Memory Lane: Brubeck’s Take Five

Posted February 9th, 2011 at 8:23 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – I hosted a jazz show on VOA for 10 years until mid-2001. During that time, I had so many requests from listeners in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Iraq to play “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  Apparently, Brubeck’s music has international appeal!  I recall hearing the song in the soundtrack of some classic Egyptian movies from the 1950s.

“Take Five” was first released in 1959 and became the best selling jazz single of all time. It is now included in a new two-disc collection of other familiar classics such as the “Blue Rondo a la Turk”, inspired during a Brubeck tour in Turkey in 1958.  At the time, Brubeck was America’s jazz ambassador, named by the U.S. State Department. The legendary pianist and his Quartet also toured Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. Brubeck also performed in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia.

I think Brubeck was always best, when paired with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond (who wrote “Take Five”), especially when they were improvising (as here) or (here), and when drummer Joe Morello added his personal improvisation, it drew applause.

Brubeck’s new double album, “Legacy of a Legend” features influential pieces in jazz history recorded between 1954 and 1970.  It includes vocal collaborations with jazz legends like Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Rushing and Carmen McRae.

Columbia Records released the album on Dave Brubeck’s 90th birthday.  He was born December 6, 1920 and he still plays!  A few days after celebrating his birthday, Brubeck performed in the State of Ohio with the Cleveland Orchestra. He was greeted with a standing ovation during an emotionally-charged performance.

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

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.

Egypt, the Hieroglyphics Ensemble

Posted February 3rd, 2011 at 4:05 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Music is a language understood by almost all the peoples of the world. Jazz music, in particular, was forged by civil rights, social struggle and aspirations for a better and peaceful life. When I interviewed American Saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum in 1992, he told me he wanted to drop a “music bomb” to stop wars and bring peace to the world.

Apfelbaum, who formed the Hieroglyphics Ensemble jazz group, has been using music for years as a way to spread peace and harmony among the peoples of the world.  He mixes world beat, big band and genuinely attractive global jazz-fusion into reggae segues.  The music plays with passion.

“I’ve never come up with a name for the kind of music I do, although I can tell you how it came into being.” he says on his Website.  Apfelbaum talked to me about “The Hieroglyphics Ensemble” and the reference to ancient Egypt, and the Egyptian “Ankh“, symbol of eternal life and peace. (mp3)

[audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/english/2012_05/Interview_diaa_bekheet_peter_Apfelbaum_1992.mp3]

Many people use music as a tool to voice discontent with the way they are governed.  Here in the United States, the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. chanted for social change. His motto “We shall overcome” was a kind of protest song associated with the movement for civil rights.

Music & Revolt on the Nile:

During the current protests in Egypt, dubbed by some as “Revolt on the Nile” or “The Lotus Revolution“, a tune familiar to all Egyptians has become one of the driving forces for protesters gathered in Tahrir or “Liberation” Square in downtown Cairo. The song is meant to convey that they are fed up with deteriorating social life and runaway corruption, and demand “the removal of the regime.”

Aljazeera Arabic TV was quick to use a clip from the song by the Diva of Arabic music, Umm Kulthoum, with graphics of the protesters being surpressed by police in the backdrop. The clip aired during news breaks.  Perhaps knowing that the Egyptian culture produced this music to criticize social injustice and corruption with candor, sadness, and sometimes humor, motivated Aljazeera to choose this particular clip.  The clip is from a famous song called “Egypt Speaks about Herself” or in Arabic Misr Tatahaddath Ann Nafsiha” by the renowned 20 century Egyptian poet Hafez Ibrahim, ( also known as the Nile’s Poet.) The refrain says: “If God ordains my dearth, you will never see the East [Arab World] able to raise its head [again].” It’s a reference to Egypt’s leadership in the Arab World and its strategic importance to the world in general.

The singer, Umm Kulthoum, or Kawkab Al-Sharq (Planet of the East), was profiled by renowned Egyptian actor Omar Sharif. To get an idea how Egyptians and Arabs revered Umm Kulthoum, watch what they did for her funeral procession in 1975.

Bloggers offer the clip and the song in full for free download or you can link to it . You can also find additional songs used by the protesters in Tahrir Square or online and written by famed dissenting, pro-democracy poets and singers, like Ahmed Foaud Nigem and Imam Eissa’s Misr Yumma Ya Baheyya or “Pretty Egypt.” Their nationalistic songs, similar to old African jazz, are sung in various Egyptian cities by young protesters who are eager for change, Barak Obama-style.

