Xenophobia in the Melting Pot (A Photo Essay)

 all photos © Dave Anderson 2018

all photos © Dave Anderson 2018

I had the chance to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Islands last week, and wanted to share some pictures and impressions…

 Huddled masses yearning for a good picture of Manhattan, as the boat leaves

Huddled masses yearning for a good picture of Manhattan, as the boat leaves

The statue was called “Liberty Enlightening the World (La Liberté éclairant le monde)” by its French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. But to immigrants who sailed into New York harbor, the message they got from the statue was “Welcome.”

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Emma Lazarus’s famous poem with “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” was written before the Liberty’s completion in 1883, and added as a feature inside the statue in 1903. The poem captured the public’s imagination.

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The New Colossus said, don’t send me your best, send me your least impressive people, and we will welcome them.


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Next our boat landed at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Covering America’s immigration history, it also tells our anti-immigrant story…

Here are xenophobic writings and visuals, mainly from the 1920s, in the Museum.

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We’ve reached a new time of pushback on immigration, greater than at any time since the 1920s. We should ask: what do people have to gain by making us afraid of outsiders? Are the fears grounded in reason? Is there also a cost to turning people away?

The immigrants of today are like those of the past in many ways: they are disparaged, they are exploited as a political issue, yet in the end they will succeed as a group and be accepted.

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As my boat left Ellis Island, a rainbow cracked through. At a time when the light seems to be straining against darkness — around us and inside of us — it was nice to feel a ray of hope.

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NYC is a Melting Pot of Culture, Food and Music

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I’ve heard it said many times: the great thing about living in New York is that the whole world is right here. It seems like one can find so much of the world’s offerings here – and in interesting combinations and mashups. That’s true, whether one is talking about culture, food or music.

 First there are the cultural experiences. I had the chance to see a South Korean movie with a buddy recently in Times Square only to find that we seemed to be the only Caucasians there. Rather than seeing a film loaded with our own cultural values – and clichés – it was fun to see one with Korean themes such as honor and reincarnation playing a strong role. Yes, there are times when the majority gets to be the minority in New York.

Then there’s the food – I remember when I first moved to NYC, I got a kick out of seeing a Chinese/Cuban restaurant on the Upper West Side called La Caridad 78. (How did they come to mix Chinese & Cuban cooking?)  The restaurant is still there, and the city is similarly full of food fusions. There’s also authentic real-thing cooking from a countless number of countries. You can walk certain blocks of Jackson Heights, Queens, and feel like you’re in India with all the authentic restaurant and groceries.  I recall taking a Siberian-born friend to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and seeing her shed (happy) tears, because the exact same foods from her childhood were there, triggering vivid memories of home.

 Fusion food vendor at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park

Fusion food vendor at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park

Finally, there’s music – lots of great music from many places. One experience which helped to inspire my new album Melting Pot was participating in jam sessions organized by the Brooklyn Raga Massive (BRM). BRM is a music collective presenting Indian classical and cross-cultural Raga inspired music blended with other traditions. To me, the most interesting thing about their jam sessions, besides the beautiful and groovy Indian sounds, is the lack of almost any imposed structure. As an American jazz musician, I’m used to navigating lots of rules around a public “jam” – who’s leading it, when you can get up to play, who chooses the song.  BRM’s jams have none of that – you just go up when the time feels right; there’s no formal leader and no “tune.” American jazz is traditionally known as “free music,” yet BRM’s version seems to have even more freedom for performers. It’s beautiful to experience the vibe as a performer — or audience member. Highly recommend!

The Songs of Melting Pot

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A couple years ago, I looked out at our culture and began to see a lot of fear, especially around the issue of immigration and cultural change. So I decided to make an album to pay tribute to the great North American melting pot. I feel that people coming here from abroad add so much our lives and culture.

The new album, like my previous recordings, is built around a set of original compositions, about which I’d like to write. Melting Pot begins with a three-part “Immigrant Suite.”  I wanted to pay tribute to some specific to immigrants I’ve known who have inspired me to write songs:

  • The initial sketch for ”Juror Number One” was written a day of New York City jury duty.  The first juror — our foreman — was a very charismatic and proud Cuban immigrant, and during break he told us a story. He had come to the US from Cuba as a young man in the early 1960s, taking a job as night janitor in a Manhattan office building. One night in 1962, while cleaning the office alone, listening to the radio, he heard the Cuban Missile Crisis erupt on the radio, realizing that two superpowers were on the verge of destroying the world (and him) over a dispute back in his home country. After I trip of my own to Havana in 2016, I finished this tune, trying to represent the juror’s vibrant personal style, and that absurd and scary moment, in musical form.

