Skopje Jazz Festival 2009

Cover of Skopje Jazz Festival 2009 Program


I wake up every day and wonder what I did to deserve receiving this fantastic opportunity to spend 10 months in Macedonia. In the month I have been here, my experiences have been terrific. (Getting sick was just a minor setback, and now I'm much better.)

So far, the highlight has been the Skopje Jazz Festival; I spent four nights in a row (October 23-26), listening to world-class jazz: Aki Takase, Marilyn Masur, James Carter Quintet, Chick Corea and the Power of Three, Brad Mehldau Trio, Michele Polga Quartet, Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang, and John Hassell and Maarifa Street.

It doesn't get much better than this.

Thanks to the generosity of Oliver and Naditsa Belopeta, I saw and heard several great bands play in halls with perfect accoustics. Naditsa and her friends picked me up every night and took me home, even on the Saturday night I forgot about the time change and nearly missed the Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang and John Hassell and Maarifa Street performances. But in the end, all worked out.

I loved Aki Takase's piano playing; she did things to that piano that I thought weren't possible. She reached inside the piano itself, and actually played the strings. And her energy level...Wow. On YouTube, I found a sample of her playing but not Fats Waller. Still, she reaches inside the guts of that piano and plucks away...

MARIA JOÃO & AKI TAKASE (1) - "My Favorite Things/My Funny Valentine"
(Video disabled due to copyright issues)

I have never seen anyone do that before--which goes to show that something new can be learned each and every day.

My favorite was the James Carter Quintet. Phenomenal! I'm not well-versed in music, but Carter played the saxophone with great energy. Like Takase, he did things with his horn that should border on abuse, but, wow, the music that came out was simply amazing. This embedded YouTube video--which could disappear at any time--is from the Jazz Fest Wien 2008:

James Carter Quintet at Jazz Fest Wien 2008

I would classify Carter's Quintet as extreme, to-the-edge Jazz.

Chick Corea and The Power of Three was a close second, with just great piano playing.

This 2007 video offers a small taste:

Amazing Performance by Chick Corea on LEGENDS OF JAZZ
(Video disabled due to copyright issues.)

Nothing can match the live performances of great bands, though.

Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang and John Hassell and Maarifa Street seemed more like The Hearts of Space (new age) music so popular on PBS. I would have never classified these groups as jazz, though I still enjoyed them (but after the rather large Skopsko Pivo during intermission, I kind went into a dream state that was difficult to shake). But what do I know? I'm not a musical expert.

I enjoyed all the performers and feel truly privileged that I was offered this great gift. Also, thanks to Mito Belopeta who gave me his backstage pass as a souvenir (but not to get backstage, so don't worry, Oliver and all; I did not crash the backstage. I behaved like a Pollyanna).

By late Monday night, after Chick Corea, I was totally ragged out, but I had to drag my poor sorry rear out of bed early Tuesday morning to read papers for my Creative Writing class; by Tuesday night I was ready to crash. Other than grade a few papers and teaching one class, I did nothing but flop on the sofa and watch the Hallmark Channel (in English, with Croatian subtitles, and commercials in Hungarian. If anyone can explain this to me, please do).

By Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, it was get-serious time because I was way behind in getting some materials together for my classes and for posting on my Academic site. Academic Writing takes the longest time to prepare (which is almost always true of "service courses"). I'm mostly caught up now, but I still have to read some stories for Creative Writing before Tuesday.

On Saturday, I wrote Chapter 2 of Corpus Delicious, my blog novel, and posted it here. Will anything come of it? Who knows? The story line is pretty out there, but it's a book that has been nagging at me for the last five years. I'm not going to talk about it here, just write and post it and be done with it. I'll say this, though: it's not coming out the way I had anticipated. It's almost too much fun to write, which probably means it will turn out to be crap.

Vlado Cvetkovski called tonight and invited me to join him and Olivera to attend a Salvador Dali exhibit at the Modern Museum of Art here in Skopje. I think it's the large museum on the hill near Kale and the U.S. Embassy. I'll meet him and Olivera at their home tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. for coffee and then to the museum. I'm looking forward to the outing and seeing the Cvetkovskis again.

Macedonia may be a small country, but it does the arts in a major way. So many places to discover and things to do.


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