Oran Etkin’s Open Arms

Today is May 20, 2020, more than two months since we New Yorkers began to stay at home. It’s been a long pause.

Now clarinetist Oran Etkin is helping ease the travel ban with his Open Arms Project, two years and a half dozen trips in the making. Oran is a jazz player who loves traditional music, and his creative strategy is to tour first, then release something new. So he chooses a musical setting, embeds himself in a community, listens and observes, collaborates and documents, and finally comes home to produce a record of what he’s done and plan his next adventure.

It helps that Oran is a gifted listener (when not traveling, he teaches music to children between two and four years of age, using his original storytelling methods in which instruments do the talking). He’s active on multiple social media platforms, and he’s committed to capturing his unique partnerships on video.

The first Open Arms video came out in April. It is “Retirantes,” recorded in Rio de Janeiro in the winter of 2019. The composer is Dorival Caymmi (1914-2008), a founder of Brazilian popular music and the father of Danilo Caymmi. Setting up the Open Arms “Retirantes,” guitarist Davi Mello plays rhythm and Danilo enters on two simultaneous wooden flutes. Oran joins with a high cry on clarinet. Danilo sings the lyric about a hard life (the title means migrants) as “Retirantes” chugs like a distant train and leaves a long instrumental trail for Oran to vamp and swoop over. I think of Hugh Masekela’s “Stimela” about conscripted workers on a coal train. 

Brazilian music expert Judith King listened and commented that Danilo is “the youngest of that famous musical family, and the Caymmi fingerprint is indelibly etched into his voice,” a lovely low voice. 

The next song in the Open Arms Project, coming May 22, is Dorival Caymmi’s gentle “É Doce Morrer No Mar”/“It’s Sweet to Die in the Sea,” featuring the same trio. Watch it here and stream it here. And next on the itinerary, Oran will take us to Zimbabwe, the Czech Republic, Paris and beyond. One song at a time.

Click on COMMENT at the top of this post to read Oran’s answers to three questions — What have you heard from Brazil about life in the season of the virus? Can you characterize your Open Arms locations with a word or phrase for each? As you can’t tour, what is your new model for making music? Thanks to Oran for the vision, the energy and the music.

One thought on “Oran Etkin’s Open Arms”

  1. Hey Becca! Thanks for your questions. Here are some thoughts:

    1. The news from Brazil regarding Corona Virus is not great. Brazil has alway suffered from great income inequality and I think that difference in access to resources now translates directly into a big difference in one’s chance for survival. The living conditions in the poorer neighborhoods and the difference between public hospitals which are now overwhelmed with patients and the private hospitals is very stark. Some municipalities seem to be actually reacting very smartly and proactively to the pandemic, but on a national level, there seems to be a lot of denial about the gravity of the pandemic, which is very sad to see.

    2. Absolutely – here are the places where we recorded Open Arms Project and some words that come to mind:

    Rio de Janeiro: Spontaneity; Ocean; Feeling Life
    Harare Zimbabwe: Spirituality; Ancestors; Depth; Soulfulness
    Prague: Reconnecting with some of my family roots & discovering connections between Jewish & Roma (Gypsy) culture
    Paris: Flavors, tastefulness, experimentation
    São Paulo: Groove, samba, beauty

    3. It is really tough thinking about new models of making music without the presence of live music. I have been doing some live-stream concerts and want to do more of that, as well as collaborating remotely with different musicians. I have also been doing live classes & workshops over zoom for children with my Timbalooloo program. I collaborated with International Jazz Day on a special program where I was joined on zoom by 20 kids from all over the world and then that was broadcast on the Facebook pages of International Jazz Day, Newport Festivals, San Jose Jazz Fest and several others. I also have been collaborating with Mladi Ladi jazz fest to create educational content for their online community. I do think this is a very unique time to experiment and develop new ways of reaching and engaging with audiences all over the world and I want to continue finding new ways to do that. I also can’t wait until I can be in the same room with other musicians and react in the split-second spontaneous way that live music enables… but I’m sure that will come back soon and we must keep creating in new ways until then.

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