First Estate: April 4, 2012
News and Trends From Brooklyn’s Houses of Worship
By Francesca Norsen Tate
Heritage Ensemble Plays
BAM Café, Blends Jewish Melodies with Jazz Beat
Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble marries musical cultures.
The Heritage Ensemble’s passion and specialty is giving Hebrew melodies a new twist, bringing in jazz, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian styles. The band’s founder and composer/arranger Eugene Marlow, is a Renaissance man — a pianist, world-traveler, published author and professor. Perhaps it is by musical design that Marlow chose to live in Brooklyn, itself a bridge for many cultures.
The Heritage Ensemble performs regularly at the Nyorican Poets Café on the Lower East Side, and has given concerts at Congregation Mount Sinai and the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. This Saturday, The Heritage Ensemble is also a featured performer at BAMCafé this weekend.
Marlow’s own heritage is multi-national — European and Russian — and musical. His father was a well-known violinist and violist, as well as a painter, who introduced his young son Gene to music — in particular Latin jazz. After graduation from the High School of Performing Arts, where he experienced “a real mix of cultures,” young Gene Marlow worked at the United Nations for six months and traveled extensively before committing to college. “I was at the UN during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. “I think that began to solidify my world view.”
After spending extensive time in England and France, Marlow matriculated at Herbert Lehman College, which also had a strong international view. “Along with a stint in the Air Force, my whole background seems to have led to having a very global view of things.”
Dr. Billy Taylor: a “jazz father”
While Marlow’s own dad introduced him to Latin jazz, Marlow says the late Dr. Billy Taylor “was my jazz father.”
Taylor, who died in December, 2010, was the jazz correspondent on CBS Sunday morning for 15 years. He and Bill Cosby went to school together, earning their Ph.D. degrees. Dr. Taylor was a pianist, arranger, composer, radio announcer, and was the first African-American band leader on the David Frost Show many years ago. Cosby became known as the educator, but Marlow credits BillyTaylor as one of his great teachers and mentors.
“He was really a jazz statesman. He just didn’t do one thing. He started Jazz Mobile. He is my model for an eclectic musical life. I was very fortunate, accepted as one of 32-33 students when ASCAP sponsored a jazz songwriting workshop in 1981-82. And Billy Taylor was the leader of this workshop. He taught me a lot about how to teach,” says Marlow. In a class whose age range stretched from 18 to 60, Dr. Taylor “dealt with each one of us as if we were the only one in the room. Everybody was dealt with on their terms, and one-on-one, even though all of us were in the room. It was really an amazing lesson in how to teach. He was very generous. I had meals with him up in Riverdale. We’d have dinner, pop-up conferences. He listened to my music. When he passed away, I was heartbroken.”
The Heritage Ensemble is actually in its third generation. It started with Marlow writing all the arrangements of Hebraic melodies — piano, bass and drum — for trios. The drummer at that time stayed with the group when the Heritage Ensemble expanded. Bass player Frank Wagner, a core member of the group — joined later. The saxophonist at the time “really got it, but he was very temperamental on stage,” said Marlow, who then met alto saxophonist Michael Hashim, liked his playing and his sense of teamwork, and invited him to join the ensemble. Marlow also works with two percussionists, depending on their availability for a particular gig: Cristian Rivera and Obanilu Allende.
And of course, a key player in The Heritage Ensemble is multi-Grammy nominee percussionist Bobby Sanabria, who is also a co-producer on recent albums: A Fresh Take (2011) and Celebrations: Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble Interprets Festive Melodies from the Hebraic Songbook (2010).
Marlow and Sanabria met at a Jazz Journalists Association Awards event.
Marlow recalls, “I had invited him to be a performer of the Milton Hinton Jazz Perspectives Concert Series at Baruch. At the end of the concert I gave him my first album, from 2005. The next day, he sent me an email saying ‘you’re really very talented. Why don’t you come up and listen to my Afro-Cuban jazz orchestra at the Manhattan School of Music?’ So, I did, and went almost every week — every Thursday, for several months. One day, he came to me and asked, ‘Do you have any big band pieces for this group? I said, sure. That was the beginning of a close working relationship.”
In fact, Bobby Sanabria premiered another work of Gene’s — The Griot’s Tale — in March 27 at Manhattan School of Music.
“Bobby always adds some touches here and there. It works. It gels. This is not a group that I need to fix.’ Everyone gets along, everyone is very professional. Nobody is a prima donna. It’s gotten to a point that we all trust each other. Frank decided a couple of months ago, on one of our pieces (“Bilbililos”: “Rock from whose store we have eaten”) that, after my intro, instead of going into the rhythmic pattern, that he was going to do a solo, and then take us into the rhythmic pattern.
“Everyone makes a contribution ‘how about trying’ it’s always a work in progress. Every set is a little different. It’s within a structure, but there’s room for movement and improvisation. Everybody has a strong flair,” says Marlow.
“We always try to keep the audience in mind. We’re not there just to play for ourselves. It’s about the audience. If we don’t engage the audience in the first 30 seconds, we might as well go home.”
The same level of thought goes into arranging the Hebraic melodies. “I take the Torah seriously, but not literally,” says Marlow. “In a way, I’m doing a Reconstructionist “riff” on the Jewish melodies by reinterpreting them in contemporary terms. What are the possibilities here? How can we adapt this particular melody that’s 500 years old, into contemporary terms, but still keep the integrity of the melodies?” Marlow adds, “There’s a very strong relationship between jazz and Jews.”
