My Polish Violin

IMG_0213smI play on a violin made in Wroclaw, Poland in 2002 by Jerzy Burban. I bought it on my first trip to Poland, after a very long absence there. I went to visit my mother because she didn’t want to travel any more and we couldn’t keep meeting in Greece as we used to. We always met in Athens and Naxos Island, to be with the rest of our family.

So in 2002 in Warsaw I revisited one of my favorite places – the Luthiers‘ Union on Krakowskie Przedmiescie. It was still just the same. They happened to have a big collection of violins that participated in the recent International Luthiers‘ Competition, which took place shortly before I arrived in Warsaw. There were ALL THESE VIOLINS at the luthiers‘ union and they let me try them out…

I love my old violin. I still play it. My mother bought it for me when I was 12. It is an old, dark brown, German violin with a tender, dark tone. But it needed a lot of work and I was looking for something more powerful. Here I had a chance not only to see, but to also play on all these violins! I asked my mother to come with me.

I should mention here that my Mom was a musician; she was a solo opera singer, mezzo-soprano. Amazing voice, my role model for tone quality. So we were there together and she was listening to the sound of these violins that I was playing for her to help me choose one of about thirty. Finally it was a choice between three violins. I loved them all. She just said: „This one projects! It doesn’t project next to your ear maybe, but the sound comes out and peaks in the space between you and me. You have to take this violin“.

So I got it. I wasn’t expecting to buy a violin, I was planning to rent it to play at the concert I was performing at, but it ended up coming home with me.

By the time I arrived in New York City and showed it to my favorite luthiers here, I learned that the violin had already appreciated a hundred percent of what I paid for it. Now, eleven years later its tone has opened up some and I love it even more. It is still a work in progress…

My new violin is so much more powerful than my old violin and it’s a healthy instrument. I had so many problems, especially with intonation playing the old violin, because the past repairs have not been done properly on it, places didn’t match up, imbalance of measurements, etc. This violin is clear, everything right there, under the fingers. It only needed to be played, because it wasn’t broken in yet. No one owned it before me. It has the deep tone quality that I so like, but it projects stronger. I always think about my Mom, how both of my violins came from her.

I am very happy with my Polish violin. I feel so lucky I got it. I just love it!

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Women Leaders in Jazz

ImageIn 1995 I was performing at Tampere Jazz Hapenning and I was asked to describe what it is like to be a woman leader. My answer was “same as a man leader”. Today I look back and see that it is not quite so. I am answering now after having experienced enough to know what it’s really like.

Leaders typically experience a slight distance with the members of their group. It is universal for men and women alike. However, I felt that this was magnified in my case, because in the past I never felt as one of the guys in my ensemble. Was this because of me or a result of my gender or age? I’ll never know.

The world of jazz is male dominated. It’s been my observation that men musicians like to bond with each other, hang out together, share info about opportunities, recommend each other for gigs, share talks and experiences. Being a woman in that world sometimes becomes tricky because I couldn’t fully participate in the bonding. I really wanted to, though. I guess women musicians are most of the time not seen as simply fellow musicians by their male colleagues? Do we really have to be labeled, as “somebody’s someone” before we are acceptable? There is another thing that I noticed when I was younger – when a woman is young and attractive, initially no one looks seriously at her skills, ambitions or knowledge, she has to show or speak up for herself and prove it, work extra hard.

Since I was a teenager, I wanted to have a group that I would write music for, share ideas and perform with. Growing up close with my older brother who always “knew everything best” I had to find the way to assert my position whenever I was in this “men’s world”.  I decided to really deeply study my subjects and technique, so that I could not only have a degree in music but also to be versatile, know the needed terminology, be able to be very specific and speak with knowledge. Because when you know something they don’t know, men will start listening, curiously.

I studied different music styles, aside from classical, learning the scales, modes, rhythms and terminology of what techniques are used in each style like in Arabic, Gypsy and Greek music, the names for rhythms, what is the way to move around the improvisation, how to build the modulation etc. Guys seemed to know things by word of mouth. My brother knew most of his stuff through socializing with his friends-musicians and they learned from each other, I couldn’t be a part of that…. My way had to be constant practice, study and observe. Not much team work.

As a woman musician and leader I had to learn a lot from books, concerts and lessons. I had to learn to verbalize what I felt I needed for my music. It has been a very long learning curve. I have worked with both male and female musicians. There was always more fellowship and fun with women groups. Male musicians questioned and challenged me a lot. When they did, I had to learn to give them demonstration, facts, history and terminology, not my thoughts and feelings. So that’s my experience as a leader.

When you see me with my group now, you can say that I am a true leader; I have been doing it for about 25 years now. I am older and wiser, but it wasn’t so in my first years in NYC. I was relaying on the knowledge of the drummer, the knowledge of the bass and guitar player then. Now I still rely on them but I know what I want and I hire musicians for their skills and spirit. There has to be mutual trust and acceptance.

Today I am able to write the music and prepare my band for gigs all alone. Of course help is always welcome, bouncing ideas off of each other works nicely. The knowledge gives me a power boost, but there is also friendship and respect. Maybe I still can’t quite bond with my male colleagues but I do feel I get more respect, understanding and appreciation for what we do together. I see this as a success.

My advise to women in music business is that you have to know what you want to say in music first, then learn how to convey your message to who is playing with you – weather it is a man or a woman. Do not count on the musicians that you hire to help you – you are the leader, but do accept new ideas.

