Guatemala Jazz Festival 2015 – Ambassador’s Residence

Back to Guatemala City now for a reception at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson.  We could not ask for a more welcoming host.  Ambassador Robinson hails from Newark, NJ, a jazz town once and forever.  He truly believes in the power of jazz to uplift and unite everyone.  He is also an idealist who inspires us with his affirmation that we all can contribute to a world of greater equity and justice.  I’m proud to know him and will continue to do all I can to live up to his example of representing the best of what the United States is all about…

Eli Yamin Quartet with U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson

Eli Yamin Quartet with U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson


Ambassador Robinson and guests express their enthusiasm and support for JAZZ!

Eli Yamin Quartet and IMOX

Eli Yamin Quartet with IMOX Jazz, a local professional group and Ambassador Todd Robinson

Eli Yamin Quartet at Ambassador’s Residence


Guatemala Jazz Festival 2015 – Coban

The second day of the tour we drove to Coban in central Guatemala.  The city is surrounded by beautiful mountains and has a more country feel to it.  Watch out for the chocolate soup before lunch~!  I thought I was in heaven.

In the afternoon we gave a workshop in a municipal building to students receiving lessons on scholarship.  Their teachers are first rate including the pianist who played in the professional jazz quartet that opened for us at the evening concert.

In the workshop we did an overview of jazz including Maple Leaf Rag with the kids stomp/clappin’ and Evan playing all the the harmony and rhythm on the clarinet.  Then we taught Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train” and had everyone keep singing the theme while we improvised over it to “mess them up.”  They were too good and kept the melody going even with unaccompanied drum solo!  Later, most everyone got out their horn and we had a terrific jam session on the Hop Wilson blues “I Feel So Glad.”  We even found an eight year old boy who gobbled up the shuffle like it was his new best friend!

In the afternoon, it being Sunday, we went to the Mall to play for the people.  It was a gas, actually…

Guatemala Jazz Festival 2015 – Concert in Guatemala City

Our first concert of the tour was at the auditorium at Instituto Guatemala Americano in Guatemala City.  It was a pleasure to play the Baldwin grand on stage and interact with the audience who engaged deeply with us.  Our program included songs from our recent CD,  “Louie’s Dream, for our jazz heroes.”  We played the title track composed by Louie Armstrong and pianist Marty Napoleon, “Baraka 75,” dedicated to Amiri Baraka, great poet, activist and mentor and “Don’t Go Back On Your Raisin”, from the musical I co-wrote with Clifford Carlson about women fighting for and winning the right to vote in the U.S. in 1920.  As it turns out, this year is the 70th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Guatemala and the audience joined us to celebrate.  You can also see a photo of me playing percussion.  That was part of our exploration of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence.”  We closed the concert with a collaboration with members of the University Jazz Club.  We played a Guatemalan song that warmed everyone’s heart, “Luna de Xelaju.”

Guatemala Jazz Festival 2015 – workshop Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala

It was wonderful to return to Guatemala, this time with quartet and LaFrae Sci on drums (she and I were there in 2011 with the Blues Band), Evan Christopher on clarinet and Paul Beaudry on bass.  The first day we gave a workshop at Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, got to know the wonderful students including a great young singer named Jose Pablo who sang Misty, a budding bassist named Gabriiela as well as The Prez, M.Sc. Lester Homero Godinez Orantes.  We taught the heartbeat is the shuffle and the shuffle is the heartbeat of the blues…



I bet you can play too!

Play the Blues with Eli


What can I say to the parents of children who want to be professional musicians?

Eli Yamin starting out as professional musician.  Photo by Grace Moon

Eli Yamin starting out as professional musician. Photo by Grace Moon

Mom:  “Eli, my son loves music and says he wants to be a musician.  Can you pleeeese convince him out of it?”

