An INTERVIEW WITH GERARD EDERY

GERARD EDERY (Vocals/Guitar) has at his command a remarkable range of ethnic folk styles and traditions. He regularly uncovers and preserves songs, stories and melodies from Europe and the Middle East, and energizes these repertoires by interpreting them for contemporary audiences. One of the world’s foremost experts in the wide-ranging music of the Sephardic Diaspora, he is a recipient of the Sephardic Musical Heritage Award and a Meet the Composer grant for his original songs. A performer in great demand throughout the US, Canada and Europe, he has performed at prestigious venues and festivals throughout the world. In addition to his busy concert schedule, he has released 17 CDs on the Sefarad Records label as well as a much-acclaimed Sephardic Songbook. www.gerardedery.com

 Where did you grow up? What is your musical background?

I was born in Casablanca of Judeo-Spanish heritage on my mother’s side and Judeo-Arabic on my father’s. My family was also deeply influenced by French culture (Morocco was a French protectorate from 1911 to 1956) and by Argentinean culture, my great grandfather having immigrated to Buenos Aires in the early 1920s. So my personal history has provided the springboard for my eclectic repertoire and for collaborations with musicians from all over the world. Though I am mostly known as a Sephardic artist I sing in over 15 languages and perform in many styles: Latin American and Spanish song, Middle Eastern, Flamenco, French popular song and, of course, my Judeo-Spanish and Judeo-Arabic repertoire, among many others.

As a teenager in New York city I was also into the American folk music culture as represented by artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. After a stint in the family textile business I studied operatic performance at the Manhattan School of Music where I received my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees and then sang more than 30 roles with opera companies throughout the United States. So as you see my musical journey has been quite varied and unforeseen. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube to give you a glimpse into my diverse repertoire. I am not easy to pigeon-hole and the marketing of my work has sometimes posed a great challenge. https://www.youtube.com/user/GerardEdery

Musically, what are your biggest influences and who are your favorite musicians?

As a bass-baritone opera singer I was enamoured of Cesare Siepi, the great Italian bass, George London, a stunning and powerful bass-baritone with a huge voice, Feodor Chaliapin, the charismatic and refined Russian bass and so many others, like Ettore Bastianini, Sherill Milnes and of an earlier time, Pol Plancon the lyrical French bass. When I turned to folk, popular and traditional music my biggest influences were Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and the great Argentine singer and guitarist Atahualpa Yupanqui.

How would you describe your own style?

My style has become a fusion of so many musical traditions that I express through the lens of my own training as a vocalist and guitarist. When I interpret music from an earlier time I try to stay true to the spirit of the pieces but I also bring a contemporary flavour to make them more accessible to modern audiences. As mentioned earlier, I was exposed to so many languages and musical styles growing up that the eclectic quality of my repertoire came naturally. Here are a few quotes to illustrate this in other people’s words.

“The program was a feast of sounds and musical textures filled with unabashed passion and infectious rhythms. Gerard Edery handled diverse languages and stylistic details impeccably making captivating, dramatic music in the process. He made listeners completely forget the age of the music.” -Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee

“The combination of languages, medieval musical forms and exotic instruments has produced a feast of unusual sounds and moods” – Early Music Colorado, Denver

“…Gerard Edery, a master of Sephardic song…” -New York Times

“A music steeped in cultural heritage and rich in tonal, harmonic and lyrical qualities.”-Billboard

“Master singer, guitarist and musical folklorist Gerard Edery draws from a globetrotting range of musical styles…plaintive baritone and awe-inspiring guitar virtuosity.” The Austinist

“Gerard Edery’s influential work is unsurpassed in the Sephardic music genre…folk melodies that come from the soul and strike the heart with utter tenderness and solace. Gerard should be applauded.” -Inside World Music

 In what ways has your newest music changed from when you first started?

My music has never stopped evolving. I approach each piece, each new musical collaboration and each performance with the mind of a beginner. For me it is all about the process and finding joy in being a conduit for the music. I always feel that the best is yet to come and I am always working on my craft.

What would be your dream venue in which to perform?

I have performed in many prestigious world venues including Zankel Hall (Carnegie Hall), Lincoln Center and The United Nations in New York City; in Geneva at Victoria Hall; The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia; Royce Hall in Los Angeles; The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.; Fez International Festival of Sacred Music in Morocco and the Festival Cervantino in Mexico among many others. I would love to perform at many more World Music festivals and I consider each opportunity to do so an honour and privilege.

 Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

I listed above who some of my favourite musicians were and if I were to choose the two who most influenced me they would have to be Atahualpa Yupanqui for his amazing songs and guitar arrangements which draw upon traditional Argentinian folk music and Jacques Brel, again for his brilliant songs but also for his unbelievably passionate performances. He gave to his audiences absolutely all of himself all of the time.

 Which famous musicians have you learned from?

My best voice teacher of all was the great Armen Boyajian who taught so many Metropolitan Opera stars. My best flamenco guitar teacher was Dennis Koster. My best classical guitar teacher was Jerry Willard and in jazz, the great Joe Monk. I also learned a great deal about ancient Middle Eastern music from the legendary oud player, Munir Bashir.

 Have you been in competitions? Fleadh’s? Any prizes?

I have been honoured with the Sephardic Musical Heritage Award for my work in researching, performing and recording the music of my Sephardic ancestors. I was also awarded a Meet the Composer grant for my original songs and compositions. Song of the Turtledove, a musical theater work based on the Biblical Song of Songs was chosen by the renowned Eugene O’neill Theater for creative development and later presented at New York’s Lincoln Center Premieres Festival.

Do you perform in public? Describe those occasions? Concerts, radio, TV?

For the past 30 years I have given hundreds of performances all over the world as a solo artist and with world musicians of the highest caliber including Glen Velez, Ara Dinjian, Amir Vahab, Alberto Mizrahi, Jamie Haddad, Aruna Sairam, Hamza El Din, Munir Bashir and George Mgrdichian. Each performance has been special in its own way and it continues to be an amazing and thoroughly fulfilling journey.