Author Archive

Greek Blues: Rembetika

It’s long past time that I share some of the Greek music I’ve found so inspiring the last several years. “Rembetika” (ρεμπέτικα, also spelled “rembetika” or “rebetika“, pronounced as the latter is written), or “Greek blues”, developed among Greek Christian refugees that migrated from Anatolia (modern Turkey) to Greece as a result of  the 1923 population exchange between Greece and nascent Turkey, relocating Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims to recently founded nation-states.  Greek refugees brought with them hundreds of years of Ottoman Turkish culture, a cosmopolitan tapestry of various eastern ethnicities, musics and traditions.  The music that resulted was music of a poor urban subculture, rich nonetheless in eastern timbres and scales as well as lyrically descriptive of the impoverished lifestyle, and ultimately became a critical seed in the development of Greek popular music throughout the 20th century, very similarly to the way in which the thread of blues runs through American and Western popular music.

*     *     *

Vasillis Tsitsanis was an early and hugely successful composer of rembetika songs, both before an after World War II.  From a collection of his pre-war music comes the gem “Πικρός είναι ο πόνος μου” (“Pikrós eínai o pónos mou“, “Bitter Is My Pain“).  Like perhaps a plurality of rembetika songs, “Pikrós” is a zeïbékiko or zeybek (Turkish equivalent), a slow 9/4 dance.

The original recording from 1936 can be heard in the video below, as well as on this wonderful compilation from Rounder records. Follow along with the transcription and lyric below:

Rembetika Sheet Music - "Pikros einai o ponos mou" - Tsitsannis

The bouzouki, a long-necked plucked string instrument that Tsitsanis plays on the above recording was developed from the Turkish bağlama saz, influenced by Italian mandolin design and is today an indispensable element of Greek popular music.

In 2008, I was joined by Jordan Perlson and Brad Shepik to record an instrumental (and non-traditional) version of the tune for my Una Passeggiata (Live) record.

*     *     *

Another gem of a tune from not quite 20 years later is Το Βουνό, (pronounced “To vounó“, “The Mountain“) by Loukas Daralas. Evangelos Prekas’ lyric is brilliant and succinct in reframing what is otherwise an archetypical expression of loneliness:

Θ’ ανέβω και θα τραγουδήσω       I will climb up and I will sing,
στο πιο ψηλότερο βουνό              on the most highest mountain,
ν’ ακούγεται στην ερηµιά               I will make my pain heard in the wilderness
ο πόνος µου µε την πενιά             with the beat of the music.

Με το βουνό θα γίνω φίλος          With the mountain I’ll become friend,
και µε τα πεύκα συντροφιά           and with the pines, companions
κι όταν θα κλαίω και πονώ           When I cry and suffer pain,
θ’ αναστενάζει το βουνό               it is the mountain that will sigh.

Απάνω στο βουνό θα µείνω          On top the mountain I will remain,
κι από τον κόσµο µακριά              and far away from the world.
θα κλαίω µόνος θα πονώ              Alone will I cry, will I suffer pain,
και θα µ’ ακούει το βουνό             and the mountain will listen to me.

Numerous recordings exist, but Kaiti Grey’s below is stirring, and the presence of the kanun, alternating with the bouzouki reveals both the Ottoman influence on the music and how much it had developed during several decades in the Greek mainland.

Rembetika Sheet Music - "To vouno"

*     *     *

More on the history and music of rembetika can be seen in this excellent documentary, Music of The Outsiders

The music runs deep. If it catches your fancy, another website worth visiting is, an entirely free course of Greek lessons developed by the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation some 50 years ago.  One of the best, bar none, courses I’ve come across for any language, it has helped me to get inside rembetika and some incredible music of the last century. There is also a detailed survey of rembetika history, recordings and places to find it at Matt Barrett’s Travel Guides

Special thanks on this post to George Gouzounis, for helping translate from the Greek, and to, an incredible repository of Greek lyrics.

More free sheet music and transcriptions available here!