Eli: Young man, you must ALWAYS play music.  The music you make brings beauty and positive spirit to the world.  And goodness knows, we need more of it.  Choosing a career in music is a separate decision.  A successful music career relies on the cultivation of many skills both musical and non musical.  To make a living or good wage as a musician, you need to develop skills in business and/or education.  These may or may not be of interest to you.  So, before putting all your eggs into the making-your-living-by-playing-music basket, spend time finding out where you are at in these other areas.  Some ways you can do this are:

1)     Volunteer or work in a classroom with kids or another setting where you can see how you feel about teaching.  At 12, I worked as a junior sailing instructor and taught 7 year olds how to tie knots.  I remember the thrill I got when my “students” learned and could do what I showed them.  As I kid I loved sailing small boats.  This led me to the opportunity to be a junior sailing teacher to teach 7 year olds and gave me a glimpse of my potential as a teacher.  What other loves do you have that you can explore?  There may be a way to connect them with your life in music down the road.

Mercedes Ellington and Eli Yamin

Mercedes Ellington and Eli Yamin

At 24, upon returning from my first gig on the road as musical director for Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies 10th Anniversary National Tour directed by Mercedes Ellington, I volunteered at the West Side YMCA Day Camp.  They asked me what I did.  Upon learning I was a musician, they hired me as music teacher for Kinder Camp at $25/hour.  At the time I had no idea how to talk to three year olds.  I met with other Nursery School music teachers, took a three-day teacher training with Betsy Blachly at Bankstreet College and by the fall was hired as music teacher for the Co-op Nursery School at double my initial pay rate.  I developed a jazz curriculum for 2-5 years olds (being able to sit up was the only prerequisite to my class) singing songs like “Oo Shoobie Doobie,” “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” and “Potato Chips.” I also sang folk tunes, told stories I learned from my childhood hero Pete Seeger, and finger plays and dances.  I improvised a lot and learned to be present in a way with students that had an indelible effect on me.  I had a poster of Dizzy Gillespie smiling in my room and used to say a prayer to him before the kids would come. “Dizzy, please show me what to do with these kids today.”  It worked out well.  I taught two and a half days a week while playing pass the hat gigs in East Village and touring with Glenn Miller Band and later, Illinois Jacquet.  I was blessed by having mentorship by Chicago Drummer Walter Perkins, who was like a second father to me, and played in his band all through this period and beyond.  Teaching young children during this time helped my income and helped me grow as a musician and person.

Eli Yamin with his student Amaya at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Eli Yamin with his student Amaya at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

2)     Read books on the music business, take a business course on or off line, intern or work at a music business such as a management company, music festival, cultural institution, record company, radio station or magazine.  When I discovered jazz I was 12 years old.  I found the music at 88.3 on the FM dial, WBGO.  I was mesmerized and hungry to learn more.  I took Count Basie records out of the library and listened daily with great focus to the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz.  So knocked out by what I heard, I could never understand why more of my peers and community in central New Jersey were not as obsessed as I was about jazz.  At 13, I had my first radio show on my high school’s radio station. We were lucky to have one.   At 14, I took on the weekly jazz show and began my career in earnest as a jazz advocate. At 18, this led to me hosting my first professional radio show on NPR affiliate WBGO where I had started months earlier as a Board Operator earning minimum wage.  The program director Wylie Rollins gave me a chance on the air because of three things: 1) I showed up when I was supposed to. 2) I was on time 3) I had great enthusiasm for jazz.  Whereas #3 was important, do not underestimate the power of #1 and #2.  A good degree of success in life can be achieved by consistently showing up and being on time.

