Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Blues with white and black 

Throughout the history of blues and jazz it has been argued whether only African American people have truly enjoyed and played the blues from the bottom of their heart. Although much has been written on the blues in America, today the people behind the stories come from various corners of the world.

For long blues has appeared also in the white man’s culture. There have been tunes of troubled lives at each coast of Atlantic. Estonians share the bitter history of slavery with Afro-Americans, and have been deported out of their homeland as recently as in 1950’s. Those nations have carried through the generations their folklore of the hard working people, and tales about their home rising from the fields of slavery.

According to Joseph Machlis the blues is a native American musical and verse form, with no direct European and African antecedents of which we know. It is a blending of both traditions. The word 'blue' comes from the Elizabethan era and reflects the depression among the black people in America. The songs of the slaves told of their sufferings and privation. Blues music was created mainly by black working class people as the primary artistic expression of this minority culture. Its simple musical structure had much of sensuality with poetic humorous or ironic lyrics. The singer had freedom to express emotion while improvising. According to Harry Shapiro the blues music was about the black and their "strong autobiographical nature, their intense personal passion, chaos and loneliness, executed so vibrantly that it captured the imagination of modern musicians."

On April 6 the blues tour “Rhythm & Blues World Service” begins in Estonia. It has been organized by ensembles Green Bullfrog and Bullfrog Brown who started off with the blues festivals in 2001. Till the end of April various concerts of Estonian blues music will take place in Tartu, Tallinn, Valga and Võru. Among the many groups we should mention the Estonian master of blues Aleksander Müller who appears on April 7 in Tartu City Library where blues related movies are screened with the help of U.S Embassy of Estonia.

The legendary blues singer alias Müller Sass presents his songs only in Estonian language, and has interprated also the works of the famous Estonian poets such as Viivi Luik and Artur Alliksaar. Müller’s texts vary from obscene to melancholic themes. ”Every peasant should stay loyal to his own culture”, says the man of blues. Müller who has a howling and even murmuring singing style claims to be an anarchist. He is even regarded by the Estonian punk generation as the father of their revolution in the Soviet regime. However, Aleksander Müller does not like politics, and prefers to focus on the stories of his own in the world of blues:”Although Estonians are considered the singing nation, I am an individual figure.”

Be it revolution or a silent howling we could find the music trans-national as long as the people share the same values and emotions. It is said that the blues performer plays to rid himself of "the blues". The blues music comes from the personal hardship, and in this context there could be no discrepancy between white and black people.


Bitter than jazz 

In the book “A Study of Jazz” Paul Tanner has found the blues neither an era in the chronological development of jazz, nor a particular style of playing or singing jazz. Although any musician who could show passion through intrumental interpretation or improvise verbally might meet the essentials of the blues artist not everyone has found those characters to the extent we recognize in the jazz music.

In contrast to the masculine discipline of the earlier blues traditions the first blues songs heard by whites were sung by Bessie Smith in the 1920’s. Her music influenced many future blues and jazz stars, including jazz singer Billie Holiday whose records were sold in millions. In blues the melody had been harmonized with West Africans' tonal chords later written down as the “blues scale” where the pitch was sounding midway between the minor and major third, fifth, or seventh tone. The widespread popularity of the blues in the beginning of the 20th century America had a vital influence on subsequent jazz. By the mid-twenties it became common to play instrumental blues, and this was later also met in the music pieces of the jazz artists. In time the approach to blues was considered more focusing on disappointment rather than bitterness; the music became electrified and mixed in new musical directions. However the tales of the blues artists have never been forgotten. Blues lyrics are often intensely personal, but the music itself shares the unhappiness and pain of the many who have not deserved it.

The bluesologist Brian Priestly has written that it was the "initial popularity of jazz which had made possible the recording of blues in the first place, and thus made possible the absorption of blues into both jazz as well as the mainstream of pop music." The themes of the blues lyrics are met in many art forms. Whether we are talking about the Blue Monday or Jazzy Evening the one who has become familiar with blues music knows also how to express the emotions in jazz.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004


Do the children really greet the competitions with merry and joy, or is it just their professional look towards the cameras? In English Laulukarusell means merry-go-round of singers. Since the program “Entel-tentel” in 1968 the children singing contests in the studio of Estonian public TV have been run every year with the involvement of young musicians all over the country. The gig involves children under nine-teen, among who many start off their career as a musician.

