Jakez will be at Expomusic, São Paulo, between September 18th - 22nd, 2013. This is the first time we have held an exhibition of our harps in Latin America! Futher exhibitions are also planned in Paraguay and Lima before Christmas, so keep an eye on our calendar for more details.
As Jakez flies into the Brazilian sunshine, we're sitting in the rain listening to Cristina Braga's new album: Samba, Jazz and Love. A gorgeous mixture of jazz trio, Cristina's lovely voice, blue harp and vibraphone: order it now from Enja.
"Mr. Castañeda strummed, plucked, rubbed, jabbed and pounded on his cobalt blue Llanera harp as he conjured different shaped notes, harmonic textures and steady bass rhythms from the instrument's 34 strings. About the only thing he didn't do was light it on fire." - Wall St Journal
"His music draws on the traditional joropo music of the grasslands he absorbed early, as well as tango, Brazilian and flamenco guitar, West African kora and virtuoso jazz pianists like Art Tatum. That's a fascinating mix, but his technique is the real astonishment. Castañeda juggles lead, rhythm and bass lines, using a variety of hard and soft string attacks to keep those voices distinct — all without giving up the groove." - NPR Music
"The Colombian plays the harp like hardly anyone else on earth. His hands, seemingly powered by two different people, produce a totally unique, symphonic fullness of sound, a rapid-fire of chords, balance of melodic figures and drive, served with euphoric Latin American rhythms, and the improvisatory freedom of a trained jazz musician...captivating virtuosity, but in no way only virtuosity for its own sake." - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
“almost a world unto himself” - The New York Times
"an enormous talent. With his versatility and enchanting charisma, he has taken his harp out of the shadows, and become one of the most original musicians in the Big Apple.” - Paquito D’Rivera
Before Latin jazz, there was “Latin tinge”: a term coined by Jelly Roll Morton to describe some of the Afro-Cuban sounds hitting New Orleans at the start of the twentieth century. It took another thirty years for a Cuban trumpeter - Mario Bauza – to move to New York, and a further decade for him to meet and befriend the young Dizzy Gillespie. It was Gillespie’s incorporation of Afro-Cuban rhythms into his Big Band from the mid 1940s that more or less started Latin jazz.
Somewhat like Dizzy Gillespie in reverse, the young Edmar Castaneda had never listened to jazz before he moved to New York in the 1990s. As a child in Bogotá, he was sent to joropo dance classes by his mother. It was the joropo’s traditional instrumentation that also introduced Edmar to the harp – cuatro, maracas, and arpa llanera.
There is a misunderstanding that still rears its not very good-looking head from time to time in the harp world. This is the idea that harp makers can act as artist managers. We can't - not very well, anyway - because we're not managers: we make and sell harps. Clever manufacturer sponsorship should be more about carving out directions that artists can develop, continue and continue to benefit from independently. As part of this, Harpblog also tries to keep its ear to the ground and publicise other useful opportunities.
It's not impossible that crowdfunding's been hot for a lot longer than this, but we first heard about it in 2010, when Keziah Thomas used the Kickstarter platform to fund a new commission. The 2012 Dutch Harp Festival used a similar principle to fund their Real Men Play The Harp concert, and there have been many other examples. There are many crowdfunding platforms to choose from - Kickstarter, IndieGogo, RocketHub, 8-Bit Funding, Community Funded, etc - and a handy Crowdfunding Bible you can download for free here.
Crowdfunding is very interesting for creative artists because it is best applied to one-off, individual projects. It is realistic and practical, requiring you to offer incentives for people to sponsor you. Another key aspect is something intrinsic to the survival of any art form: good communication of why you love what you're doing.
Lara Somogyi recently used Kickstarter to buy a blue harp, and create an internet video album showcasing the instrument.
When Biophilia reached the Palladium on Sunset Boulevard, its blue harp was what the Germans call verunglückt. Jakez got an email that morning about it - and decided to fly out and fix it himself.