I also studied music business tapes and books and asked a lot of questions of my elders.  This was painful at first.  Learning about the stark realities of the music business is so drastically different than the thrill of playing the music, it can be very disillusioning.  Radio was more fun and so I focussed my attention there.  And as the legendary R & B singer Ruth Brown told me.  “Eli, get some joy out of life or life will take the joy out of you.”  Parents and Students–HAVING FUN AND BEING PRACTICAL CAN GO HAND IN HAND. I learned a lot from being engineer/producer of Jazz From the Archives, a two-hour jazz history show hosted by leading historians Dan Morgenstern, Ed Berger, Loren Schoenberg and Vincent Pelote.  This experience introduced me to the rich world of jazz pre 1945 like Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, Mary Lou Williams, Benny Carter, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong.  Very soulful stuff.  I also produced Portraits in Blue with Bob Porter for five years deepening my knowledge and love for the blues.  Artists like Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, Lowell Fulson, T Bone Walker, Bessie Smith, Ruth Brown, Koko Taylor and Johnny Copeland.  I met and interviewed many musicians during this time and gained insight into their lives as musicians and people including:  Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Marian McPartland, Ray Barreto, Ruth Brown, Art Blakey, Abbey Lincoln, Walter Bishop Jr, Abdullah Ibrahim and Barry Harris.  Barry Harris became a great teacher and later, friend to me.  At 24 years old, I got my own slot on the air hosting Sunday mornings from 6-10am.  I played piano and guitar recordings and called it Sunday Morning Harmony.  The show continues to run today.  I had great energy in those days and made good use out of it.  I would play with Walter Perkins at the Skylark in Queens Saturday night 10:30pm-3:30am, then drive to WBGO’s studios in Newark, New Jersey to sleep on the couch one hour, then go on air 6-10am, then sometimes drive to Westfield, NJ to play a brunch with my trio Solar.  Crazy days.  And a lot of learning going on.  Engaging the energy of youth by following the things that gave me joy and investing time in them helped me develop invaluable skills and contacts to become established as a professional musician.

Court of Barry Harris with Michael Weiss, Barry Harris, Eli Yamin and Lafayette Harris Jr. at Village Vanguard, NYC

Court of Barry Harris with Michael Weiss, Barry Harris, Eli Yamin and Lafayette Harris Jr. at Village Vanguard, NYC

And yes, I did formal training too.  I studied for a BA at Rutgers College, University of New Jersey with a major in music, minor in Political Science, and had the good fortune to take private lessons with Kenny Barron and Keith Copeland.  In addition, I sought out additional teachers outside of Rutgers to gain multiple perspectives and took lessons with the best teachers I could find including Fred Hersch, John Kamitsuka, Jaki Byard and Kenny Werner.  I learned invaluable lessons on the band stand at the Skylark Lounge in Queens performing with the Walter Perkins Trio and backing up local legends who would come through like C.I. Williams and Gwen Cleveland.  We played a lot of blues at the Skylark and I was happy as a clam doing what I loved and receiving great encouragement from the community.  I am eternally grateful for the support I received from so many people all along the way.  It reminds me of a passage in Duke Ellington’s Autobiography, Music is My Mistress.

“Every time I reached a point where I needed direction, I ran into a friendly advisor who told me what and which way to go to get what or where I wanted to get or go or do….Every intersection in the road of life is an opportunity to make a decision, and at some I had only to listen.”

This pathway from student to professional musician was gradual, unplanned, unpredictable, and at times nerve racking.  I would expect many musicians to report similar feelings in their own path.  I was fortunate to always find work opportunities.  For musicians, to be working, is a good goal in and of itself.  It is best if you can follow what you love to find the work.  Be open to different situations and be prepared to pay some dues.  You might find success where you least expect it like I did teaching three year olds finger plays or running tape machines in the middle of the night…

Eli Yamin teaches workshop at Junior Thespians Conference in Dallas, Texas. "Making a Soulful Sound with Nora's Ark, the jazz musical."

Eli Yamin teaches workshop at Junior Thespians Conference in Dallas, Texas. “Making a Soulful Sound with Nora’s Ark, the jazz musical.”





Eli Yamin gives online lessons from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz Academy

Eli at Keys turns towards audience by Ed Berger

photo by Ed Berger


Eli Yamin celebrates Dave Brubeck on Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz Academy

In mid-december, producer Seton Hawkins from Jazz at Lincoln Center asked me if I wanted to film some lessons on Dave Brubeck’s classic quartet–Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright and Joe Morello.  He said to think about a band who could talk about these great musicians and offer insight into Brubeck’s compositions.  Well, I knew the right drummer in Stefan Schatz because he had told me about studying with Morello some years ago plus I knew he could play the Turkish rhythm that inspired Dave in Istanbul back in ’58. Bassist Paul Beaudry was an easy pick because he is so articulate and swinging.  They there’s Sherman Irby, the lead alto player in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  I thought he would be great because of his sweet and soulful sound.  It turns out, Paul Desmond was the first jazz alto saxophonist he studied and immersed himself in when he first got into jazz from a classical background.

