interviews & articles 

Jazz Harp in Rotterdam: pedals of all kind 

by Marcella Carboni 

September 2010 


One of the characteristics of Holland is that everyone goes by bike. Therefore, also my hostel could not but be a Bed&Bike, which put at my disposal a big and heavy sample of the kind. Gladly I mounted and cycled along the lanes until I noticed that there was something missing on my handlebar: the breaks! In order to break you had to bike backwards! Normal in Holland, but inconceivable in Italy, my home country. I tried hard to keep it in mind but more than once the tram has almost hit me, or I found myself in collision with a truck. In the end, however, I managed to arrive safely at my destination.  


Once there, I entered a class with a dozen of harpists who, with a considerable speed, went up and down chromatic scales of different chords, practically dancing with their feet on the pedals. Here you go, I said to myself, these are the pedals you are familiar with.  

Harpists from Holland, Israel, England, United States, France, Germany, all united in one great passion: the jazz harp. That is in a few words my summary of the intensive weekend, September 17-20, 2010, in Rotterdam. To direct all this enthusiasm most efficiently were Brenda Dor-Groot and Sabine Meijers, the founders of the Jazz Harp Foundation. Three harp-days for all levels, with introductory lessons, intermediate exercises and advanced play for pedal and lever harps.  


Two jazz harpists of the highest level held the main lessons: Park Stickney from New York and Edmar Castaneda from Colombia. Two different musical personalities, but both very energetic and fervent. And it was this passion that spread like a contagious fever on all the participants, who never got tired to try and retry the “biking” pedal progressions of Park, or the Latin rhythms and effects being shipped in from South America by Edmar. To be remarked: the high level of the advanced course participants, not least thanks to the didactic work of Park and his master classes all over Europe throughout the years.  


But there was not only harp. Jazz is interplay. A double bass, a piano, drums and percussions and a saxophone were always ready to accompany the harpists in the classes and during the final performance. And there were also lessons of musical theory, rhythmic practice and interesting sessions where to listen to the big masterpieces of jazz music. During the rare spare time there was a harp exhibition to visit, complete with amplification systems, sheet music and accessories.  

Saturday night, after lessons, all of us went, some by bike (but not me!), to a stimulating jam session. During my career as a musician, I participated in quite some jam sessions, but never in one with about thirty harpists and only two saxophone players! Saxophone, double bass, piano and drums were opening, but you didn't need to beg the harpists to enter the stage and to throw themselves in standards more or less known.  

One of the first was Ben, Benjamin Creighton Griffiths, a guy of only fourteen years who normally studies classical music, but in his free time transmutes into a most virtuoso jazz player. Listen yourself:  


On Sunday we were still engaged with intensive lessons, among which an entertaining multimedia presentation of the history of the harp in jazz, with photos and historic videos, presented to us by the sympathetic Sabine Meijers. Here you'll find some of her research results: 


And still more to come: like the presentation of the new midi harp by Camac, offered by Jakez François and the sound editor and harpist Arnaud Roy. 


At four in the afternoon finally the doors of the Jazz Harp Academy opened for the final concert. First the performance of the students who started out with a blues for six harps and various pieces accompanied by the band. And then the concert of Park Stickney and Edmar Castaneda had come.Park excited his audience with a jazz interpretation of the Danses, sacrée e profane by Claude Debussy and with Music for a while by Purcell and finally excelled by his acrobatic speed in his Dirty Laundry Rag.  


Sounds were changing when Edmar played his Colombian harp and engaged in his Latin rhythms. His way of playing is intriguing and drags you away. He combined his profound bass lines and the rich and light phrasing of South American folk music to the variety in timbre and harmonies of jazz music. For this unique way of playing he was assigned the prestigious Journalist Jazz Award 2010 in the category of best musician of an instrument rare in jazz. It was the first time that a harpist won.  


The final piece of that evening was Caravan, one of the most famous standards, which Park and Edmar, together with the rest of the band, developed to a continuous crescendo. After the concert the time for farewells had come, sad that the Academy had ended, but with the certainty to meet again “someday, somewhere” thanks to this common passion and the possibility to keep in touch through the Jazz Harp Foundation and their internet site  

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