New York

Posted May 12th, 2011 at 4:02 pm (UTC+0)
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Pianist and composer Amina Figarova (photo by Joke Schot)

Pianist and composer Amina Figarova (photo by Joke Schot)

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Pianist Amina Figarova recently moved to the “Big Apple” — New York City, — fulfilling a dream of playing her music in the city that doesn’t sleep. Figarova also wanted to be close to New Orleans, the southern US city known as the “cradle” of Jazz. “Great amount of jazz … (American) Audience is very very sophisticated, very appreciative,” explains the internationally-acclaimed pianist-composer.

Figarova grew up in Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, listening to jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong on Voice of America radio.

Amina’s Discography

  • Attraction
  • Another me
  • Firewind
  • Night Train
  • Jazz at the Pinehill Vol I
  • Jazz at the Pinehill Vol II
  • On Canal Street
  • September Suite
  • Come escape with me
  • Above the Clouds
  • Sketches
  • DVD “Live in Amsterdam”

The quite cosmopolitan, accomplished artist was only two years old when she learned to play piano with her mother in Baku. At three, Figarova had composed her fist melody. At six, she was admitted to a school for gifted children where she studied classical piano and composition. As a teenager, Amina Figarova got into Motown music, and now she is a renowned pianist, composer and bandleader.

After Figarova graduated from the State Conservatory of Baku, she traveled to the Netherlands to study composition, piano, and voice at the Rotterdam Conservatory. She also studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.  She says her music captures the big band sound “always in my head.” Figarova created an album of original songs that refresh the classic post-bop idiom established by labels such as Blue Note, Prestige and Impulse in the 1950s and 1960s.

Amina Figarova, one of Europe’s most impressive and sophisticated jazz pianists and bandleader, tells her story to VOA’s Jazz Beat.

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Figarova is currently touring the United States, playing at jazz festivals in Virginia, Florida, Mississippi and several other states.  She has recorded a dozen CDs. Figarova’s 1994 debut album, Attraction, was selected for play in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Colony in Aspen, Colorado in 1998.

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.

Miles Davis, Cool Jazz, Nefertiti & Pharaoh’s Dance

Posted May 7th, 2011 at 4:29 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – I was sipping tea in the famous Al-Fishawy coffee shop in old Cairo, when a young man next to me said to a tourist: “Anwar Wagdi is as famous as Miles Davis!” He was pointing to an Egyptian movie star who was playing trumpet in a 1949 movie showing on a wall-mounted television set. Wagdi’s trumpet solo was brilliant.  I asked the man if he had ever listened to Miles Davis. “Never,” he responded. “But who doesn’t know Miles Davis? The greatest trumpeter of all time.” My face reflected my surprise.

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Huge Impact on Jazz:
Davis is known worldwide – even by those who have never heard his music – for what he did to revolutionize jazz music between the 1940’s and 1970’s. He helped create Cool Jazz in New York in the late 1940’s when he played with saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and other big bandleaders of the era. In 1949 Davis recorded his first hit album Birth of the Cool. In the 1959, he introduced Modal Jazz. And in 1969, Davis mixed jazz with rock music to create Jazz Fusion. Despite all those achievements, he wanted to be called Miles Davis without labels.

Miles Davis holds a glass of orange juice after receiving the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur award medal in Paris from the French government, July 16, 1991

Miles Davis holds a glass of orange juice after receiving the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur award medal in Paris from the French government, July 16, 1991 (AP)

The eight-time Grammy winner was one of the prime movers of jazz; a “Chameleon of Jazz” who changed the direction of jazz music multiple times. John Edward Hasse, curator of American music at the Smithsonian, gives us some thoughts about Miles Davis.

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I grew up listening to jazz-rock fusion and compositions like “Nefertiti” or “Pharaoh’s Dance” from Davis’ definitive electric, Grammy-winning album Bitches Brew. I fell in love with his style the minute I saw him perform in a  documentary on Egyptian television in the early 1970’s. Davis’ style attracted me, because at the time I had just started learning how to play the trumpet. I was 14.  I remember he used to say “there’s a need to move, change and grow.”

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The Last Award:
Miles Davis later became one of the true giants of jazz. He received many awards; the last one was in July 1991, when the French government awarded him the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur medal.  Two months later, Davis died in a southern California hospital of pneumonia and heart failure. He was 65.

Davis is also considered one of the most important musicians in jazz history, an icon who created the jazz language and helped define its repertoire.  He is also called “The Picasso of Jazz” for his abstract music style.