When you are a leader, you are a bit like an island or a single parent. You promote, provide and protect everybody and you are alone a lot.

The key to power is knowledge, passion and perseverance.

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How I wrote my new pieces part III.

hasaposerviko dance


Hasaposerviko is a traditional Greek folk dance in a 2/4 meter from Constantinople. Dancers dance in one line and they start in medium tempo and accelerate at the end.

I remember when I played a hasaposerviko in Poland that everybody always liked so much, but it wasn’t mine. My mom as if confirmed my thoughts and told me:

– Since everyone likes it so much why don’t you write your own Hasaposerviko?

And of course I did, but I had to make it into something of my own. So after I wrote the theme in 2/4 meter, I transformed it into 5/8 meter, which changed its character more towards lyrical. We start out in 5/8, in the solo section go into improvisations. Then move to the 2/4 theme and accellerate in 2/4 for the ending . For the first time I played this piece with my string trio in March 2012 at the concert in memory of my Mom.

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How I wrote my new pieces part II


Zeibekiko is a traditional Greek dance with a rhythmic pattern of 9/8 (or 9/4). It is danced by one person, who improvises the movements to express their emotions. It is mostly danced by men and gets to be quite acrobatic at times.

As a dance and a rhytm Zeibekiko always fascinated me. It was part of my favorite  Rebetiko subculture in Greece (the Greek blues). I decided to write my own version of Zeibekiko. Its specific rhythmic pattern of both 9/4 and 9/8 was a base. For the melody lines I used the Greek scale Hijaz, which is a very popular mode in Greek music and especially in the underground Rebetiko music. I wrote two melodies, each one has a different character. The melodies have Greek and Arabic flavor but I mixed in a lot of syncopation (more typical in jazz and Latin music).The third element is a base for improvised solos and here I used a „mathematical groove“ so popular in today’s contemporary jazz. It expresses how the numbers of repetitions make us want to stop or continue ( Henry Threadgill’s theory).The piece turned out to have a very mesmorizing quality.


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How I wrote my new pieces part 1



It was a nice summer day on July 15th, 2012 when I got very sad news from Greece that my beloved aunt Kitsa suddenly died in Athens. I knew instantly that the only thing I could do was to compose a piece for her to send her off in peace to join my Mother. I felt it had to be something cheerful to express and honor her sunny personality. That very same day the melody came straight from my heart onto the staff. It was simple and happy, just as my aunt always was. I wrote it in C major to keep everything very basic, down to earth.Then I left the melody for a few weeks to „steep“. When I came back to it, I decided that it should be a dance. So I wrote in the bass line, it turned out to be BOSSA. The rest of the process was to create the counterpoint between the three melodic instruments in my Ensemble Elektra – 2 violins and clarinet. At the end I had to analyze everything to add chords. „Bossa for Kitsa“ could be also adapted for a string quartet. While I was working, a lot of ideas were just poping out of my head. I knew exactly what and how I wanted it to sound, and then I remembered  that just not long ago I wasn’t able to work like that. I was going through big changes in my life and the only thing I felt was emptiness. But at this moment I was able to write again, better then ever! Kitsa was almost making me smile when the melody was pouring out of me, it was like as if she was singing right next to me. She would never want me to cry or worry and I think that somehow she told me how to write this piece for her.

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Kosciuszko Foundation November 29, 2012 Post-concert notes

IMG_7576The concert at the Kosciuszko Foundation last Thusday is behind me. I confess I had the jitters, but everything went well and I’m happy. I have to admit that I am always extremely proud to play at the Kosciuszko Foundation, because it is a very important place for New York Polish community and a very beautiful space with great acoustic and atmosphere and architecture. It took me over two months to get ready for this concert. I was preparing several of my new pieces for their premiere. That is why I was so nervous. I’m happy to say I consider this concert a success. And I don’t mean just my own satisfaction, but also the reactions of the audience. People let me know that they liked the music with their enthusiastic applause every few minutes.One of the Polish young ladies, named Elwira even cried – this is how touched she felt. She told me later that she liked my music so much she just couldn’t stop the tears. Isn’t this the most beautiful comment the artist could hear?

One of the pieces that I arranged and we improvised on was an old Polish folk melody „Little Red Apple“. When I was explaining to those in the audience who are not familiar with Polish folk what the song was about the Polish members of the audience started to sing it! That was absolutely a fantastic moment.

We also played my arrangements of Polish folk music from the Polish mountains Podhale, mixed with Greek rythms and jazz improvisation and my newest compositions, infused with Greek rhythms, Arabic scales and New York beats .

The audience was very diverse. This is what I really value about Kosciuszko Foundation: that they welcome and invite everybody in their threshold. So there were Polish, Greek Latin and African American people all sitting next to each other and listening to the concert. There was one of my students among the guests – 12 years old Pedro who came with his mom. He told me later that he liked the pieces based on Greek themes and rhythms best.

At the little reception after the concert , we all got an opportunity to share a glass of wine and have a conversation with our guests. The atmosphere was so friendly, I would say it felt as if we were a family. Nobody wanted to go home. Even the musicians of Ensemble Elektra who usually rush after the concert to go about their own business, stayed and had a great time. I think this was one of the best evenings this year for the most important of all my projects. Now it is time to start working on new ones. In the next part of my blog I’ll tell you about how I worked on my pieces.


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