American artists perform at Cairo Jazz Festival amid growing jazz culture in Egypt

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ICX performing at the Cairo Jazz Festival – Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo

CAIRO – November 2, 2021: For a long time, the iconic image of Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet at the Pyramids in 1961 was “jazz” to the Egyptians. In a time of political doubt, jazz probably did not have the best reception, unlike today.


“The Embassy of the United States is supporting the Cairo Jazz Festival this year by sponsoring visiting American musicians who carry on our tradition of jazz diplomacy dating back six decades since the historic visit to Egypt of famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong.” , said Ambassador Jonathan R. Cohen.


ICX Jazz Ensemble, instrumentalists from various American universities and the American jazz fusion group AJOYO performed at the Cairo Jazz Festival. Dr. Ayman Fanous, a well-known contemporary free jazz and improvisation artist, performed with internationally renowned cellist Frances-Marie Utti.
The three groups organized master classes and workshops for Egyptian music students and jazz enthusiasts. ICX Jazz Ensemble also performed in Minya, Upper Egypt.


The members of the ICX Jazz Ensemble, who often exchange from time to time, come from different age groups and backgrounds.
One artist in the group was Maasej Kovacevic, a Croatian married to an Egyptian, he spoke a little Arabic, but it was his first time playing for an Egyptian or Arab audience.


Seeing the audience’s enthusiasm after the first song, Kovacevic thought “where are we?”


Audience cheers engulfed the team and made them perform more passionately than at many other festivals around the world, Kovacevic told a group of Egyptian journalists after ICX’s performance in Cairo.


David Richardson, one of the oldest members of ICX, said he suffered from lung disease and his doctor told him to never stop playing the trumpet. Gregory Tardy, an accomplished saxophonist who teaches at the University of Tennessee, said when he was younger he played with much older jazz artists and the younger members of the ensemble could barely keep up.


For Tardy, music is all about communication, not age, and that a musician will continue to play as long as he can put his heart into it and still be able to communicate.


John Bowers, the founder of ICX, also placed emphasis on communication. ICX stands for International Culture Exchange, and Bowers said the idea that music is a “language” doesn’t do it justice. It transcends words in a rhythm that translates emotions, something words can’t if you don’t know the language. Therefore, he listened to hours of traditional Egyptian music, including music from Upper Egypt, rather than real songs.


“Jazz is all about being constantly creative … in classical music you can’t change a note, but in jazz you can … You are not limited to any influence, I love freedom, that is. ‘is about how I feel right now, ”Bowers said.
The origin of jazz can be found in New Orleans, the only place in the United States where black slaves were allowed to practice their own culture, Tardy told Egypt Today.

Jazz originated with influences from different parts of Africa, although it is an expression of the African-American experience.

“A lot of this is really coming from black people in America trying to build their own culture… a lot of the culture we had in Africa before has been lost,” Tardy said.


The pioneer of jazz in Egypt is Yehia Khalil, who formed his own ensemble in 1979. But today, many musical genres have been well received in Egypt, and other genres have emerged. The Cairo Jazz Festival was established 13 years ago, and it has clearly gone on for so long to be successful and find its own fans in the North African country.


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