  • The second movement of the Immigrant Suite, is titled “Querida,” for the Portuguese feminine word meaning “sweetheart,” after a Brazilian immigrant friend I met in New York who liked to call the dear people in her life “Querida” (“Querido” if male). Musically, the song is based on the chord progression of Jobim’s standard bossa “How Insensitive” but in 6/4 time. The drum solo is framed to suggest conflict before a final resolution. 

  • The suite’s closing movement, “A Candle for Isaac,” is dedicated to my girlfriend Ilana’s father Isaac Judah, who was an East Indian Jewish immigrant to Canada (and for a time, Israel).  Isaac loved singing the traditional song Ma’oz Tzur on the first night of Hannukah. This song starts with this theme quoted sentimentally on the Indian sitar, before being joined by the trumpet and alto sax. I wanted to pay tribute to a daughter’s sadness of missing her father, and a father’s joy.

A “mantra” in Eastern usage refers to a sacred, meditative utterance. In the West, it can mean a motto, slogan or catch phrase. In the same way that mantras are repeated responses to the changing situations in our lives, the song “Mantra” is an attempt to play a single melodic phrase, changing it as little as possible while moving through a changing series of chords.  It was a fun challenge to play over, and to explore the Latin American, Eastern and jazz fusion implications of the song.

The EP-length album closes with ”Trance-like,” a melody which suggested the East Indian context in which we performed the tune. I’ve long admired East Indian culture for its attention to trance. The sounds of Indian music, the practices of Indian spirituality, and spices of well-cooked Indian food all seem capable of transporting us into trance-like states of mind and body, which can help us escape our current troubles for a higher perspective.

The songs of the Melting Pot album went live everywhere this month for the world to hear!  I’m excited to share this music on behalf of myself and the talented Melting Pot ensemble.  Thanks for checking it out!

 In my next post, I’ll write about the cultural melting pot that is New York City. 

The People of Melting Pot

 Melting Pot (L to R): Ehren Hanson, Hans Glawischnig, Bryan Davis, Dave Anderson, Neel Murgai, Dave Restivo, Roberto Quintero, Memo Acevedo  

Melting Pot (L to R): Ehren Hanson, Hans Glawischnig, Bryan Davis, Dave Anderson, Neel Murgai, Dave Restivo, Roberto Quintero, Memo Acevedo  

Just like the immigration melting pot is ultimately the story of the people in it, so it is with the Melting Pot music project and band. I’m excited to bring together such great musical messengers fluent in multiple musical dialects of the world.

Drummer Memo Acevedo was born in Colombia, lived and played in Spain, started his family in Canada, and immigrated to the US. He has been a big part (with a big heart!) of the NYC music scene since the 1990s. Memo was mentored by percussion legend Tito Puente, and is a musical encyclopedia of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms. Memo holds residency at the Zinc bar the first Friday of every month with his Manhattan Bridges Orchestra (in which I play saxophone).

Percussionist Roberto Quintero was born in Caracas, Venezuela, growing up in one of the most its renowned musical families as the son of Ricardo Quintero and Eglee Correa. After success in his home country, Roberto moved to New York to fulfill his musical dreams, and he now performs in high-profile music acts in all genres, from symphonic to Jazz, Latin Jazz and Latin House.

Bassist Hans Glawischnig was born in Graz to a musical Austrian father, and an American mother.  He relocated to the US to study at Berklee School of Music before becoming an in-demand bassist all over the world. Our bassist for the Melting Pot September 6 CD release performance, Gabriel Vivas, was born in El Paso Texas, raised in Venezuela, studied at the University of Miami, and performs with some of the top names in the Latin Jazz world.

Born in New York, Dave Restivo is one of Canada's most respected and influential jazz artists. He is a 3-time winner of the National Jazz Awards' Pianist of the Year Award, and is listed in the current edition of Canadian Who's Who. Dave first played with Memo in Toronto as a student in the 1990s.

Neel Murgai is a sitarist, overtone singer and co-founder of the Brooklyn Raga Massive, a raga-inspired musician's collective that I’ve enjoyed jamming with on multiple occasions. Neel's music ranges from Indian classical to original compositions and contemporary cross-cultural collaborations with influences spanning the globe.

