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Take Five with Tarek Yamani

Tarek Yamani By

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About Tarek Yamani

Born and raised in Beirut, Tarek is an American-Lebanese New York based self-taught jazz pianist who has been dedicated to exploring relationships between African-American Jazz and Arabic rhythms/maqams which are most evident in his second album Lisan Al Tarab: Jazz Conceptions in Classical Arabic, and in his newly released Peninsular which fuses jazz with the rhythms of the Arabian Peninsula.

Winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Composers Competition, Tarek has been fortunate to share the stage with luminaries such as Wayne Shorter, Richard Bona, Zakir Hussain, Esperanza Spalding, and Antonio Sanchez during the inaugural and the sixth editions of the International Jazz Day, at the UN Assembly Hall in New York and the Teatro de la Habana, Cuba, respectively. Tarek is also an educator, writer of two self-published music books and a film score composer of films screened in 70+ festivals around the world and broadcasted on AMC network, BBC and Sundance TV.


Piano, Quarter Tone Keyboard

Teachers and/or influences?

I'll pick 11%, almost in chronological order: Pink Floyd, J. S. Bach, Metallica, Pantera, Led Zeppelin, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ahmad Jamal, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Nelson Cavaquinho and Mohammad Abdel Wahhab.

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

I don't have a memory of when I decided I want to become a musician but I remember vividly a strong sensation which assured to me that jazz is going to be my quintessential musical path in life: I was in a record store called Melody in the neighborhood of Hamra, Beirut and the gentleman behind the counter played for me, at a crazy loud volume, "New York Minute" from Herbie Hancock's The New Standard. It starts with an electrifying vamp and at a certain point they all go into swing, Dave, Jack, Herbie, Michael and Herbie. That one moment was all ten commandments combined.

Your sound and approach to music.

As a self-taught jazz musician I came to learn most things by observation and intuition. I personally forced myself to delay thinking about my own sound and approach as much as possible so as not to have this aspect forced. I wanted "my approach" to come naturally at the moment it chose to do so. The day I made a conscious decision about incorporating Arabic elements of music in a jazz context was when I composed "Sama'i Yamani" in 2010. This composition won the Thelonious Monk Jazz Composers Competition that same year. From then on I started developing what I call Afro-Tarab. Tarab is classical Arabic music and it's also the name to describe the state of trance music puts you in. What I've been experimenting with is taking Arabic rhythms and modes and refurbish them with complex jazz harmonies and rhythms as well as superimposing Arabic sounding scales over jazz progressions.

Your teaching approach

Whenever I teach and regardless what the subject is, somehow we always end up talking about rhythm. I find that rhythmic teaching is never given equal time as harmony and technique and almost everybody whom I mentored, even accomplished musicians, seem to have not spent enough time to fully grasp the quintessential rhythmic code of jazz, 2 against 3. Duplets against triplets. I ended writing a book only about that and it's called "Duple vs Triple: A Melodic Approach to Mastering Polyrhythms in Jazz and other Groove-based music in 56 Steps."

Road story: Your best or worst experience

I'll tell you about my most absurd gig which was on the second day Israel invaded Lebanon in July 2006. We were still in disbelief that this was really happening (even though the whole country was in curfew) and since nobody confirmed for us that the gig was canceled, we were so bright that we actually went and set up. The gig was in a hotel club on the 31st floor. Right after we set up we looked out the window overlooking the sea and we saw all the Israeli military getting in position across the coast of Beirut. Driving home that night in what became a ghost city was one hell of a scary ride. I think I had "Fingerpaintings" by McBride, Payton and Whitfield playing, just in case.

Favorite venue

United Nations Assembly Hall: You're thinking that's not a venue, maybe not! But... the first edition of the International Jazz Day was held there (April 30, 2012) and I had my dream gig that night where I shared the bandstand with Wayne Shorter, Richard Bona, Vinnie Colaiuta, Zakir Hussein, Tineke Postma and Troy Roberts. Oh, and the piano chair I sat on had been warmed up by Herbie Hancock, Danilo Pérez, George Duke and Hiromi.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?


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Edict Records

Lisan Al Tarab

Lisan Al Tarab

Edict Records



Edict Records


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