*     *     *

Morgan Karr/Catherine Brookman video: One Republic’s “Apologize”

As previously promised, Morgan Karr just released this brand new animated video of a track I produced featuring Catherine Brookman, a cover of One Republic‘s Apologize directed by James Daniel.

Clinton Curtis CD Release

What a day– family in town from Philly and Colorado, and tonight, following the 3rd performance of The Daughters, I’ll be racing over to Joe’s Pub to play in the album release of Clinton Curtis’ Second Avenue Ball.  Clinton’s assembled a crack 9-piece band with horns and backup vocals and the songs from the new record (which we’ll be playing in it’s entirety) sound excellent  For a preview, check out this video of the band playing “Leave It Easy”  featuring Blaire Reinhard from a few weeks ago:

Serious kudos to Matt Stine, who produced Second Avenue Ball, and to everyone who played on it– I’m a late arrival to the band but these guys had such a cohesive sound that it was easy to step in.

If you’re looking for something to do before Clinton’s CD release (and have already seen The Daughters)– go wish my buddy Morgan Karr a happy birthday, just down the road at Rockwood Music Hall where he’s playing at stage 2 at 7:30pm.

The Daughters Opens!

Last night The Daughters opened at CAP21, a project I’ve been involved with for almost 2 years now we’re starting a showcase run of this “folk-funk opera”, which features some hip music by Shaina Taub and some of the most killin vocal talent I know in the city.  We’ve summoned an excellent band and we’ll be playing for the next 3 weeks, until March 20.  It’d be an honor to see any of you there.

Tickets (including student discounts) available here and details below:

March 2 – March 20
Wed. – Sat. at 7pm & Sun. at 5pm

The Daughters is a folk-funk opera that follows the journey of the vixen starlet Aphrodite, the ruthless hunter Artemis, and the child prodigy Athena, all daughters of the original show-stopper, Zeus. Set against the vicious backdrop of the ceaseless Trojan War, The Daughters explodes the stories of three young women into an immersive, raucous, and heartbreaking rock concert, asking how a spotlighted generation can find their voice in a deafening world.

FEATURING: Shaina Taub, Aisha de Haas, Kate Ferber, Maiysha, Alyse Alan Louis, Grace McLean, Dominique Toney, Jenni Lawton and Catherine Brookman.

At CAP21:
18 W. 18th St, NYC (5th Floor)

“The Daughters” tickets on sale

You may have seen The Daughters on this blog before– including a one-night performance we did at Joe’s Pub in 2009 and some demos we released this past September.  Now, tickets are officially on sale for the March 3-week run of The Daughters at CAP21 in New York, for which I’ll be leading and arranging the band and playing bass.  There quite a lot of awesome (and new) talent involved with this show, which is for me a consistent source of creative energy.  Hopefully we’ll see you over the course of one of the 15 performances!

Here’s the official press release on

If you missed our live jam on  the inaugural episode of Clinton Curtis’ “CC Radio” Tuesday night, you can watch it here.  Clinton and wonderfully talented producer Matt Stine will be broadcasting live every 2 weeks with all sorts of musical goodness. Make sure you check out Clinton’s new single for free at his website (above)!  We’ll be playing at Joe’s Pub on March 5.

Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk have posted some great video from our show this past Monday at Le Poisson Rouge, including this one below. They also have a new record that’s been making waves on iTunes.

New track with Morgan Karr

Back in December, I got to do a great gig with 2 powerhouse singers– Carrie Manolakos and Morgan Karr.  After spending the evening showcasing and singing on each others original material, they closed with a killing rendition of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell classic “You’re All I Need To Get By” (with a little hint of Aretha thrown in for good measure).

Now, Morgan’s released to his mailing list a new track I’m proud to have done with him and red-headed siren Catherine Brookman– a creative cover of One Republic’s Apologize. You can listen below and download it for free if you join his email list and I hear there’s a cool video on the way.

In other news, Clinton Curtis is poised to release his new record 2nd Avenue Ball, produced by Matt Stine, and you can grab the first single free on his website. Below is some video from a recent show we did.

