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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 09 September 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 9 SEPTEMBER 2017 19 MYTHS & REALITY & Τζαζ magazine, he stated how Dizzy asked him to suggest a Greek song for the concert. The composer made a jazz arrangement to a traditional song A Boat from Chios, instructing the legendary trumpeter (who was perplexed by the irregular rhythm) to do what another trumpet player had done before, pointing to Ziggy Elman and his famous solo in Benny Goodman's great hit And the Angels Sing. Plessas says that it was Goodman's drummer, the Greek American legend Gene Krupa, who turned the ballad (sung by Martha Tilton) to a kalamatiano, but the truth is that Ellman was just referencing the klezmer music of his Jewish ancestry (other nations, from the Balkans up to Russia, also claim the few exotic-sounding bars). Plessas then says how Dizzy taught him and Quincy Jones the basics of film scoring, helping them make their first steps in what resulted in a long, prolific and lucrative career. So yes, musicians tend to embellish things, and Benny Goodman did not play a kalamatiano song, or any other kind of traditional Greek music (in fact, in this recording, sitting in the drummer stool was not Gene Krupa, but Lionel Hampton). He did, however meet a Greek music legend, in New York, at the same place and time when the alleged Hendrix and Hiotis encounter took place: a Greek nightclub on 8th Avenue, in 1965. The club was called Ali Baba and it featured clarinettist Tasos Halkias, one of the famous Epirot clan of musicians, and a true master of traditional clarinet. "One day, the boss lady came and told me that a dozen people came in the club, Benny Goodman among them,” he narrates in his biography Remembrances and Notes of Tasos Halkias (written by Andreas Chronopoulos). "They were interested in a tune which was supposed to be written in the form of Greek traditional lament (miroloi) and they did not know how. It was for a movie of Richard Sarafian, and a scene features a mother losing their daughter, so they needed a lament and somebody told them of the Ali Baba club where a man named Tasos Halkias plays, who could help.” The movie in question is Richard Sarafian's Andy, a drama about a man of Greek origin with intellectual disabilities, and the challenges his family faces. The film's composer, Robert Prince, was known in jazz circles and had arranged some Benny Goodman tunes (not least among them the Meet the Band number, in which he introduced his players), which gives some credit to the story. But again, it's the storytelling itself that makes it charming: "When the boss lady told me that we have Benny Goodman in the house, knowing who he was, I became too nervous and could not play what they wanted. She was acting as an interpreter - because I couldn't speak English and Goodman said: ‘I want him to play a miroloi. What is this thing?’.” The clarinettist, nervous, first headed to the bar, downed a couple of whiskeys and then went on stage. After he played, the 'king of swing' was impressed by his 'Byzantine' glissandi and the fact that Halkias did not read music. "He loved it, he was crazy about it. He got up on stage, kissed me and gave me a mouthpiece with his name on it, and a few reeds.” GREEK MUSIC LOOKING FOR VALIDATION Strangely enough, another acclaimed traditional clarinettist, also named Halkias, though not related, also claims meeting Goodman and Armstrong in New York. There is an ongoing animosity between PetroLoukas Halkias and the members of the Halkias clan, because the former has implied being related to them, when in fact he is not - they claim that he also stole that story. But he has another interesting story of his own, which he never fails to deliver, when he is featured in a TV show. That, while in New York, he became a member of the Musicians’ Union and attended a few of the meetings, where dozens of musicians of different origin were present. Asked to play a tune from Greece, he played a pogonisio and one of the members went up and asked to buy part of the melody, paying him $1000 for it. His name was Richard Finch and he used the few bars he 'bought' as a basis for the 1975 international disco hit That's the Way I Like It by KC and the Sunshine Band. Is this true? Waiving his rights for the cheque, Petro-Loukas Halkias lost his chance of appearing as one of the songwriters. But his story is certainly a crowd-pleaser. Why are these stories always coming up, despite at least some of them being so obviously false? Because Greek artists - but mostly Greek media - are always looking for some kind of international validation of their merit. Do they need it? Petro-Loukas Halkias is an extraordinary virtuoso, whose career is by now noncontestable (his willingness to work with musicians from Africa and India has also resulted to some magnificent works of art); Mimis Plessas is the composer of one of the most iconic Greek music albums ever recorded, O Dromos, and the creator of a large number of classic hits - being the only musician in Greece to be equally fluent in folk music, bouzoukia, soundtracks, and jazz. As for Tasos Halkias and Manolis Hiotis, these gigantic pillars of Greek culture, neither of them ever needed this kind of external 'international' validation. Their music is an integral part of the whole of Greek culture. Tasos Halkias is the eternal beacon of Epirotic music, a true master of the Greek clarinet and an artist whose teachings on the importance of tradition - and advice as to how best preserve it, remain as true and relevant today as ever. As for Hiotis, he was a true genius of the bouzouki, the man who single-handedly changed the course of the instrument, the way it is fabricated, people's perception of it, the history of Greek folk music as a whole. It was Chiotis who added a fourth (double) string to the instruments three strings, changing its tuning and allowing it to play the 'Western' scales, along with the 'Eastern' ones. This helped him infuse folk music with Latin and swing elements, creating his signature sound. He was also instrumental in the creation of the bouzoukia culture, taking folk music out of the neighbourhood tavernas and dives it was heard and building a 'Greek nightclub' concept around it. The rest, as they say is history (but nobody seems to claim ownership for it).
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