There was nothing for it but to get straight on a plane to LA. Jakez was gutted
Zeena's other harp, which she's holding in this picture, is also interesting - read all about it here.
Photos: our partner in LA, Carolyn Sykes
The excellent Jazz Harp Foundation is holding their third Academy in Leiden, the Netherlands, between October 11th - 13th, 2013. It's bigger than ever before, with a star-studded faculty and extensive programme not only of courses and workshops, but also concerts, open-mic sessions and a harp exhibition. The festival-academy also has several activities that are also interesting for non-harpists, creating an overall focus on the harp within the context of jazz, the music. That sounds more obvious than it is, and it is important too.
I once went to a concert that was supposed to be a joint project between the classical and jazz faculties of a music college. All went well until the professor from the classical department took the microphone in her hand and for the public benefit interviewed the jazz saxophone student on her left. She asked: "So, how did you cope with the classical scores? This is much more complex music than you are used to."
It is just as difficult to be a good jazz musician as it is to be a good classical one, and it is not uncommon to hear a classical musician announce "now I'm going to play some jazz", and see the real jazz musicians cover their ears. For the harp, still a minority instrument in jazz, the difference between performing a piece that sounds a bit jazzy, and playing jazz, is still a trenchant question. The fantastic work of jazz harpists like Edmar Castaneda and Rossitza Milevska, who are winning prizes from the wider jazz world for their music, and of course the equally fantastic contribution of organisations like the JHF, are doing much towards having jazz harp taken more seriously.
July's Camac Voice, like June's, has a Turkish connection. Ozlem Simsek was born in Ankara to a Turkish father and an English mother, and studied classical harp at the Istanbul University State Conservatory.
At this point I'll make the sort of diversion I've always wanted to, and never could before - do you know what a Theremin is? I didn't. Originally the product of Russian government-sponsored research into proximity sensors, the instrument was invented in 1920 by the physicist Léon Theremin, and is unique among all other instruments in that you play it without touching anything. Instead, you move your hands in front of its two antennae (one controlling pitch, the other volume).
In 1994, Steven Martin made an award-winning documentary about the Theremin, and Léon Theremin's eventful life - Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. It appeared in three top ten film lists, was invited to practically every major film festival, and described by Roger Ebert as "a curious experience. You begin with interest, and then you pass through the stages of curiosity, fascination and disbelief, until in the last 20 minutes, you arrive at a state of dumbfounded wonder. It is the kind of movie that requires a musical score only the Theremin possibly could supply."
The reason I mention the Theremin on Harpblog is that Ozlem plays both harp and Theremin. She bought her first Theremin three years ago, and uses it together with blue harp to create both experimental and ambient music that has really caught our attention. The layers of sound and sound processing both sensitively complement each other, and provide ear-catching difference - which is maybe one point certainly of ambient music. As Brian Eno himself remarked:
"Most music chooses its own position in terms of your listening to it. Muzak wants to be back there. Punk wants to be up front. Classical wants to be another place. I wanted to make something you could slip in and out of. You could pay attention or you could choose not to be distracted by it if you wanted to do something while it was on. I can’t read with a pop record playing, or with most classical records. They’re not intended to leave that part of the mind free – my mind, anyway. Ambient music allows many different types of attention."
Ozlem's attention was of different types even while still a student. "I always liked to sit at the harp and improvize, see where it would take me", she says, and on completion of her studies she won the 'Best Song' prize in the Apple/Bilkom I-Can competition as part of an electronic/ambient duo. The prize was a car which she promptly sold to buy her electric harp.
It was when Ozlem left Istanbul and relocated to London that her interest in electronic and experimental music really took off. "There are so many contemporary composers in London", Ozlem continues. "My classical training had given me a great foundation and technical stability, and I found myself able to work with all sorts of contemporary musicians, actors, poets, and performance artists. It was in London that I bought my first Theremin. I was fascinated by it, and by how well its sound and ambience blend with that of the electric harp.