Ehren Hanson began learning tabla at age 15 under Misha Masud in New York City. In 2000, he became a disciple of Pandit Anindo Chatterjee and performs frequently with Brooklyn Raga Massive and other groups. Ehren’s wife is Colombian, and he puts the Spanish he has learned communicating with Melting Pot’s Latin percussion team! Melting Pot also features a guest tabla performance by Deep Singh, who was born in London, England, and currently lives in the US, exploring ways to combine Indian percussion with modern Western grooves.

Trumpet and flügelhorn player Bryan Davis hails from the UK, is now based in New York and enjoys an international reputation as a lead trumpet player while performing regularly with groups including Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. Bryan has adopted the American sport closest to my heart, baseball, becoming an ardent fan of the New York Yankees.

Israeli flutist Itai Kriss, now based in New York, contributes to a couple of songs on the Melting Pot CD as a special guest. Itai’s terrific flute playing can also be heard on his new album Telavana, exploring connections between Middle Eastern and Caribbean music.

These are the people of Melting Pot, and I couldn’t be more excited about their contributions to our new album! Melting Pot gives us the chance to celebrate the ideas and energy that people bring from everywhere, to make this a better place.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about the songs of Melting Pot.

Where Did "The Melting Pot" Come From?

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People are familiar with the American idea of the immigration “melting pot,” but few would guess where it came from. We got the term “melting pot” from the arts.

At a time of massive American immigration, a 1908 play called The Melting Pot premiered in Washington, DC from British writer Israel Zangwill. The play's protagonist David Quixano sought to write a great symphony called The Crucible dedicated to immigration in America. David declares that “America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming!” and quarrels with an antagonist, wealthy Quincy Davenport Jr., who as the only American-born character in the play wants to “stop all alien immigration.” David says “the real American has not yet arrived.  He is only in the Crucible, I tell you.” 

 Israel Zangwill.  Source: Wikipedia

Israel Zangwill.  Source: Wikipedia

 Play's program cover shows immigrants streaming past Statue of Liberty into crucible.  Source: Wikipedia

Play's program cover shows immigrants streaming past Statue of Liberty into crucible.  Source: Wikipedia

A Russian Jewish immigrant to New York who had escaped pogroms in his home country, main character David finishes his symphony, has it performed to great acclaim, and proposes to marry his love Vera, a Russian Christian immigrant. David proclaims the “glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward!”[1]

As the curtain came down on its opening night, US President Teddy Roosevelt is said to have shouted from his box, “That’s a great play, Mr. Zangwill, that’s a great play.”  Roosevelt later wrote a letter to Zangwill saying that The Melting Pot would always be “among the very strong and real influences upon my thought and my life.”


The Melting Pot took its central metaphor – depicted on its program cover – from the making of steel. Raw iron gets liquefied in a smelting pot or crucible to purify, mix, and pour it into a useful form. This metaphor took hold in the heart of the Industrial Revolution, when making steel was necessarily seen as making progress. The play captured enough of the public imagination that the “melting pot” metaphor is still a part of American culture. 

I learned about the play The Melting Pot while finishing my album, also called Melting Pot, which releases September 14, 2018.

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[1] Israel Zangwill, The Melting Pot, The American Jewish Book Company, New York, 1921 (available as a free Amazon Kindle book).

My Musical Family

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I’ve sometimes wondered, how did I come to play music?  A lot of musicians originate from “musical families,” but mine didn’t seem unusually so growing up.  As I started to research my ancestors and ask questions of relatives, I realized that my family was much more musical than I had thought. 

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An aunt referred me to a book written by a cousin. The book said that my great-grandfather from Copenhagen who became a Wisconsin patriarch, Matt Matson, kept the luxury of a phonograph player and classical records in his farmhouse, even when necessities were hard to come by – he raised twelve children on that farm.  Matt played violin, as did several of the children, and he also made violins, based on this book caption from June Pomerinke's "The Young Years." (1)


Matt Matson's son-in-law, and my grandfather, Arvid Anderson passed when I was very young and I had just fleeting memories of him. I later learned that he also played the violin, and that he enjoyed down-home fiddle jamming as shown in this photo, discovered at a family reunion:

 Arvid Anderson playing violin with guitarist friend Eddie

Arvid Anderson playing violin with guitarist friend Eddie

One account from "The Young Years" described the family music-making:

“Midsummer was a very happy time at our house.  … Arvid would bring (his violin).  Dad (Matt) would take his off the wall and brother Bob [Matson] would play his accordion – and everybody sang.” (2)


 

My maternal grandfather Charles Mattinen was clearly musical.  He sang bass in choirs for most of his life, bought me my first professional saxophone (the alto sax I play on Melting Pot), and when planning his memorial service in his 90s, requested that my classically trained pianist/cousin, Laura (Oinonen) Yrjanson, play Sibelius’s full “Finlandia” overture on piano as prelude music. Years ago I wrote a song for him derived from the “Finlandia” theme called “Blues for Chas.” 

