Service of Music
December 6th, 2012
I attended a concert in a Westchester synagogue last weekend. I know what you’re thinking–but I bet you’re wrong about the music, featured ensemble and audience. We tapped our toes, drummed our fingers and often clapped and cheered mid-set to acknowledge a magnificent solo and marvel at the expertise of the quintet’s pianist, bassist, drummer, saxophonist and percussionist.
There was a Jewish undercurrent to the music, not surprising as the host was The Jewish Community Council of Mount Vernon, yet both the ensemble and audience represented a rainbow of backgrounds and demographics. I met a four and a 90-year-old as well as men and women of all ages in between.
In mid-concert the Mayor of Mount Vernon, Ernie Davis, spoke, referring to Dave Brubeck in his remarks–that’s how good the music and musicians were. Most politicians dip in and out of events yet Mayor Davis stayed to the end.
What kept the Mayor and the rest of the audience in their seats-but barely as it was hard not to dance to the music–was Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble. The New York City Jazz Record described the ensemble as “a cross-cultural collaboration that spins & grooves” because Marlow adds jazz, Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian beats to his interpretations of Judaic melodies.
Who are these magical musicians?
Eugene Marlow, Ph.D. [below, left] is the Ensemble’s founder/arranger and keyboardist. An award-winning composer, producer, presenter, author, journalist, and educator–he teaches at Baruch College–he has composed 200+ jazz and classical pieces for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and jazz big band. Marlow has also produced eight critically acclaimed CDs of original compositions/arrangements on the MEII Enterprises label that collectively have been distributed to radio stations in over 22 countries. A charming director who continuously credits his collaborators and makes the audience laugh, Marlow appears to get lost in the music while contributing to the beat on his keyboard and expertly leading the quintet. His background is British, Polish, German and Russian.
Drummer Bobby Sanabria, a percussionist, composer, arranger, recording artist, producer, filmmaker, conductor, educator, historian, and multiple Grammy nominee is a Nuyorican, New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, as is Mathew Gonzalez.
Sanabria’s recording and performing experience includes work with such legendary figures as Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Henry Threadgill, and the Godfather of Afro-Cuban Jazz, Mario Bauzá. He pushes himself almost beyond the possible exhibiting remarkable, cliff-hanging hand and foot coordination and rhythm.
Gonzalez was raised in a musical family. His grandfather, Benny Ayala, is a seasoned composer, folklorist and mask maker. Early on Gonzalez was immersed in an environment filled with the Afro-Caribbean beats of Puerto Rican folkloric music. At 11 he launched his formal training at the Harbor Conservatory where he learned Latin percussion. His hands beat his conga drums faster than a woodpecker drilling a tree.
Alto and soprano saxophonist Michael Hashim‘s background is Lebanese. A composer for film, TV, and dance, Hashim can also be heard on his albums. He has led his own quartet since 1979 and has collaborated for years with pianist Mike Ledonne. A longtime member of the Widespread Jazz Orchestra, Hashim has also worked with a number of great blues men, including Muddy Waters, Sonny Greer, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. When Hashim enters a room, the lights seem brighter. He translates his merry and upbeat vibes through his saxophones.
Bassist Frank Wagner, whose background is Eastern European, has performed all over the world in a host of musical settings, including all-star jazz bands, Broadway shows, national tours, recording sessions, and classical orchestras and has taught music throughout his career. The Phi Beta Kappa currently teaches composition and jazz theory at Queens Community College in New York City. His fingers and bow squeeze out an extraordinary range of sounds and rhythms from his bass.
Holidays are an ideal time to listen to live music–it will put you in a good mood. [Work, shop and wrap another time.] Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble will play at Baruch on December 13 at 7 pm–I plan to go–at the Bronx Music Heritage Center on December 20th and for other engagements, check out the performance section of his website. You can also bring home the music in a CD. Link to a snippet of the sound and hear Marlow’s melodious voice.
How does live music make you feel? Do you have a favorite ensemble, orchestra or soloist? Do you have a question for Eugene Marlow or any of the other musicians?