Roots Unknown CD Recording Project
A musical exploration of a 50/50 split - Askenazi and Sephardic heritage
Strong afro-latin influence
"Opo Striki Strifi" ..."Get up and shake it!"
To paraphrase the Co-producer and Jazz master David Friesen, the essence of this music is like a seed, and every song a new beginning to be nurtured. Given the right ingredients, it grows, matures and can soar into “all that Jazz”. The ever evolving expression of this music is a powerful paradigm for the miracle of life itself. Be sure to play every note with conviction as if the last note you will ever play.
I had parents born on separate continents, and yet I was born on yet a third here in the United States, and thus blessed with ‘unalienable rights’ – life liberty and pursuit of happiness to include my unique inner calling. Growing up in metropolitan New York City, I was influenced by the melting pot of world cultures out of which blossomed music and art stimulated by unfettered freedom of self-expression and creativity. Years before I knew why, or who the musicians were, I was attracted to and sought out listening to the jazz greats.
As my career evolved as physician by day, I progressed to student musician at night, yet I have full recognition of the scores of artists with more training and/ or talent than I, and appreciative of the incredible mastery of the greats who laid the foundation in the prior century. We are all life-long students of the jazz form trying to deepen our capability to find our voice and secure our footing. I was 50 when first attending Centrum Jazz camp in Port Townsend not knowing chord structure or chord progression, modes, nor the 12 keys, believing I was given “the keys to the musical universe”.
I found out that the great saxophonist Don Lanphire was to sick to attend camp that summer as faculty, but the day upon my return, I went on a Jazz cruise featuring Don who had just played an incredible version of Body and Soul when I went up to him and said, “You do not know me, but I am told that you should be my teacher, are you taking new students?” He of course said yes. The challenge and frustration did not dissuade me to define a cramped practice space in the underground corner level of our un-heated car-port inhabited by spiders and resulting in a double hernia repair from learning to blow the tenor sax. Soon thereafter, I was allowed back in the house, and my twins childhood playroom morphed into a formal music room. My family’s love, tolerance and support is greatly appreciated. Eventually, I participated in student performances at Tulas and elsewhere, and attended jam sessions to find like-minded ‘jazzoids’. Don and I became friends, and just prior to his death when no longer able to play, he willed me his Soprano Sax. Unfortunately the instrument did not have supernatural properties like the proverbial ‘magic flute’. Since then there have been innumerable other teachers to provide inspiration including Tracy Knoop, Jay Thomas, Ev Stern, the very patient Tobi Stone, and the reason I am here today, David Friesen, who I have been taking both individual and ensemble lessons with for 13 years. He is the one who encouraged me to compose my own music and thus explore parts of my hidden self.
A valuable life lesson, surrounding oneself with really gifted professional musicians makes you sound better. In late 2016, I took David Friesen up on his long-standing offer when sufficiently prepared to help co-produce an album when a student like myself felt ready. I sought out the correct balance of musicians with the desired instrumentation to rehearse a few of my compositions and half-baked arrangements intending to honor my dichotomous heritage, I was strongly encouraged to go beyond a good home recording into a professional studio to produce a full length album. And so, into the proverbial ‘wood shed’ I went correcting chord and rhythmic structures and exploring all the music I thought had special meaning to me that fully honored my roots –my father’s classical symphonic and operatic influences as an overly intellectual Northern European Ashkenazi Jew, and my mom’s more primal and passionate Afro-Latin Sephardic sensibility born in the jungles of Suriname, then Dutch Guiana.
I quickly learned that the most difficult skill required to successfully work with busy musicians, is the mastery required to nail down a rehearsal schedule, something as a physician, I had always been part of the problem rather than the solution! However, with persistence and prodding, we prepared for two recording sessions nearly 4 months apart, resulting in a wondrous life experience. After recording, mixing and mastering, emerged this wonderful album entitled “Roots Unknown” … not Klezmer, not straight up ‘bebop’, but rather a form of heartfelt ‘Jewish Jazz’ with each piece representing a varied expression of my life experiences. It was just a week before our last recording session when a duet piece David and I were going to record featuring bass clarinet and double bass, as a placeholder entitled ‘Double Bass’, morphed into a duet of bass clarinet and percussion highlighting Jeff Busch’s skills as a master of the Brazilian Berimbau. David wanted the piece to be ‘free’ and improvisational with no lick or riff highlighting the centuries of my families wandering in its circuitous pathway to freedom. As David got to know me better and learned about my background and struggles, he was compelled to name this piece “Perseverance”.
This recording is representative of the depth and strength of the Pacific Northwest and Seattle areas talent pool embracing the power of collaboration and the Emerald city gem that we are blessed to be apart of permeated by and committed to the legacy and "Art of Jazz”. The project was multicultural, multiracial, gender mixed and representing diverse ages and discrepant backgrounds, yet with the openness and willingness to share a new musical exploration. This could only grow out of a culture blessed to have not only great jazz teachers and masters who have extended themselves into the community to forge an interwoven tapestry of interested souls in this musical form so many are passionate about. I credit KPLU now KNKX promoting this mission and doing so daily over the air with strong community support, involvement and outreach. It is a direct result of why so many Jazz musicians are attracted here to be apart of this synergy, in turn enhancing its depth in a diverse cultural milieu, the necessary foundational ingredients for new discovery and innovation.
To all the musicians who had the patience to participate in this project, most notably David Friesen, and to my wife, Gail … thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Edgar Steinitz, M.D.
Samuel Saga Studio, LLC
Top - Jay Thomas, Julian Smedley
Middle - Bonnie Birch, Jeff Busch, Wayne Porter
Lower - David Friesen, David Lange (recording engineer), Edgar Steinitz
Photo Collage - Left to Right