The executive producer of the music project Eve Viilup is in charge of finding the young talents of Laulukarusell in four categories. Every year we have an opportunity to meet the new Estonian talents together with Aarne Saluveer and ETV Girls Choir. Although Antti Kammiste, a man with a big smile on his face leads his studio ensemble throughout the contest, we find the choir very attractive behind the artists. And ofcouse, the anchor of the show, internationally known pop star Electra should also be noticed for her glamor every time the cameras are turned on her. People say that Electra looks as if she still wants to go on the stage with her strong make-up and loose clothes enclosing her body. But we listen to the music. Maybe it is pop music, but in collaboration with the band we might be surprised to hear the singers also presenting remarkable jazzy improvisations.

The first groups are made up of younger children from seven to twelve. Not many of them do sing lullaby or talk about their teddybear – there is a passon to interprate music in new dimensions. Today easy rock and classical estrade as the favourite choice of those groups show the influence of the world music on young children. The contest groups which present the work of children between thirteen and fifteen, and sixteen and eighteen, could already be related to the legendary Kaks Takti Ette categories. Although in Laulukarusell the elder singers could not be considered grown-up artists, they manage to show the same skills and mellow sound in their performances of well-known Lennon songs, jazz ballads and Ave Maria as TV program Kaks Takti Ette, where birth has been given to the many of the Estonian music stars.

Recently we could hear Mai Jõgi singing “Lullaby of Birdlands” with an original combination of the music from the children choir, Kirsi Viitmaa presenting Sinatra’s “Theme from New York, New York” and Anneliis Kits singing “Pay Attention” in jazzy funk. With the improvement of the skills among young children, the fear of the others rises. They are afraid to loose the competition. According to an anonymous instructor of a semi-final in one Estonian county the first year came to her as a shock – she had never seen children being embarrassed in such a scoffing way. The children had tears running down their cheeks, they were running home. “I was there. I am very sad for being dropped out of the final contest, because I did so much hard work on my song. In another moment I found all my work flushed down the toilet bowl,” says Eliise, one of the participants. Probably only the self-confidence, and the hard work with music teachers could turn her luck in the future. On the other hand it seems that the local jury is not regarding one’s personal work and the great polishment on his/hers skills, but find it important to compare the overall qualities between all the children. Moreover, the TV audience will probably vote more in favour of the singers who look most colourful in their appearance. Making oneself attractive is just one required skill for the artist. The competitors must not only gain high qualities in singing, but also prepare for the hard work in the competition.

No one could ever be sure whether the young children are to be found more talented behind the stage. Even after winning the contest the recognition as a musician has yet to come, for instance through the participation in international contests or commercial projects. Siret Kiisla who won Laulukarusell 2004 puts his e-mail address into Postimees internet forum:”I won the contest in 2004. Tomorrow I shall go to Tallinn. Please write me letters, my address is siret95@hot.ee”.

Some parents find the sad moments important for the development of the child. It is claimed that children who have taken part of different competitions since their days in the kindergarten know also how to loose the contests in the world of ambitious people. Each musician seems to have the need for stumbling in front of the stage at least once in his/her life - it shall help the young talents find their path to the right arena.


Monday, April 12, 2004

Jazzkaar - Joyce 

Joyce has created a unique bossa nova style. Her sensual voice that reminds the lounge sound of the sixties Rio could be found on 300 recordings. She combines song writing and vocal skills with great passionable lyrics, which reflect feminist themes and Brazilian nation. On April 23 Joyce brings her jazz-inflected and dance-ready music to Sakala Main Hall.

Joyce, born in Rio de Janeiro had her first songs recorded in 1968 after the apprenticeship with bossa nova legend Vinicius De Moraes. Joyce created her own style through the mix of choro and samba with the touch of jazz. Her songs that were often called hard bossa were accompanied by her guitar play. “Jobim used to say that his best co-writer was his piano. Whenever he put his hands on it, good ideas would flow. I can say exactly the same regarding my guitar,” said Joyce, who combined the sound of string with her remarkable voice creating a fascinating instrument.