 Charlie Mattinen, photo by cousin Don Johnson.

Charlie Mattinen, photo by cousin Don Johnson.

 Vienna Oinonen, 1938

Vienna Oinonen, 1938

Charlie's wife, my grandmother Vi, was warm-hearted but tone-deaf, and could not carry a tune when singing hymns next to me in the local Finnish Lutheran church on Sunday mornings.  Yet music was important to her.  One of her  possessions I've acquired is a notebook of over 200 full song lyrics from the year 1935-36 that she had painstakingly written out by hand as a young adult.  I especially relate to some of these “new” songs like “Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and “No Greater Love” because they would later become jazz standards. I wrote a song for her called “One for Vienna.”

My mother, Kathryn (Mattinen) Anderson was a talented pianist. After I moved to New York, my mother hinted that she'd love to see a concert at Carnegie Hall, so I took my parents to a performance there of Martha Argerich playing the Ravel Piano Concerto. Afterward, she told me that her childhood piano teacher had told her she should dream of playing at Carnegie Hall one day. The story surprised me because she played rarely and was modest about her abilities. I wrote a couple of songs after my mother’s passing, one called “Sanctuary” and another called “Splendor of the Old” paying tribute to her work as a geriatric nurse. 

 Kathryn Mattinen

Kathryn Mattinen

My mother’s sister Marion was developmentally disabled, yet had the savant-like ability to instantly recognize and give the names of hundreds of songs.  Her guardian in her later years, cousin Laura said that Marion could pick out melodies she knew on the piano, despite never having a piano lesson, and that she believed Marion had perfect pitch.

 Cousins in recital: seated Laura (Oinonen) Yrjanson after accompanying her daughter, Sarah Yrjanson (now MacDonald), playing a movement of the Mendelssohn Violin concerto

Cousins in recital: seated Laura (Oinonen) Yrjanson after accompanying her daughter, Sarah Yrjanson (now MacDonald), playing a movement of the Mendelssohn Violin concerto

My brother, Bob, played the guitar and bass, had good taste in music and brought home the first recordings that “hipped me” to jazz.  His recordings of Maynard Ferguson, Grover Washington and Woody Herman were essential to getting me started with the genre.

I came to play music because it’s in my family culture, because it was an option provided to me, and to some degree, because it’s in my genes. 

As I looked over my family history, I understood that I came to play music because it’s in my family culture, because it was an option provided to me, and to some degree, because it’s in my genes.  Why didn’t I make the connection sooner? I had been distracted by the styles of music my elders enjoyed – it wasn’t my music, so I couldn’t see how my musical interest came through them.

 Emmett Anderson, 3rd from left.

Emmett Anderson, 3rd from left.

My father, Emmett, never played a musical instrument.  But I saw parallels between my pursuit of music, and his young days learning to fly planes (he enlisted in the Air Force, was the first in his class to fly solo, and flew refueling planes during peacetime before becoming an educator & counselor).  I pictured my dad embracing risk and adventure through flying, finding freedom and joy. I wrote a song for him called “The Aviator” and had the chance to perform it for him a couple of times on gigs.  He told the story of his plane stalling one day while flying solo – an ultimate test of a pilot’s nerve (if he had not calmly restarted the plane engine in flight, I would not be here).  Accordingly, at the end of this song from my debut album Clarity (performed with pianist John Hansen), I left my father suddenly, silently, up in the air:

The music for the Melting Pot album was not written to convey my musical background, but to celebrate the musical heritage of people I’ve met and musicians I've been performing with.  In my upcoming posts, I’ll write about the origin of the “Melting Pot” in American culture, and the about the musical Melting Pot of New York City. 


Footnotes: 

(1) June Pomerinke, The Young Years, Young Press, St. Maries, Idaho, 1986, p. 247.

(2) The Young Years, p. 17.

