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.
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.
More information is available on the festival website - NB! It's best to register before May 6th, to avoid a late registration fee. Festival artistic director Patrice Fisher has also created a series of engaging podcasts, including one with Deborah, which you can listen to here.
Here's some nice - and very contrasting - concert news from two artists we've blogged about before. First up, Jane Berthe, who is an excellent source of inspiration for creative, themed programming, will perform a new recital, "Fantaisie Française". This concert is dedicated to the turbulent century of French history 1850 - 1950, where the harp was such a source of fascination for French composers. Jane's first performance of this programme will take place at the Muffendorfer Sonntagskonzerte in Alt Martin, Bonn-Bad Godesberg in Germany, on February 3rd at 5PM.
Meanwhile, Maria Christina, who has recently been working with Dominic Murcott and the blue harp in London, will play at Athens's Half Note jazz club with Pete Long at the end of January. Pete is, among other things, the director of the Big Band at Ronnie Scott's. He also has a fantastic biography, an inspiration to all of us who find our pens hovering over a long list of conductors we've worked with.
It's been a good week for Latin American harp in New York. First up, here's a recent, fantastic review for Edmar Castaneda in the Wall St Journal. The WSJ also points out that New Yorkers have two more opportunities to hear Edmar in November: at the Americas Society on the 19th and the 26th, as part of Carnegie Hall's Voices of Latin America Festival.
The Mexican-Paraguyan virtuoso Celso Duarte has also been in NYC, again performing for Carnegie Hall as part of the same festival. Celso has just been awarded a Latin Grammy for best folk music album, with the disc he's recently made with Lila Downs - Pecados y Milagros.
Congratulations to both these wonderful artists! We're very proud to have recently sent one of our electric llanera harps, a model developed for and together with Edmar, to Celso as well.
Celso Duarte with his Camac llanera
Many thanks to Nadav Konieczny for these photos of a recent workshop given by Edmar Castaneda at the Ayelet's String showroom. You can see the full album, and some short videos, on the Ayelet's String facebook page. A big thank-you too to the workshop participants for their feedback below!
"The workshop was an amazing experience! There was a great atmosphere, and I was amazed by Edmar's playing and personality. It gave me a new musical direction and I will never forget it. Thank you!" - Maya Knoller
"Edmar's workshop was very invigorating: with his smile, Edmar shows how much he loves music and the harp. He also gets everyone involved in experiencing his very special music and rhythms. His workshop was highly polished, and had everyone playing bossa nova by the end!" - Ruth Maayani
"It was very interesting to meet Edmar, he is a virtuoso, but also humble and willing to help ordinary people." - Nili Konieczny
Bravo to Rossitza Milevska and the Milevska Trio, who have added another jazz prize to their 2012 collection! In addition to their success at the Mont-Saint-Michel "tremplin" competition, they have also won first prize in the Auvernier Jazz Contest 2012 in Switzerland.
The Auvernier Festival site has published a nice (French) video interview with the group (embedded below), where they talk particularly about their experience of the harp in jazz.