A Funny Story From Herbie Hancock on Miles Davis:

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The Dark Side:
Many books described by critics as “Concise, compelling, elegant, and evocative” have been written about the legacy of Miles Davis. Among the many authors is his son, Gregory Davis Jr., who wrote an “honest” account of his father’s “brilliant DOCTOR JEKYLL and dark MR HYDE personality.”

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.

Jon Metzger: Vibist, Composer, Educator and Jazz Ambassador

Posted April 27th, 2011 at 5:33 pm (UTC+0)
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Jon Metzger - America's top jazz vibist

Jon Metzger

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Ask any Jon Metzger fan and they’ll tell you his music appeals to the heart.  The majority of his compositions are relaxing. Metzger has played jazz on vibes and marimba in concerts and festivals across America and in over 20 countries.

Early on, Metzger fell in love with teaching — he found it inspiring to teach music to college students.  His book, The Art and Language of Jazz Vibes, is great for learning, listening and understanding the nature of playing jazz vibraphone.

“What led me to teaching was that I saw how clearly here at home in the United States we need a larger more improved, better educated audience,” he explained.

I recently interviewed Metzger.  As you listen to our conversation, you will hear the songs “Ode to Life” and “Brown Skin Girl”, two titles from The Jon Metzger Quartet’s Teach Me Tonight album.

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(The Quartet features band leader Jon Metzger on vibes and marimba, Keith Waters on piano, James King on bass and Tony Martucci on drums and percussion.)

Bridging cultures musically:

Metzger served as a Cultural Envoy for the United States Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. The one-month mission in May 2009 allowed him to work with the music faculty of the Conservatory at Hacettepe State University on the formation of their new Jazz Studies Program. While in Turkey, he gave improvisation and jazz pedagogy workshops, jazz performance master classes, and numerous concerts at the Conservatories in Ankara and in Izmir.

In the 1990’s, the former United States Information Agency’s Arts America Program selected Metzger as a Jazz Ambassador. He visited more than 20 countries in Central America, Europe, the Middle East, the Near East, and Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa. His music was very well received in many countries, including Syria, Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the tours didn’t include Egypt, home of Middle Eastern jazz and the region’s top vibraphonist Nesma Abdel Aziz.

Among his other noteworthy accomplishments, Jon Metzger teamed up with three other musicians to play the music of jazz and clarinet great Benny Goodman. The group recorded a CD titled Times Fly, the Music of Benny Goodman. It has 13 compositions arranged by Metzger on vibes, Gregg Gelb on clarinet, Ed Paolantonio on piano and John Hanks on drums. From Times Fly here’s After You’ve Gone:

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Jon Metzger is now the Artist in Residence and an Associate Professor of Music at Elon University in North Carolina.

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.

Yellowjackets, A ‘Timeline’ of Great Music

Posted April 22nd, 2011 at 6:51 pm (UTC+0)
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Yellow Yackets - Timeline

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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – The Yellowjackets Quartet is one of the most popular modern jazz bands in America. The group just released its new album “Timeline” to celebrate 30 years of achievements as one of the premiere jazz fusion/smooth jazz groups of our time.

Last year, when the Jackets were preparing to record their album, my colleague Russ Davis was in Detroit, Michigan. Russ was having breakfast in a restaurant on the sidelines of the Detroit Jazz Festival, when he saw Russell Ferrante of the Yellow jackets across the way. Here’s a recap of their conversation:

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The Yellowjackets have recorded 24 albums, so far. The quartet is currently made up of Russell Ferrante on keyboards and synthesizers, Jimmy Haslip on bass, Will Kennedy on drums and percussions, and Bob Mintzer on saxophones and bass clarinet.

The group has won two Grammy Awards. One was for Best R&B Instrumental Performance for “And You Know That” in 1986:

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And the second was for Best Jazz Fusion Performance for “Politics” in 1988.

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 & Classical Mix with Dutch Saxophonist Aart van Bergen

Posted April 13th, 2011 at 5:21 pm (UTC+0)
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Aart van Bergen

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Do you remember Gunther Schuller’s Third Stream? It’s a mix of classical and jazz music. Also known as symphonic jazz, the style started in 1957 in an effort to bring jazz and classical music closer in spirit and play. It was popular until the mid 1970’s, but then receded and became part of music history.

Dutch saxophonist Aart van Bergen and his Crescent Double Quartet have revisited the style in their new Album “Radio Mundial.” It will be released later this year, but we have an interview and exclusive preview of the album here on Jazz Beat:

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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 how limited the jazz improviser is in his music.  He was invited to present his thesis at the ICT Sangeet Musicology Conference in Bombay, India.

