The Music That Heals (in Eng)
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Monday, 12 April 2010 02:00

By Georgi Samarinov 
Written for the Muzikus magazine  

There was no way that I could have missed the event.  Because of the extensive advertisements that appeared on radio, television, internet, facebook, and from friends, everybody was talking about that concert. Ari Roland and his quartet were coming directly from New York City and would feature the trumpet artistry of Ventsi Blagoev.

Jazz Appreciation Month – that was some sort of American program: every April Transatlantic jazzmen take the road to Europe, Asia, Africa to educate people by presenting quality jazz music. I can’t say too much about Ari Roland but I have to say that in Blagoevgrad this is really big thing since except for all the Big Band performances it seems that there is no other jazz in this city. Oh sorry, I’m wrong – there is Ventsi Blagoev. And thank goodness! It’s because of him that people like me can enjoy the real thing.

So… It’s Tuesday and raining cats and dogs. It’s unbelievable that the hall is full. I couldn’t imagine I would see so many jazz fans and I’m really surprised considering the kind of music that might usually be found in this city.

The concert begins with a short announcement by the American Ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick who says, “I’m happy that we are playing in the hometown of the trumpeter Ventsislav Blagoev. He’s a great musician who devoted his life to jazz music.” The United States Embassy is backing the concert.

Seems like serious stuff! Let’s see…

Boom! Right from the very first tune the Americans hit me! My ears are satisfied and my musical senses sharpened! I’m looking at the muscians – at first sight nothing out of the ordinary. But man, you have to hear them play… Ari Roland is enjoying every second. He has become so connected with his instrument that I can’t say if it’s the player playing or the instrument has taken on a life of its own and is pouring out with all it’s fascination through the man. It’s the first time I hear the double bass playing its own specific role that is so distinct from the other instruments.

Zaid Nasser is the alto saxophonist. His playing is warm, precise, and clean to perfection.  Moreover, he is calm, mastered and sure in his abilities as a musician. When he started playing “Laura” he filled my head with all the romantic feelings that came to me… satisfaction, romance… I’m wondering how this evening was going to end?

Sacha Perry. I’ve listened to a lot of jazz, especially pianists. With Sacha I can tell that he is the most economic pianist I’ve ever heard.  There are no extra notes, nor some crazy running over the keys, nor any showing off. Nothing like that. I noticed, that he’s hardly even using the sustain pedals. But he sounds good, simple and magical. And percussionist Keith Bala is only 23 years old. But man, you have to listen to his drum solos! If he is playing so well at that age, I can’t imagine how that boy will play in 10 years… I must remember his name in order to track his career.

I take it all in. This is it I say to myself, real American jazz that is coming especially for us to Blagoevgrad. If this happened more often… I feel like I am in a dark New York  club during the 1930s. Now they’ve started playing “Summertime.” Only if Mahalia Jackson was here to sing… But no. Zaid starts singing and he’s singing pretty well and he urges the audience to sing with him – and we sing and we feel good. The beautiful woman near me blurts out – “Mom!” I wondered why she thought about her mother at that moment? But there was no time to think about that because the Americans started playing a beautiful Bulgarian song. I was sceptical as to whether or not they were going to play it well. Luckily, I was wrong. The public went crazy as soon as they recognized the Bulgarian melody in that beautiful jazz interpretation.

And now Ventsi Blagoev comes on the stage and with his entrance begins an interesting segment of the program. He’s playing with the American quartet for the first time and I doubt that they had more than an hour for rehearsal. But the link between them is strong and that becomes apparent during the first few bars of the first song. Ari isn’t hiding his satisfaction: “We sound good, don’t we?”. That’s right, Ari, professionals don’t need a lot of rehearsal time.

Ventsi is in his top form. He’s playing the blues as if he has lived all his life in Storyville and now his trumpet goes straight to your soul. Romance fills the hall once more and a strange and beautiful sensation of togetherness sweeps over the audience … “ What a Wonderful World”…

The jazzmen switch to bebop. It seems like they’ve picked up a little bit from the audience’s emotions too! They’re playing, they’re enjoying it, and they’re giving it their best and that is written on their faces -especially on Ventsi’s face and his solos are stunning. He’s giving himself away to the last breath and my breath is taken when I recognize another Bulgarian song, this time arranged by Ventsi. When I think “Man! It can’t be better!” the most exciting musical experience that I’ve ever had starts – “A Night In Tunisia”. They start easy. The double bass, piano, and drums are at the rear of the bandstand, the sax and trumpet are in front. There is beautiful harmony; the musicians complete and communicate with each other. Ventsi is doing the last chorus. In the beginning he is calm, lyrical, and gentle.  Then the trumpet starts to grow stronger, it blossoms, it shoots up and reaches unbelievable heights.  Ventsi plays a note that I haven’t heard before and then takes a breath and plays the same note. And again. And it becomes evident that his aim is to go even higher and he seems sure that he’ll succeed. I’m saying silently “Try again, Ventsi, try again. You can do it!”. In the next moment something almost supernatural rings out. The audience’s applause explodes with unbelievable strength. The lady near me started crying. Ventsi is staggering a little bit but he’s happy.

After the end of the concert I went to the lady and I asked her why was she crying. “You know”, she said, “my mother went through a very tough time and the only way I managed to bring back her will to live was through listening to jazz.”

And outside the rain had stopped and the night sky was strewn with stars.

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