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Take Five With Brian Prunka

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Meet Brian Prunka:

Prior to moving to Brooklyn in 2003, Brian was living and performing in New Orleans, where he spent his formative years honing his musical skills while being immersed in the jazz community. Although his background was in jazz, rock and blues, Brian has always found himself drawn to a wide range of music without regard to boundaries. In the late '90s, fate introduced him to the oud, and he had an instant and profound connection with the storied instrument. A chance conversation led him to begin studying with the renowned virtuoso Simon Shaheen and ultimately became involved in the Arabic music community as well. Over the years, he has sought to find ways to bring together the essential characteristics of the different styles music he loves through his improvisational style and his diverse compositions.

Equally proficient guitar and oud, Brian composes and performs jazz and Middle-Eastern influenced music with his own projects, like the Near East River Ensemble. He also performs with musicians like Michael Bates, and Simon Shaheen. Currently, he performs with Nashaz, The New York Arabic Orchestra, Simon Shaheen, and others.

He has performed throughout the U.S. and internationally with Simon Shaheen, Michael Bates, Ravish Momin, the New York Arabic Orchestra, The Vancouver International Orchestra, Zikrayat, The Near East River Ensemble, and others. In addition to national and international events, he has performed in New York at The Stone, Tonic, the Knitting Factory, the River to River Festival, Symphony Space, Alwan for the Arts, Trinity Church, CBGBs, among others.

Instrument(s):

Guitar, oud, and buzuq

Teachers and/or influences?

Teachers: Steve Masakowski, Simon Shaheen, Bassam Saba, Dave Douglas, and Ed Petersen.

Influences: Simon Shaheen, Anouar Brahem, Thelonious Monk, Rabih Abou-Khalil, John Coltrane,Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Shepik, Lee Konitz, Riad al-Sounbati, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, and Abdel Gadir Salim.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I took my first guitar lesson and I felt like I was being let in on a mysterious secret, which was the magic of how music is created.

Your sound and approach to music:

I'm a bit schizophrenic, going from playing straight-ahead and modern jazz, to playing traditional Arabic and Ottoman music, and everything in between. Ultimately, my approach is to find a way to bring out the music in my head, which covers a lot of territory. I've never been too concerned about the supposed boundaries of different styles and genres; anything that seems honest and organic is fair game.

That said, there are certain things that tend to come up whether I'm playing standards, modern jazz, Americana, Middle-Eastern music, or a mix of these. My music tends to be tinged with darkness or melancholy. I tend to focus on writing memorable song-like melodies.

Your teaching approach:

I tailor my approach to the student and the circumstances. Some students are looking to develop professional-level performing skills. I treat these students differently than those who are just looking to play for their own enjoyment. I try to find things that the student connects with and use that to build rapport and lead them to develop the skills they need. For a professional-leaning student, I give extra focus on practical matters regarding reading, advanced technical development, as well as ear training.

Your dream band:

I have a few dream bands! One would be Brian Blade, Ben Street, Mark Turner, and Kenny Wheeler. But my current band, Nashaz, is pretty close to a dream band! I couldn't really ask for better musicians than Kenny Warren, George Mel, Apostolos Sideris, Nathan Herrera, and Vin Scialla.

It really depends on the music, and there are so many great musicians who can all bring their own unique sensibility. I've been lucky to work with some great musicians and hopefully I get to work with a lot more.

Some other people I'd really like to play with are Lee Konitz, Eyvind Kang, Dave Douglas, and Ted Brown.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

I was supposed to play with Simon Shaheen in Minnesota during February. He went ahead in order to teach a workshop and the rest of the band was supposed to join him later. I got a call the day before and he said that a huge snowstorm was supposed hit the area the next evening. So he changed our flights so we could get there before it hit.

You probably see where this is going.

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