The International Writers Magazine: Music
Marianne de Nazareth
Legend has it that gypsies are born musicians. Harri Stojka with his Roma Gypsy roots along with a gypsy swing ensemble from Vienna, Austria, awed Bangalore’s music aficionado’s with his effortless musical genius.
Dressed in a purple kurta, white trousers, bright red mojiris from Jaisilmer, topped with flowing hair and a sequinned white fez, Harri is famous the world over as one of Austria’s greatest jazz musicians.
“I will play jazz for you this evening with a melodic gypsy soul,” said Harri. “ Claudius Jelinek has been my partner and we have playing for the last 30 years together. We met in a disco called Camera Club and we have played together ever since. A jazz player never ages, we only get better with age!”
Through the evening Harri played a number of wonderful old American jazz melodies which had the jam packed hall rocking to the beat. Heimo Wiederhofer on the drum, Karl Sayer on the bass Cello along with Claudius Jelinek second guitar and Harri made up the ensemble. There was no formal introduction, the performers just took the stage and opened the evening’s programme with a fabulous composition by Harri which was played at lightening speed. Ageing impresarios? No way, Harri and his ensemble could put any younger group to shame with their verve and enthusiasm through the evening.
The melancholic French song, ‘I will wait for you’ was played next. Usually sung by such greats like Connie Francis, Andy Williams and the treacle voiced Johnny Mathis, Harri threw the melody back and forth between him and Claudius and improvising in typical jazz style, showing off their brilliance on their guitars. ‘You are so beautiful to me’ which Harri called an old Jewish melody was made famous in the ‘70’s by Joe Cocker. Through this melody Karl on the bass cello and Heimo on the drum came into their own displaying their prowess on their instruments.
Their jazz rendering of Ochi Chornyje (Dark Eyes) a classic Russian folksong was played next. The song is a ballad about a young gypsy maiden whose beautiful dark eyes ensnare a young Russian cadet. Here again Harri played around with the original melody passing it back and forth between him and Claudius while Heimo and Karl ably supported them on the drum and the reverberating bass cello.
The wonder of jazz is improvisation by the artistes, so when they took on another romantic melody ‘All of me’ made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra. This is where Karl on his bass Cello came into his own, plucking the melody out on the strings of the deep booming cello.
Old jazz lovers were thrilled when Harri and group played Django Reinhardt’s Minor Swing next. His electric finger work ably again supported by Claudius as rhythm had the whole audience tap tapping to the melody which has even been made famous in India in our older Bolly-wood films. “Joy of Life’ was followed by ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ another Django Reinhardt melody with its obvious gypsy swing beat.
Then Harri performed a ballad which he had written in memory of his father, a beautiful haunting melody to a Dad who brought him his first guitar from a village fair at the age of six. Obviously Django Reinhardt is Harri’s inspiration, and the next song Sweet Sue by him had the famous gypsy swing rocking the hall, followed by Sunny which has been made famous here in India by our very own Usha Uthup.
As a grand finale which none of us are likely to forget, Harri and ensemble played a melody composed by Harri imitating the sitar sounds which he had absorbed in classes he had taken in Jaipur. The tumultuous applause that greeted the song gave Harri his answer and was a great ending to a great performance.
Harri Stojka and his ensemble was brought to the city by The Bangalore School of Music in collaboration with the Austrian Cultural Forum of the Austrian Embassy, New Delhi and the Alliance Francaise de Bangalore.
© Marianne de Nazareth May 2010
Fellow with UNFCCC & UNEP
Former Asst Editor- The Deccan Herald
Adjunct faculty St. Joseph's College.