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.

Imagine in Jazz

Posted January 31st, 2011 at 8:14 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Herbie Hancock is one of my favorite nominees in the jazz category, for upcoming Grammy Awards on February 13.  The American pianist, bandleader and composer’s new album is called “Imagine” and is linked to his unprecedented international recording and film project called the Imagine Project. It was largely self-financed.

What I love about Imagine is that it is unique and features an amazing array of music superstars from every region of the planet, including India Arie, Jeff Beck, Pink, Seal, Omou Sangare and others. The project bears the same name as the famous Beatles song “Imagine” – penned by the late John Lennon.  He was killed outside his New York apartment in 1980.

Hancock tells VOA he believes that “one of the main points of life is try to make everything work no matter what comes your way, try to figure out how to make it work. To make your life work means ultimately doing it moment to moment … and not make it work in the best way, not just for yourself but for the world you live in.”

Herbie Hancock became the second jazz musician of all time to win the Best Album of the Year prize in 2008, at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards. He won the award for his album, “River: the Joni Letters”, a tribute to Canadian musician and songwriter Joni Mitchell. She is a longtime associate and friend of Hancock.

When “River: The Joni Letters” was nominated for Album of the Year, Hancock’s first reaction was disbelief.  “I was shocked,” he says, “but jazz is out there. It’s alive and manifests itself in a lot of different ways.”

The 53rd Annual Grammy Award winners will be announced on February 13, 2011. Here’s a full list of the Grammy nominees.

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

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.

A Night in Tunisia

Posted January 25th, 2011 at 4:57 pm (UTC+0)
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Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – All this talk about Tunisia in the news triggered a long-forgotten memory about my favorite jazz song and my interview with the composer…

I met Dizzy “John Birks” Gillespie when he visited Cairo in 1987 to perform at the grand Opera House on Egypt’s Nile River. He was tired from the 23-hour flight from the U.S. — but despite his weariness, he was gracious enough to talk to me.

Gillespie, who died in 1993, was an instrumentalist, a composer, arranger, improviser, singer, bandleader and music innovator.

During the interview, he relaxed, holding his trumpet close to his chest.  I took notes.  Then, he dozed off.  (I quietly chuckled, but didn’t take offense. His manager had told me Gillespie only squeezed in a nap during the long flight to Egypt.) The jazz great only realized he had fallen asleep when I began repeating my questions about his popular song, “A Night in Tunisia” — one of my personal favorites.

“I apologize. I’m so tired from the long travel,” he explained. “I wrote it before ever visiting Tunisia. I traveled there musically.”

When Gillespie composed “A Night in Tunisia” in 1942, he was just an ordinary player with the Earl Hines Band. It never crossed his mind that 60 years later, the song would be considered a jazz masterpiece.  In Fact, the Recording Academy has added “A Night in Tunisia” to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

A Night in Tunisia” with its trademark blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms and oriental flow was considered inspirational by many, and became one of the signature pieces of his “be-bop” jazz revolution in 1940s.

The song later generated interest for American jazz in North Africa and the Middle East.

Author Norman C. Weinstein so loved “A Night in Tunisia” that he wrote a book about the images of Africa.  In “A Night in Tunisia: Imaginings of Africa in Jazz” (you can read excerpts here), Weinstein remembers how he fell in love with jazz many years ago, after listening repeatedly to Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.”

During his musical career, Gillespie performed “A Night in Tunisia” all over the world; the last time was in 1989, at the Royal Festival Hall in London.  Arturo Sandoval was on trumpet and Sayyd Abdul al-Khabbyr played the Bari sax.

In 1987 my article on Gillespie and “A Night in Tunisia” was carried by almost all the German newspapers and the English-language newspapers in some Arab countries.  It was even carried by the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post news services.

A Night in Tunisia” is a fun melody to play. (You can download the music notes here.)

For more information 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.

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VOA’s music bloggers bring you info about all kinds of music. Katherine Cole will keep you up-to-date on the world of Bluegrass and Americana music while Ray McDonald rocks the Pop charts and artists. Diaa Bekheet  jams with you on Jazz.  Visit us often. Your comments are welcome.

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