Marlow has also discovered a strong relationship between Jews in China, along with a very strong Jewish community in Shanghai; and jazz in modern China. He is working assiduously on a book titled Jazz in the Land of the Dragon, organizing short chapters, and hoping to complete it by the end of the summer.
Jazz in the Land of the Dragon
This adventure began in 1999 when a Baruch colleague invited Marlow to give a presentation at the Shanghai School of Film and Television about media in America. Although “fairly-well traveled,” with experience in the Air Force, Marlow at first resisted, but then discovered layers of jazz history.
After having to sit through an impromptu Chinese jazz performance of “some of the worst music I had ever heard,” Marlow decided there had to be more jazz in China than the sample he experienced.
“I started researching, and all of a sudden discovered this huge history of jazz, not only in Shanghai, but other parts of China. There’s a long history that goes back to the opium wars in the middle of the 19th century, and back to the 18th century.” So, over two years he compiled a list of all the indigenous jazz musicians in Shanghai and Beijing — two very different cities — and “came away with almost three dozen interviews, and an incredible, fascinating experience. I also learned about the culture of China.”
Jazz in the Land of the Dragon focuses on “the evolution of jazz in China, and the evolution of jazz in the 20th century that parallels the political social and economic developments of China. So, it isn’t just about all these jazz players. It’s really about China in the 20th century, and how the two are mixed.”
“We’re actually at a point where to talk about jazz and classical is becoming a big misnomer. We’re really looking at world music. And I’d actually prefer to describe my own group as world music. We’re doing great Middle Eastern stuff, jazz, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian and neo-classical. I would love to add a tabla and go that route.”
The Heritage Ensemble’s April 7 performance at BAM Café, which the New York Jazz Record has described as “A Cross-Cultural Collaboration That Spins & Grooves,” features vocalist Rachel Kara Perez. Also a Brooklynite, Perez will be singing two originals: with lyrics she wrote and music by Marlow. Perez is the vocalist on the “Adon Olam” (“Lord of the World”) arrangement on A Fresh Take. The set begins at 10 p.m. on Saturday, April 7. BAM Café is at 30 Lafayette Avenue.
Marlow is writing a special piece called “Remembrance,” based on a book that his mother’s younger sister wrote about the Kristallnacht tragedy. The work will be premiered May 20 at 1 p.m. at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center, on the campus of Queensborough Community College.
The Heritage Ensemble next performs at the Nyorican Poets Café, where the group has found a home, on May 25.
“We actually have booked more gigs in 2012 than we had in 2011, and I really want more. It’s a very professional group. I’m very proud to be playing with these guys. When I say on the set that I’m really honored that they play with me, I really mean it. What we play, regardless of the melody, that’s really just the starting point. What we do with them transcends whether you’re young or old, whether you’re of the Jewish faith or not.”
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Children make Communion Bread
At ‘Palm Saturday’ Program
Grace Church, an Episcopal parish in Brooklyn Heights offered an interactive program for young children on the meaning of Holy Communion.
The Rev. John P. McGinty, assisting priest at Grace, and seminarian Kimberlee Auletta led the gathering, titled “Palm Saturday,” which was geared for children up to age seven and their parents, especially for children who were asking to receive, or have recently begun receiving this sacrament. The program was also meant as a way to understand Holy Week, which began on Palm Sunday, April 1 and lasts until the Easter Vigil this coming Saturday. The Communion breads were consecrated during the morning liturgies on Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week.
Ten children, ranging in age from 3 to 8 took part. Fr. McGinty reports that the group began the morning making a paper chain of the 40 days of Lent. The kids wrote things that they wanted to fulfill, or have done, that are in the spirit of Lent, such as “do something good for your family,” or “send Easter cards.”
The children and their parents then sat in a circle, and broke into smaller parts the passage of Luke’s Gospel dealing with Jesus’ institution of the Holy Eucharist, at the Last Supper. “The kids did a lot of the reading. Then we talked about what that meant,” said McGinty.
Then the kids got to bake, with a recipe that Kimberlee Auletta provided. “Everyone was involved around the table. It was wonderful,” said McGinty. “And they did all the kneading and (initial baking). We went back and divided the dough into cookie cutter fashion, and put the breads back into the oven to finish baking. Then we celebrated Eucharist, using that bread just out of the oven. It was a First Communion for some of the kids.”
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Communal Passover Seders
Congregation B’nai Avraham hosts two Passover Seders, on the first and second nights of this beloved festival of liberation of the Israelites from Egypt.
While many Jews celebrate Passover at home, synagogues and temples also customarily host Seders to celebrate as community, and to welcome those who wish to learn more or otherwise would have nowhere else to enjoy a Seder.
Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin will lead the first night Seder (Friday, April 6), and Rabbi Simcha Weinstein (Chaplain of Pratt Institute) will lead the second night Seder (Saturday, April 7). Both are at Congregation B’nai Avraham located at 117 Remsen St. in Brooklyn Heights.
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Good Friday and Easter Observances
On Good Friday, the Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, will offer opening prayers at St. James Cathedral Basilica with Timothy Cardinal Dolan for Communion and Liberation’s “Way of the Cross Over the Brooklyn Bridge,” beginning at 10 a.m. He will then proceed over the Brooklyn Bridge with the congregation.
Bishop DiMarzio will celebrate Easter Sunday on April 8th at St. James Cathedral Basilica at 10:30 a.m.
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Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Ovington Ave. starts its Easter celebration with a 9 a.m. breakfast. Two times (10:30 and 11 a.m.) have been announced for the Service of the Celebration of the Resurrection in the Sanctuary. As this parish has been growing, best to arrive early for seats on Easter morning. A Children’s Easter Egg Hunt in the Peace Garden follows the service.
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