Amir ElSaffar: At Two Rivers' Confluence
ElSaffar also recalls, "Even when I was young, long before I started researching this kind of music, I remember sitting at the piano and wanting to hear notes that weren't on the piano. I don't think that's unique either; I think we all hear things differently."
As the world of jazz and improvised music grows wider, more and more of the modern jazz community has accepted culturally complex musicians with open arms and attentive ears. Festivals like Winter Jazzfest and Undead Jazz Festival have featured musicians showcasing their integration of cultural traditions in spades, such as Jen Shyu (Taiwan, Indonesia, etc.), Min Xiao-Fen (China) and Dean Bowman (traditional American gospel). Amir ElSaffar is happy to be part of this space as a performer and caretaker of Arabic music in the context of modern jazz.
"That's one thing I really love about jazz: that it was a reflection of what was going on, socially, economically, etc. And now you have all these Diasporas in America and it's not just an American art form. You don't just have first or second generation but also third and fourth from these different places. And there might be people who grew up with a different skin color who didn't grow up speaking the language but still had something inside of them that belongs to a culture. Eventuallyand I don't know how long it's going to takebut we're going to get to something more human. You wouldn't intuitively think of a Japanese person singing the blues, but even that's been going on for a while now. In Chicago, there was a very petite Japanese woman who spoke with a very thick accent but when she sang it sounded like Bessie Smith. You just think, 'Where is that coming from?' There's something that's a shared common human experience with the blues. I want to be able to emphasize what's unique to each culture, but also what's similar. There's this blues 'thing' about a lot of different music. And maybe somebody could tap into the rhythmic parts of these kinds of music too. Because it's improvised and composed and it's creative, jazz can act as this space for other cultures to exist in one space that makes sense."
Amir ElSaffar, Inana (Pi Recordings, 2011)
Amir ElSaffar/Hafez Modirzadeh, Radif Suite (Pi Recordings, 2010)
Amir ElSaffar, Two Rivers (Pi Recordings, 2007)
Pages 1, 4: Courtesy of Amir ElSaffar
Page 2, 3: Dave Kaufman
Page 6: Nicole LeCorgne