Stay tuned for March– I’ll be playing in The Daughters for 3 weeks at CAP21 with some of the most wailin’ goddesses New York has to offer!

Speaking Spanish on TV

Last weekend at the Miami Music Festival with Delexilio was an absolute blast; we played some great gigs and met some incredible bands.  Beyond enjoying the sun and city’s Latin blend, I was thrilled to be able to spout out a few words of Spanish when Telemundo’s Mariana Rodriguez interviewed us live on Acceso Total:

Later the same day, I pretended to be cool on comedian Alexis Valdes’ show Esta Noche Tu Night while I could hardly understand his Cuban accent.

In the ensuing interview, though, Delexilio frontman David Sandoval took the lead as he spoke about “Cell Phones for Cuba“, a nonprofit run by Raices de Esperanza (“Roots of Hope”) that aims to help the people of Cuba get connected.

After our show Friday night at Transit Lounge, we met with Isabel Betancourt, who wrote a great article (in English) for I promise I said “persecuted”, and not “prosecuted”.

Delexilio article on

Vos nokh? With Delexilio, I’ll be playing at NUBLU in NYC on December 9. In the meantime I’m working on finishing producing some EPs for some promising artists, playing at CD release with Abby Bernstein (on whose new record I appeared on bass) and MDing a joint show between 2 of my favorite people who happen to also sing the highest: Carrie Manolakos and Morgan Karr.

Happy t-day, y’all.

Blogueando en vivo desde Miami

¿Qué bolá aseres?

Blogging live from the set of Cuban-American comedian Alexis Valdes‘ show Esta noche tu night here in Miami, where I’m here with bilingual Cuban rock band Delexilio recording our appearance that will air tonight on nationally syndicated Spanish language channel MegaTV.

For my first time in Miami, the city is blowing up with the Latin Grammys last night and the 2nd annual Miami Music Festival. We ran into the Wayans bros this morning on the set of Telemundo’s Acceso Total with Mariana Rodriguez, and we’re rockin it Cuban-style, live tonight and tomorrow for the festival at Bardot and Transit Lounge.

This pobre gringo is enchanted with the Latin culture down here, the mescla of Spanish and English and Spanglish and the celebration of cultures simultaneously Latina and of the United States. Generations now have grown up here in south Florida and maintained their heritage, their language and identities while taking on another as children of the US- children del exilio, of the exile.

Our conguero Igor Arias put it starkly:

“Ésta es la música de la nueva generación nacida aquí.”

“This is the music of the new generation, born here [in the US]

As a judío and great-grandchild of inmigrantes, I can’t help but have a great deal of respect for the new generations and olas that make this country and city the cultural hodgepodge that it is.

Harry Potter: Snape Seeker

Wizard Rock king and queen Lily & James (née Grace McLean and Jay Stolar) have finally released their Harry-Potter-riffic debut record! As previously mentioned, I only read up to the third book so the references are almost completely lost on me, but the pair were amazing and hilarious at their CD release last Tuesday.

Below is a track I produced for the record, “Snape Seeker”, an ode to girls liking bad guys, or to Alan Rickman, or something like that.

I also wound up playing bass on several other tracks, all of which sound amazing thanks to Jay and Grace’s ability to simultaneously take the music seriously and themselves not-so-seriously.

The rest of the album is worth checking out and is available below.

“Political Wife”, the track I produced for sketch comedy group Political Subversities‘ music video, has more than 20,000 views on YouTube! The track is finally available on Bandcamp (below) and iTunes, along with the ringtone being available in the iTunes store.

Lily & James @ Bandcamp"Political Wife" @ Bandcamp

Suite Camus: L’été video

My good friend Andreas Arnold posted a video of “L’été” (“Summer”) from his Suite Camus, an instrumental piece blending sounds of Albert Camus’ pied noir experience in North Africa and his French literature, and written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Camus’ death this year (as well as his upcoming 100th birthday in 2013).

The video includes some beautiful shots of the countryside around Barcelona.