How My Ancestors Came to the Melting Pot

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Naturally, creating a new album centered around immigrants and musical heritage leads to the question, where did my people emigrate from? And how should I think about my family heritage in an age of scientific advances like DNA testing? Here’s an exploration of these questions…

My Lineage

My family line is quite simple at first glance:  all my ancestry came to the United States during the late 1800s to settle in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota & Wisconsin).  My eight great-grandparents migrated from Finland, Sweden and Denmark.  All were apparently Lutheran. Half of them emigrated in the narrow window from 1884-85.

 Origins of my maternal (red) and paternal (blue) great-grandparents

Origins of my maternal (red) and paternal (blue) great-grandparents

 Swedish immigrant Andrew Anderson (Anders Aronsson) came from a long line of blacksmiths, sailed to New York in 1876, and became a farmer in Wisconsin.

Swedish immigrant Andrew Anderson (Anders Aronsson) came from a long line of blacksmiths, sailed to New York in 1876, and became a farmer in Wisconsin.

My father's line can be traced back as far as 1600 near Gothenburg, Sweden, and my mother's line back to the 1700s in above-Arctic Circle Finnish Lapland.  

So on the surface, my family is 100% Nordic Protestant.  We’ll see what science has to say about that, but first a bit about the pride my family held in its heritage...


Pride of Heritage

 Aurora Elizabeth (Jukkola) Mattinen, b. 1851 Tervola, Finland, the only known photo of my  great -great-grandparents

Aurora Elizabeth (Jukkola) Mattinen, b. 1851 Tervola, Finland, the only known photo of my great-great-grandparents

My ancestors were proud of their Scandinavian & Finnish background.  My parents enjoyed lots of heritage foods and traditions and flew Finnish, Swedish and Danish flags I had given them, at the family lake cabin. My maternal grandparents served in Finnish ceremonial orders called the Knights & Ladies of Kalevela, centered around the book The Kalevela, the book of Finnish mythological legends, of which I have an English copy inscribed by my great-grandfather John A. Mattinen as a gift to my grandfather Charlie.

John Mattinen, who migrated to Minnesota in 1884, would write a book about the Finnish immigrant experience in Minnesota in the 1870s-80s recounting the history of Finnish settlers, their institutions and businesses in the Thompson Farming Area of Minnesota.  It also contains gushing accounts of the migrant Finns.  At one point he explains why he feels the local Finns had succeeded, where settlers of others nationalities had failed:

“…it is the temperate mind, the strong body, and the life experience people of Finnish descent are endowed with. Owing to their way of life, this people has a well-developed body and a pure soul, which can endure the hardest trials.“(1)

 John A. Mattinen, b. 1876 Kemi, Finland, businessman and author

John A. Mattinen, b. 1876 Kemi, Finland, businessman and author

I’m sure that the Finnish settlers overcame immense hardship via great effort and experience farming in a familiar climate, yet I grew uneasy with my great-grandfather’s explanation.  If the Finns were naturally exceptional, what was to be said of other ethnic groups?  At what point does pride in one’s heritage become detrimental? I knew from childhood memories that ethnic prejudice had a place in my family heritage, too.

Deep Heritage

How would my understanding of family heritage hold up to a modern DNA test?  Around the time I went into the studio to record Melting Pot, I coincidentally received a genealogy search as a gift from my girlfriend Ilana.  The music was already written and arranged for the album when I got the results back, yet I would find connections between the music I had written and the genealogical test.

Through National Geographic’s Genographic program, a simple mail-in saliva DNA test determines deep ancestry on maternal and paternal lines, to show where my DNA migrated around the globe.

Here’s a snapshot of my maternal (mother’s side) deep ancestry:

 One of my maternal DNA markers, source:  Genographic

One of my maternal DNA markers, source:  Genographic

As you can see via the red marker, DNA from my mother’s can be traced back to today’s Iraq/Iran region around 50,000 years ago. I was intrigued to learn that my maternal DNA had migrated through the Middle East on the way up to Finland. Note that this was a long time ago, and paths through the Middle East are common.  

Here’s my paternal (father’s side) deep ancestry:

 One of my paternal DNA markers, year = , source:  Genographic

One of my paternal DNA markers, year = , source:  Genographic

This red marker from my father’s side shows my DNA migration traced back to Central Asia, slightly north of today’s India in the Tajikistan/Kashmir/China area.  I had ancestors in this region for about 15,000 years (up to about 30,000 years ago).  Though not quite India, this was “in the neighborhood,” and since I had just arranged multiple songs for Melting Pot with Indian classical instruments (sitar and tabla) and Indian sonic inspiration, I was pleased to see that I had bloodlines had settled for a while in this general part of the world.  And the fact that both of my family lines – like everyone’s – can be scientifically traced to Africa reinforces that we all come from one place (see my post We Are One).