In 1977 Joyce went on an international tour with Antonio Carlos Jobim, and then moved to New York. In USA she continued with her Brazilian rhythm sections. According to Joyce she never lost the meaning of what she wanted to do.
After returning from USA she was rediscovered in South America, and recorded her new jazz and bossa music with great success. In 1990’s Joyce joined the dance-music arena, and was creating “drum n’ bossa” music. However, she never got tired of stressing out her skills in bossa ballads, urban night songs and jazz grooves. In 1990’s Joyce also composed sweet background bossa nova, and featured great contemporary jazz artists such as Grammy winning tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and pianist Mulgrew Miller. Besides her contribution to the making of music Joyce issued her collection of essays reflecting the memories of musicians and composers from the seventies.

Most of all Joyce loves Portuguese. She began to make music after graduating from journalism. After putting her ruminations into poems the music became the output of Joyce’s world. “For me, I think Portuguese is the greatest language for music. All Brasilian music has melancholia. That happy sadness that comes also from the Portuguese and European roots.” says Joyce, who makes people not only listen to her music but also imagine the world she has created in the compositions.

As an independent artist Joyce can record a new album every year for different markets and different labels. Joyce is the first female composer of Musica Popular Brasileira. Today, her followers could be found all over the world. As a singer, composer, and guitar player Joyce has the capacity to involve listeners in the musical moments. The country of bossanova can always be proud of Joyce and her remarkable voice that reflects the history of Brazilian music.


Jazzkaar – Manu Dibango 

A man who defines himself Afro-European generates wave upon wave of euphoria in the music halls all over the world. Cameroon’s jazz saxophonist Manu Dibango gives his concert in Sakala Night Stage on April 23.

Emmanuel N'Djoké Dibango was born in Cameroon on December 12, 1933. He studied French in the local “white man’s school”, and was theresafter sent to Marseille in 1949. Manu Dibango achieved skills in mandoline and classical piano before taking up the saxophone around 1954. After finishing his studies in Paris he moved to Brussel where he contributed to the jazz music of various groups.

Manu found Amstrong and Sidney Bechet the emblems of jazz. In 1960, he went to perform his saxophone music in the Brussel night-club Les Anges Noirs. In venue for people of repute from Zaire the western music practised by Manu was not in favour. The man of great talents had an opportunity to find his roots again in African music.
Manu’s first success in Africa was gained together with his new companion Joseph Kabasélé. When the concert tours in his homeland reached the end Manu began his own club business where the orchestras played his own compositions.
In 1973 a huge success was gained in USA. Manu was recognizable for showing the Afro-Americans their new path in jazz music. After the New York fever Atlantic Records bought 150, 000 copies of Manu Dibango’s music. The jazz star was nominated for the Grammy Award for the Best R&B Instrumental Performance.

In 1980 Manu began to record reggae music. The new albums “Ambassaador” and “Gone Clear” featured the Jamaican music of Sly And Robbie. Manu Dibango became famous with his avant-funk movements. On March 14, 1986 the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang awarded Manu with the title “the Medaille des Arts et des Lettres”.

Manu Dibango makes up his music of soul, reggae, spiritual and jazz elements. But he never stops to expand in new directions. Although Manu has not been after perfection and success in his cross-cultural works, it has been said that his contribution to music has had a strong influence on every outstanding contemporary jazz artist of the world.


Jazzkaar - Earth, Wind & Fire Experience 

Al McKay was one of the greatest talents behind the success of Earth Wind & Fire. On April 22 we can see the virtuoso and his companions in Tallinn City Hall.

Pop funk group Earth, Wind & Fire was first led by Maurice White, who started off with his brother Verdine in 1969. In the early 1970’s the group got its first recognition for its funk music, which was mixed with African kalimba. In 1973 guitarist and songwriter Al MacKay joined Earth Wind & Fire. He recorded seven albums with them and made the group famous for its exploration of new territories in the world of music. In 1975 EW&F topped the charts with the release of That's the Way of the World, and in the next five years won several Grammy awards. After leaving the group in 1981 the energy of EWF faded with McKay’s disappearance. Two years later the album Electric Universe was a total failure. EW&F broke up. In 1993 the group came together to play hip-hop, and issued Heritage featuring guest rapper M.C. Hammer. The group Earth Wind & Fire returned to Warner Bros.

