Weaving Egyptian music into jazz allows me to connect with my heritage: Todd Marcus in Cairo

Ahram Online , Wednesday 15 Mar 2017

The Egyptian-American bass clarinettist and composer is in Cairo with his band this week as part of the Jazz Tales Festival

Todd Marcus during the jazz workshop at the American University in Cairo, 14 March 2017 (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

The Todd Marcus band have prefaced their coming concerts in Cairo and Alexandria with two jazz workshops at the American University in Cairo.

The band's line-up includes Egyptian-American bass clarinettist Todd Marcus, Harry Appelman on piano, Eric Wheeler on the bass and Eric Kennedy on drums.

The first workshop, which took place on Wednesday, introduced listeners to the specifics of jazz and their explorations of this music genre.

Among several topics, they underlined the importance of role distribution in the band, and how creating space for the individual instruments adds strength to the performance.

The band agreed that feeling the need to play all the time is the characteristic of younger and less experienced jazzists.

"You have to trust your band members and give them space and give space to music," bassist Eric Wheeler commented.

While improvising on the melody from the song Autumn Leaves, the band presented the flexibility of jazz and different jazz creative drumming fills, from Afro-Cuban to meringue, as well as many others.

As the workshop progressed, Marcus spoke about his Egyptian heritage and interest in Egyptian music.

"My father was Egyptian; he moved to the USA in his 20s," said Marcus, the composer and arranger of the band.

"Though I was very dynamic as a small child, as I entered teenage years, I became more introvert. I was trying to make sense of the world, my identity and part of the heritage that belonged to Egypt," he said.

Marcus asked his father to help him get closer to music from Egypt.

"My dad introduced me to Abdel-Halim Hafez. The song that made a special impact on me was Oully Haga [Tell Me Something]. It is mindblowing. I loved the long musical conversation developed in this composition, something that I also try to do in my music. As a musician I translated my emotions into music hence weaving Egypt's music into jazz allowed me to reconnect with this part of my heritage," Marcus added.

The Todd Marcus band's visit to Egypt comes as part of the ongoing Jazz Tales Festival.

The Todd Marcus Band will perform in Cairo on Friday and in Alexandria on Saturday.

The festival, which runs until 1 April, will see numerous workshops and concerts in Cairo and Alexandria. It is organised by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina's Arts Centre with its Cairo segment to be hosted by the American University. The festival is organised in cooperation with the American Consulate in Alexandria.

Entry to workshops and concerts is free.

See the complete programme here.


Friday 17 March, 8pm
American University in Cairo (AUC), Tahrir Square campus, Ewart Hall, Cairo

Saturday 18 March, 8pm
Bibliotheca Alexandrina Great Hall, Alexandria

Todd Marcus band during the jazz workshop at the American University in Cairo, 14 March 2017 (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

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