There was one final surprise. The Genographic test also gave a percent breakdown of where in the world my genes have resided over the last 500-10000 years. It showed 2% of my genetic heritage coming from the Jewish diaspora. This was unexpected, as my family assumed our heritage to be entirely Nordic Protestant. For me it was interesting timing to learn this, since I had just written and arranged an adaptation of a Jewish Hannukuh theme, Ma’oz Tzur (which I called “A Candle for Isaac”) for the Melting Pot album.

Summary

Overall, the genetic test showed that my family was basically correct about its recent immigration history, but that it’s not homogenous – our background is actually more exotic than we thought. The color of our skin, like everyone’s, is a result of our ancestors’ adaptation to the climates they lived in. We can all take joy in the cultural traditions passed on to us, yet I see no value in claiming that one cultural background is superior to another.

I’ll close this post with an original song called “Geneology” from my previous album Blue Innuendo.

In my next post, I’ll write about My Musical Family.


Footnotes:  (1) John A. Mattinen, translated from Finnish by Richard A. Impola, History of the Thompson Farming Area, Carlton County Historical Society, 2000, p. 25.

"We Are One"

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I had the pleasure of hearing Zakir Hussain’s Crosscurrents band recently at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater – an amazing facility, like a Vienna State Opera house built for jazz.  Tabla virtuoso Hussain’s band, featuring a core of India-originated musicians as well as American guest stars Dave Holland and Chris Potter, played a great and uninterrupted 2+ hours of music. Yet one of the most memorable moments for me was Hussain’s spoken introduction. Summarizing a lifetime of cross-cultural learning and the music that would be played onstage that night by his diverse supergroup, Hussain said, “We are one.”

The audience cheered loudly, knowing that Hussain was saying that not only was this group “one” musically – that their musical talent would allow them to play together despite growing up in other cultures – but that the musicians, audience and all people share the same humanity, and are part of an interconnected, interdependent whole.

Music Can Bring Us Closer Together

My own experiences with life, travel and making music have also shown me that “we are one” – that people everywhere are more similar than different. I’ve also learned that music has a special power to bridge the gaps between people.  I recall touring in the Soviet Union with a University of Minnesota group just before the end of the Cold War.  Despite being warned that Russian people would be ideologically rigid and suspicious to speak with Americans, we actually made friends with people daily. One Russian, a jazz piano player I had given some cassette tape recordings to, traveled 45 minutes to give me a vinyl copy of Mussorgsky’s Boris Gudunov at my next performance.

 With a new Russian friend in St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad)

With a new Russian friend in St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad)

I recall many years later on my birthday in 2016, sitting in with Cuban percussionist Juan Carlos (“Peje”) Rojas Castro’s band in Havana. I had wanted for many years to visit Cuba in part because of its rich music culture, and the US had made it easier to travel to Cuba after many years of political embargo.  I warmly felt that Peje and these talented and friendly Cubans were as happy to play with an American that night as I was to perform with them.  People are people, despite politics that get between them.

 "Peje" -- Juan Carlos Rojas Castro, and me in Havana

"Peje" -- Juan Carlos Rojas Castro, and me in Havana

And finally, I think of my rewarding experience the last couple of years as tenor/soprano saxophonist in Memo Acevedo’s Manhattan Bridges Orchestra. During our two years’ residency at New York’s Zinc Bar, I’ve gotten to make music with a virtual United Nations of musicians from across the US, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, piloted by an inspiring Colombian-born bandleader who terms our music “global jazz” and calls us brothers and sisters. 

 Memo Acevedo's Manhattan Bridges Orchestra after a rehearsal (Memo is below center).

Memo Acevedo's Manhattan Bridges Orchestra after a rehearsal (Memo is below center).

Drawing from my experiences with Manhattan Bridges Orchestra, from connections made to Indian music via people from the Brooklyn Raga Massive, and from people I’ve met along the way, I’m now completing an album that celebrates direct musical influences from other parts of the world, specifically Cuba, Brazil and India. More on this soon.

I’ll be blogging more in the weeks ahead.

Dave

 

Acknowledgements:  Special thanks to Jake Cohen from Jazz at Lincoln Center, Gary Morgan, Ilana Judah and James Noyes