Next, I dove deep into Dave Brubeck’s music. Fortunately I had been practicing “Blue Rondo a la Turk” for some time.  I wrote it out for quartet and mastered the 9/8 rhythm.  Lots of repetition. My friend Dennis from Long Island has been trying to get me to play “Strange Meadlowlark” for the past 2 New Year’s Eve’s.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to write it out and play it with the band.  Hope you like it Dennis.  Paul Beaudry has great things to say about it too.  “Unsquare Dance” is so incredibly hip.  “Take Five” is a must.  And “The Duke” I found out was originally for Dave’s teacher Darius Milhaud as well as his hero and colleague Duke Ellington.  A wonderful collection of music resulted.  And, I started to feel how truly Dave Brubeck has been to me all along my journey in jazz.  Dave once wrote me “I congratulate you for your seeming unlimited patience…”  He was talking about my work with students.  But maybe it was more.  Great things come to those who wait (and keep practicing).


Eli Yamin Quartet at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC

Eli Yamin Quartet at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC

We are thrilled to report 4 sold out shows at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.  Please join us from wherever you are around the globe for the free webcast thanks to Jazz at Lincoln Center!

Webcast Eli Yamin & Friends December 18, 7:30-10:45pm EST

I am joined by an amazing cast of All-Stars, LaFrae Sci, drums, Nicki Parrot, bass, Evan Christopher, clarinet, Catherine Russell, voice.  Catherine has been knocking us out with her interpretation of “It’s the Way That You Talk” from The Jazz Drama Program musical, Holding the Torch for Liberty and she is premiering the vocal version of the song Evan and I wrote dedicated to Mahalia Jackson, “Let His Love Take Me Higher.”  It’s a wonderful to celebrate the holidays.  We hope you can tune in!!!



















Celebrating “Louie’s Dream” with New Quartet Live in New York

Eli Yamin Quartet at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC

Eli Yamin Quartet at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC, photo by Ayano Hisa

We had an amazing Louie’s Dream CD Release Celebration last week at Dizzy’s with Nicki Parrot on bass, LaFrae Sci, drums and Evan Christopher, clarinet and Eli Yamin on piano.  It was pure magic with so many old and new friends packing the house for both sets!  If you want some of the music to take home, listen and purchase Louie’s Dream here.

Truly everyone got involved with jazz royalty Mercedes Ellington (Duke’s Granddaughter) and high maestro of the mic, Phil Schaap, joining forces to get everybody snapping in the right place on Dancers in Love.  You better believe, there were no squares HERE.

All photos by Ayano Hisa








2013 Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival

New York jazz musician and teacher Eli Yamin shows his enthusiasm for playing jazz to the the Moscow High School Jazz Band at a workshop at 2013 Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho. Photo by Barry Kough Lewiston Tribune

New York jazz musician and teacher Eli Yamin shows his enthusiasm for playing jazz to the the Moscow High School Jazz Band at a workshop at 2013 Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival at University of Idaho                                                     Photo by Barry Kough, Lewiston Tribune

The newspapers wrote, “Jammin’ with Yamin,” and you know, it really was.  It’s my dream and mission for jazz education to feel like the real thing–as creative, adventurous and rapturous as performing it and that’s what’s happening at The Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival. I’m so grateful for this wonderful festival that provides the opportunity for this to happen for people of all ages.  I loved all the students I worked with from the high school jazz bands in Moscow and Asotian as well as the elementary schools I performed at in Pinehurst and Moscow.  Then there were the hundreds of students attending my workshops in Free Improvisation–what a thrill, and Jazz Culture and Swing Rhythm.  Special thanks to Theresa Meacham of Franklin Elementary for bringing over 60 3rd graders to sing the blues with us.  Your students are fearless and soulful!