Crescent Double Quartet was founded in 2010 and it includes Dutch saxophonist Aart van Bergen, Turkish pianist Kaan Biyikoglu, Hungarian bassist Sandor Kem, Dutch drummer Remco Menting, Latvian violinist Anastasija Zvirbule, Dutch violinist Anne Bakker, Dutch viola player Yanna Pelser, and Spanish cello player Eduard Ninot.

Crescent Double Quartet

The group’s music has been positively received by a broad constituency of jazz fans in Europe. One distinctive example is “Tanpura Song” by Turkish pianist Kaan Biyikoglu:

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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 footsteps of American jazz icons John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lester Young and Hank Mobley.

The Crescent Double Quartet’s is planning to finish recording its CD “Radio Mundial” and release it in October, just before its planned European and Asian tour.

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.

It’s Jazz Appreciation Month Worldwide

Posted April 8th, 2011 at 2:43 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) around the world.  Here in Washington D.C., during the month-long festivities, just a few blocks from VOA headquarters, jazz music will fill the air, mixing with fragrance of roses, tulips and pink cherry blossoms that adorn the capital city.

jazz artist Mary Lou Williams

A poster of the legendary jazz artist Mary Lou Williams developed by The National Museum of American History to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Jazz Appreciation Month in April, 2011

The annual JAM celebration is intended to draw greater local and international attention to jazz music, considered a living American art and part of a history rich with iconic artists.  Many jazz artists can trace their roots back to Africa or Europe, where this style of music originated.

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John Edward Hasse, Curator of the Smithsonian’s American Music at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) came up with the idea for an annual jazz festival in 2001. He spoke with VOA’s Russ Davis:

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This year, throughout the month of April, the Smithsonian will show movies and hold jazz concerts. There will also be exhibits highlighting the significance of jazz music in the framework of the U.S. cultural heritage.  In addition visitors can check out the numerous collections on display, showcasing artifacts used by jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams and Ella Fitzgerald.

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This year’s JAM 10th anniversary festivities coincide with Cuban percussionist and Latin jazz master Candido Camero’s 90th birthday.

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To mark both occasions, Latin jazz pianist Arturo O’Farrill will perform an evening concert.

The 10th Anniversary celebration also focuses on the legacies of jazz women, and their advocates, who helped transcend race, gender and social barriers in the quest to build a more just and equitable America.

Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex. It consists of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities in Washington, D.C.

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.

Elizabeth Taylor, The Shadow of Your Smile and Jack Sheldon’s Trumpet Solo

Posted April 1st, 2011 at 9:12 pm (UTC+0)
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Elizabeth Taylor on the set of the movie "Cleopatra"

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My heart melts every time I listen to “The Shadow of Your Smile.” It’s a popular love song from the 1965 movie “The Sandpiper,” which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Besides the lyrics, the utterly brilliant solo by Jazz trumpeter Jack Sheldon, the haunting solo, sticks with me for some reason. It brings nostalgia of love.

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The Shadow of Your Smile won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1965.  It was an iconic part of my growing up years. It still holds a special place in my heart, reminds me of my crushes in middle and high school, and brings memories of the first trumpet my Dad bought me after I watched the movie in Cairo, Egypt in 1976.

Sheldon’s virtuosic abilities on the trumpet are prominent throughout much of the impressive soundtrack. Such refined skills made the gifted trumpeter a featured soloist on numerous soundtracks.

Diaa Bekheet

Diaa Bekheet

The trumpet sound in the Elizabeth Taylor movie kept repeating in my head for long. I first heard an innovative trumpet sound in the early 1970’s in this classic Egyptian movie from the 1940’s starring Leila Murad and Anwar Wagdi (The Liz Taylor and Richard Burton of Egypt at the time). Then my Dad bought me a trumpet for about $10, but I wasn’t able to play it elegantly like Sheldon or the actor, trumpeter in the Egyptian movie. I later gave up and learned to play guitar in the footsteps of my older brother who skillfully played The Shadow of Your Smile.

The song was a minor hit for many singers, including Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, Shirley Bassey, Perry Como, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis. Many jazz performers also recorded versions of the song, such as the legendary singer Peggy Lee, guitarist George Benson and saxophonist Kenny G.

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Elizabeth Taylor in LondonOther world musicians played different versions and arrangements of the song, like Italian trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso.

Another song that gives the same nostalgia and brings good old memories is Jazz Waltz from the 1963 American TV film “Elizabeth Taylor in London.”

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It was all about child Liz Taylor’s home city, London, and it has an utterly brilliant soundtrack, with a score written by then 29-year-old John Barry and arranged by the awesome Johnnie Spence. Emmy-nominated on its release, Elizabeth Taylor in London is a truly fantastic record that pitches Barry’s innate jazz cool up against Spence’s super-lush orchestrations.