In the early 1990’s McKay made a comeback under new name Al McKay All-Stars. The world’s brightest musicians were joined together to tell the new generations the legends of Earth Wind & Fire. The youngest of the group is Claud Woods. He is the vocals of the band with DeVere Duckett and Tim Owens . The fourth man for vocals is Bryan Loren. He has been contributing to the music also on keyboards, and has worked with stars likes Michael Jackson, Barry White and Sting. The lead keyboards are played by Ben Dowling who belongs to UCLA Electronic Music Advisory Board, and has recorded music with Michael Jackson, Madonna and Yes. Hussain Jiffry born in Sri Lanka, plays bass guitar, and has been recognised also for his dedication to the music of Whitney Houston and Michael Bolton, to mention a few. Bruce Conte plays guitar in “all-star” band, and has toured together with Santana and the Rolling Stones. Behind the drums we can find Michael Shapiro who is supported on other percussions by Joey DeLeon. Michael Harris plays trumpet and has worked for Phil Collins, The Jacksons, Little Richard and Lenny Kravitz, to mention a few. Second trumpet player is Enzo Villaparedes from Venezuela who toured and recorded with Joan Sebastian and Franco. Wendell Kelly, whose talents have been noticed by Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Joe Williams, Dan Ackroyd and Frank Sinatra plays trombone, and finally Ed Wynn, known from the groups of the 1960’s, Platters and Drifters is appearing in Earth, Wind and Fire with his saxophone music.

Each generation re-discovers Earth, Wind & Fire. Al McKay has started his own project with the mighty orchestra that origins from the same roots as the R&B society of Earth, Wind & Fire. The 21st century Estonians will probably welcome the rhythms of Al McKay the way they were hailed by the masses of the 1970s western world.


Jazzkaar - Don Johnson Big Band  

The huge cult of Finland is presented in Club BonBon on 22nd of April. Don Johnson Big Band never becomes routine in its music. It is a new music phenomenon, and requires no compromise for its success.

The world’s smallest big band with four members was formed in 1997. It is energetic mix of jazz and various related styles from etno to electronic music. Its ingredients such as hip-hop, jazz and metal make the music sound eclectic. We may also find the music containing native ska elements of “humppa” that appear together with the urban tales about what living in Helsinki feels like. One could take a pick of any genre, and listen to the incredible sound and scratching techniques of the so-called multi-instrumentalism.

Don Johnson Big Band was started with the aim to have fun of the musical mixtures. According to the members of the rhythm orchestra they gratify their appetite for pleasure through the powerful live shows. The performances are kept high in its quality through excellent co-ordination in the instrumentarium and sound system. Kari Saarilahti who plays guitars, bass guitar and drums, stays behind the music of the group. Pekka Mikkonen plays flute and saxophone. MC Tommy Lindgren is responsible for the lyrics, which are often presented in rap pieces. Johannes Laiho controls the sampler and the synthesizer as well as the mixer and the sequencer. The artists of the group consider themselves to be "semi-professionals", because they are students who earn their living on the other jobs. However they have found their music recognizable for the various interpretations, and have wondered whether there should be a new category “special music” set up for them in the record stores. In two years the self-produced debut album of DJBB “Support de Microphones” seld about 10,000 copies. Two years later Don Johnson Big Band was nominated for the Emma Awards in five categories. It was announced to be the Best Band with the Best Act. It had released greatest Dance Album, and the Best Album of the year with the Best Song “One MC, One Delay”.

The first concert of Don Johnson Big Band abroad took place in Tallinn in 2001. This year they return to Estonia with new songs but the same attitude to the world of music. “It is a clear indication that commercial success doesn’t require compromise or forcing the music into some easily digested form”, Tommy Lindgren has said about the fans of DJBB.


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