And all this led up to the climax of our festival week with the blossoming partnership between The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and The Jazz Drama Program, the non profit I co-founded in 2003.  Now in its third year at the Festival, this time we received the support of the University’s Theater Department and set up shop in the campus’ Hartung theater.  This gave the students the unforgettable experience of working in a professional theater on their production of Holding the Torch for Liberty, the jazz musical about women’s suffrage by myself and Clifford Carlson.  Five schools participated in the production: Clarkston High School, Charles Francis Adams High School (British Columbia), Lincoln Middle School, Moscow High School, and University of Idaho—musicians and teaching artist/mentors.  The students sang, danced, acted and played in the pit orchestra.  Many worked on the songs 3 weeks prior to the festival but then everyone stepped up big time to stage the show in a 5-hour rehearsal the day before the performance.  Hats off to choreographer and co-director, the formidable and spirited Kyle Rustabakke as well as assistant musical director and trumpeter extraordinaire, Kyle Gemberling, vocal coach and featured singer (more and more raucous each time-and that’s a good thing), Rachael Lewis, and dance captain and Miss Liberty with a capital “L”, Brittany Isaacson.  The heavy lifting for production coordination, costumes and everything else was carried out with joy, grace and laser beam focus by Jami Riener.  Also thanks to our partner teachers Bill Legg from Clarkston and Tricia James from Pullman who also served as narrator-2 years in a row! Huge thanks to Education Coordinator Dwina Howey for setting all this in motion as well as Artistic Director John Clayton for his positive vision for the present and future of the festival and the man willing to take a chance and win with Jazz Drama, Executive Director Steve Remington.  Also thanks to Festival Board member Ellen Delevan for her steadfast and enthusiastic support.

With such a whirlwind production schedule,  it was amazing to see how this team of students and pros joined forces to tell the story of the fight for women’s suffrage in the language of jazz.  Jazz and theatre show us the way to work together toward a common goal and find and celebrate our shared humanity.  May this work continue to thrive in communities throughout the Northwest and the rest of the world.

Enjoy the photos from our friend Skyler Patterson….and  highlights from participant surveys…

What was your favorite part of participating in Holding the Torch for Liberty?

“The feeling of being a professional.”

“Working with college students.”

“I loved working with a different kind of music than I’m used to (jazz) and working in a professional setting.  It helped me and I learned a lot.”

“Coming together with several other people from all over.  And the jazz music was really great too!”

Watching the students progress and bond.”–Teacher

“I really liked how professional it was.  Since we didn’t have so many rehearsals, we had to take it upon ourselves to get stuff learned.”

“Incorporating the message while playing, communicating and working together as a team.” –Musician

“Seeing the growth from last year.”–Musician

“Getting to listen to other older voices and being able to work with them.”

“I liked how supportive people were when people made mistakes.”

“Being able to pull together as one group.”

“Meeting and working with new people to make jazz.”

“Efficiency, great music, unity, focus, enthusiasm (from every single person!)

What was different about working on this jazz show compared to other music or theatre shows you have worked on in the past?

“We weren’t babied with everyday rehearsals for weeks and we weren’t given a ‘cookbook’ musical.”

“It’s the only musical that combines jazz with a positive message about American Culture.”—Musician

“The music is jazz and the musicians are an important part of the show.  I just loved the music so much and the awesome improvisation every time…! It was also a great jazz concert.”

“There’s a lot more free movement and attitudes with jazz.”

“The feeling, the soul, the energy.”

“The emotion in the music and the freedom to add things.”

“The art of it and the way it was put together.”

“My favorite part was learning the Wildcat Strut.”

“The improv. of the band added so much emotion.”

“[Jazz] helped us get into character because it gave us feelings to portray.”

“The instrumental music is shared with the vocal music, not just support.  It was fun and helped the actors emote.”

“How everyone put in 100%, and not depending completely on the teacher but on helping one another when help was needed.

Describe one thing you learned:

“Don’t be afraid to be yourself or ask questions.”

“I learned that jazz is isn’t all thinking on the spot.  It is full of feeling that supports you.”

“Things can be learned fast and efficient if you have focus.”

“I learned to work cohesively with total strangers.  It was really FUN!”

“How quick we can learn with no interruptions.”

“I learned more about women’s suffrage.”

“I learned how to swing.”

“I learned that jazz can teach more about life than music [by] itself.”

“Reignited my passion for jazz in general. I learned that playing jazz is not about playing perfectly all the time, but being in a fun conversation with others of similar interest.”—Musician

“Creating communities can be that easy if you put in the effort.”–Teacher

“I learned how to teach kids in a positive way that doesn’t require yelling or negativity!  I also learned to try new things each time I’m on stage.” –mentor

“I learned good vocal things to make my voice better.”