Taylor, with her dazzling violet-blue eyes, was almost all the lovely things to my generation in Egypt; many loved her dearly before and after her movieCleopatra.” She was the world’s prettiest actress.

Elizabeth Taylor, who won two Oscars, died on March 23, 2001. She’s gone, but the shadow of her smile remains.

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

Diaa Bekheet

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.

Music When You Want It: Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz

Posted March 24th, 2011 at 1:57 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – An album called Change of the Century ushered in a new jazz style that later became known as “Free Jazz”.  This music style features songs that break the traditional rules of melody allowing the musicians more latitude to go beyond the limitations of bebop and modal jazz.

The world first learned of “Free Jazz” in 1959 when American Alto Saxophonist Ornette Coleman walked into a Hollywood music studio with bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Billy Higgins and pocket trumpeter Don Cherry. They recorded Change of the Century, which produced the quartet’s most famous song: “Ramblin”:

For the Coleman quartet, it was all exciting, new music. They didn’t want to sound like other traditional jazz players of the time. They sought a greater sense of freedom. Coleman considered sound an invisible emotion combining various moods.

Ornette Coleman, front, performs with his quartet at the Skopje Jazz Festival, in Macedonia, Oct. 2006. (AP Photo)

Saxophonist Ornette Coleman performs with his quartet at the Skopje Jazz Festival, in Macedonia, Oct. 2006. (AP)

Change of the Century contains seven compositions by Coleman, including the title cut:

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Free

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Bird Food

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Coleman’s first album, The Shape of Jazz to Come, had laid the foundation for “Free Jazz.” Many musicians and jazz lovers alike were shocked that the songs had no recognizable chord structure but contained free style simultaneous improvisation.

Some were disappointed, but Coleman believed that jazz must be free.  “The Theme you play at the start of a number is the territory,” he explained in a documentary about Free Jazz. “And what comes after, which may have very little to do with it, is the adventure.”

Rolling Stone magazine ranks Coleman’s album, The Shape of Jazz to Come, number 246 on its 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Coleman has lots of fans in Europe. In addition to performing at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, he was the artistic director of the 16th annual Meltdown festival held in London’s Southbank Centre. Previous curators include David Bowie, (Steven Patrick) Morrissey, Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Jarvis Cocker, Massive Attack, John Peel and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

In 2007, Coleman received a Grammy award for Lifetime Achievement and a Pulitzer Prize in the music category for “Sound Grammar”.  He is only the second jazz composer to ever win a Pulitzer.

The ‘Master of Free Jazz,’ was born this month, on March 9, 1930. He turned 81.

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

Diaa Bekheet

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.

Using Music to Appeal for Help for Japan’s Quake & Tsunami Victims

Posted March 16th, 2011 at 10:23 pm (UTC+0)
2 comments

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – A day after a series of powerful earthquakes struck northeastern Japan on Friday, I surfed YouTube looking for video clips of the aftermath. The scene is awful. But I came across a clip of a familiar song by Japanese American jazz group Hiroshima with a footnote appealing for help for the earthquake and tsunami victims.

The song is “One Wish,” and the appeal reads:

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“Please, Japan needs your support. Not just in finances but in your thoughts and prayers. The land of the rising sun shall see the sun again, but it needs your help desperately.”

The carefully selected 1985 hit song injects more passion into Asian-Americans in general and second and third generation of Japanese Americans in particular. The name, One Wish, is telling, and the simple message is: Japan needs you.

One Wish is part of the popular album Best of Hiroshima. It mirrors Hiroshima’s musical philosophy, blending Asian and North American music to reflect both cultural and spiritual undertones.

Hiroshima, one of the most popular jazz-fusion groups in the U.S. has been making music for 30 years. The group was formed in the early 1970s by saxophonist Dan Kuramoto, famed koto player June Kuramoto (koto is a string instrument – and yes, Dan and June are married), percussionist and taiko player Johnny Mori, keyboardist Dave Iwataki and drummer Danny Yamamoto. June is the only band member not from the US, she was born in  Saitama Prefecture around Tokyo and grew up in Los Angeles.  The group bears the name of the Japanese city that became the first in history to be destroyed by an atomic bomb at the end of World War II.

Hiroshima attracts many Asian-Americans who identify with the group’s colorful mix of Eastern tunes and melodically rich American smooth jazz.  Among their many career highlights are: being featured in the 1976 documentary Cruisin’ J-Town and opening for late jazz legend Miles Davis during his 1990 world tour.

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The Asian American and Japanese American communities consider Hiroshima as a musical pioneer. The group is widely believed to be the first to introduce distinctively Japanese instruments, including koto and the taiko drum, to the world of jazz music. More on Hiroshima here.

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

Diaa Bekheet

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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