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     Volume 4 Issue 13 | September 17, 2004 |

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Last Stop for the Chicago Jazz Quartet

Elita Karim

Concert on channel 11, Chang Mai

'Jazz is more about watching and enjoying the performance, rather than only listening,' says Benjamin Lewis of The Chicago Jazz Quartet in Dhaka, the last stop of their East Asia tour.

The four Jazz musicians, Benjamin Lewis, Lorin Cohen, Michael Raynor and Matt Lewis began the Jazz Ambassador Tour on August 11th with a plan to visit and perform in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh. 'The response has been overwhelming, and we are expecting a blast tonight at Osmani!' exclaimed the group.

However, due to the heavy storms that went on the past week, the concert scheduled to be held at the Osmani Memorial Hall was cancelled, much to the disappointment of the ensemble not to mention the number of jazz lovers who were looking forward to the performance.

Dhaka being the last stop of the tour, the quartet seemed physically worn out, the group was also dazed with the huge amount of music and musical talents experienced through out the tour. Upon reaching Dhaka, the group had jam sessions at the Shilpakala Academy, where they got to play jazz music alongside the traditional instruments of the country, namely the dhol, tabla and sitar. 'I would really like to try my fingers on the harmonium though!' burst out Ben, the pianist.

Benjamin Lewis performed and recorded with numerous Chicago artists and had toured for five weeks in 1999, as a Jazz Ambassador to West Africa with his brother Matt Lewis and guitarist Neal Alger. Matt Lewis, the vocalist and trumpeter of the quartet has also performed with several major artistes and has toured India, Sri Lanka and West Africa as a 1998 and 1999 Jazz Ambassador. Lorin Cohen, bassist has toured Italy with William Russo's Chicago Jazz Orchestra and master clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. In 1998, he was named a Blue Note Sacholar at the Skidmore Jazz Workshop. Michael Raynor, the drummer, has worked with the legendary saxophonist Von Freeman for 14years, appearing on his latest release The Improviser. He has toured extensively with vocalist Kurt Elling and has played on two of his Grammy nominated recordings for Blue Note Records.

Dressed casually, the Quartet was having breakfast in the Hotel Sonargaon lobby on Monday Sepember 13. While speaking about their tour, the last stop of which was Bangladesh, the group seemed excited with their brush with the culture, music and people in just a few weeks. 'The people here have been so friendly ever since we landed here,' exclaims Michael, who in turn kept asking about Bangali life and music.

Talking about their experiences in Pakistan, Ben spoke descriptively about the various musicians they played with. 'It was like creating something new altogether, a mixture of jazz and the eastern style,' said Ben. 'We have been exposed to a whole lot of folk music during this trip,' adds Lorin. 'It was fascinating to watch the dhols, sitars and the santoors playing their tunes.'

People in our part of the world are not familiar with jazz. 'We noticed!' nodded the quartet. 'You see, jazz revolves around the whole performance itself,' explains Ben. 'Watching a live jazz performance would make so much more sense to music listeners, rather than just listening to a record.'

A workshop was held recently with local musicians of Dhaka, where the Chicago Jazz Quartet spoke about the genre itself, the jazz culture and the history of jazz. 'The drums used in Jazz are a little different than what you usually see,' said Michael. 'The usual ones played in rock concerts go thud-thud, where as the ones in jazz ensembles make little musical notes, like ping-ting!'

'We were really not sure what to expect in any of these countries actually,' grinned the quartet. 'But we really are grateful for the opportunity to experience new cultures and share some of our own experiences with the Jazz.'

Mike helping students in Bangkok during a workshop

The Chicago Jazz Quartet: (Left to Right) Ben, Matt, Lorin and Michael

Workshop at Bangkok.


The Chicago Jazz Quartet has its own website, www.chicagojazzquartet.com


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