Rhythm Road Central Asian Tour 2011

My jazz quartet, Paul Beaudry & Pathways, recently completed a Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad tour to Central Asia. In October 2011 we performed and gave educational workshops in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh and India. I’ll be updating my blog soon and finally moving my all my blog posts to this site!


Rhythm Road South and Central Asia Tour 2011 – Kazakhstan: Part 2

Pathways on "Astana Road"

Our first rest day of the tour. We’ve heard that there’s an indoor beach with a waterslide at a shopping mall in Astana, Khan Shatyr, the biggest mall in Central Asia. I recall doing a Middle East Rhythm Road tour with Alvin Atkinson and The Sound Merchants in 2007 where we visited Dubai and saw the ski slope, Ski Dubai, in the Mall of the Emirates. I can’t miss the opportunity to see a beach in a mall, that will be a first. We start our journey by walking along the central strip in Astana that

Pyramid of Peace, aka "The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation"

starts with the Pyramid of Peace (also known as the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation) and continues through the capital building, the Bayterek Tower, and the Khan Shatyr mall on the other end. The whole strip is 3 miles long. We’ll only walk half then take a cab later to the Pyramid. The buildings along the way are incredible, almost everything in Astana is new as the capital was moved here from Almaty in 2005. Since then the government has been building Astana quite a bit and in 10 years many of the building and architecture projects will be finished. If Astana looks this way now I can only imagine what it will be like when it’s finished. As a country Kazakhstan is only 20 years old having declared their independence from the USSR in 1991. Everything is so modern-looking now in Astana it’s amazing that this is a post-Soviet territory.

Beach at the mall, Khan Shatyr

The mall is overwhelming and incredible. We grab a bite and some coffee and head for the ‘beach’. Unbelievable. The beach and waterside are six tall stories from the ground and this definitely looks like a futuristic movie. Well done. We exit to catch a cab to the Pyramid of Peace which is another landmark of the city. Unfortunately the Pyramid is closed on Sundays but there’s still plenty of pictures to take outside and on the way back the hotel passing the capital and the Bayterek Tower along the way. Back to work gentlemen – 4 more days in Kazakhstan before we leave for Kyrgyzstan.

At 9am we head out to do a workshop for music students at an international school. We’ve brought much of our own equipment so this time we’re in a large classroom where Bennett can play keyboard and Tony can sing through a small amp I have with me. We play a song up front and start talking about jazz and the different instruments. We get the students involved in some small group and large group improvisation exercises and have everyone clapping and singing. We answer questions afterward and play another song. I’m glad after the workshop the students have a much better understanding of what we’re doing than they did when we first started. After the closing applause, several pictures and autographs we’re ready for some lunch. We’re joined by Jeff Sexton along with Maren and Zhanar for a great discussion about music over our meal. We cover Jazz and Classical music’s standing in America and how that relates to audiences worldwide. We talk about some of America’s pop greats like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, and others yet how much the younger generation tends to gravitate toward music that’s visually-based. I’m concerned about the future of music as it’s become much more about sight than sound. We’re well aware of the artist’s responsibility to captivate the interest of the audience yet leave something of artistic value to uplift the spirit and leave behind a legacy for the next generation to aspire to not just in terms of popularity but in terms of art. After a great conversation that we pledge to continue it’s time to go back to the hotel and pack up for another plane flight. That early evening we fly to Pavlodar for another American Corner event and concert again accompanied by Maren and Zhanar.

Enjoying some Russian eats with Maren

We arrive in Pavlodar, check in to the hotel and eat at a Russian restaurant to get some more tastes of the local food and specialities. Pavlodar is another major city in Kazakhstan and we can get a sense that like Aktobe it has a more established and continuous history than Astana. Astana has been largely rebuilt since the government decided to move the capitol there from Almaty so much of Astana is new. Here we can see Soviet architecture and a mixture of the Kazakh nomadic tradition, Russian tradition and a more modern influence since their independence all mixed together.

The next morning we do another American Corner event meeting new people, answering more questions, and again talking about what we do and playing some music which at times engages the audience. There is another press conference afterward with a few newspapers. I notice that with every question and answer session sometimes by answering it helps me clarify what I’m doing and what we’re doing as a band. I’ve always been into the concept of making music that has a high degree of authenticity and originality. I come to realize that my career has followed that direction all along. From insisting on learning classical and jazz music, playing in the Black Church, playing blues, funk, R & B, studying with some great Latin jazz players, and amassing a huge library of music at home. I explain that in the Pathways band I try not to distinguish between the different musical styles all styles are equally valid forms to improvise on but we are using the jazz philosophy as we approach every song. Jazz philosophy meaning we are improvising on the melody or the song, the harmony and sometimes also the form. As we are playing each song the band is actively listening to each other. We’re in conversation with each other and with the audience as we feed off the audience’s reaction as well. Stylistically we may stay in the blues, a certain Latin style or funk but the jazz element is the spontaneous composition that takes place as we perform the piece. I also like being inspired by folk music and other great songs. I love the jazz standards but I see that as only one source of songs and there’s a whole world of music out there. Pathways has continued to learn a new song in every country that we’ve visited and added that to the band’s repertoire. Much of the band’s repertoire at this point is folk or pop songs from different countries throughout the world. Trying to keep the original rhythmic feels authentic to the home country and styles the songs are from I realize Pathways is moving into a direction of world music using a jazz concept. We perform our arrangement of the Kazakh folk song ‘Kamazhai’ again for the American Corner audience to illustrate our message of keeping the music authentic and yet adding an additional level of creativity to it. People at event really like what we play but are particularly interested in our arrangement of ‘Kamazhai’.

Performing in Pavlodar

We have lunch, a soundcheck, and get ready for our first full-length concert of the tour. Our show in Aktobe was only 30 minutes to kick off the International Aktobe Jazz Festival and while that was fun we do appreciate having a full 90-minute show ahead of us. Our performance in Pavlodar is electric. Something happens musically that really brings this band together on this show and we play better than we ever have before. I’m sure the audience may have something to do with it as there are over 800 people in attendance. This is our first overseas full concert since October 2010 in Honduras and our first live showcase of some of the music we recorded for the ‘Americas’ CD in May. Whatever it is we feel great and the audience goes nuts. Again ‘Kamazhai’ is a big hit along with ‘Maria’ that we learned in Suriname and ‘Nicaragua Nicaraguita’ that we learned in Nicaragua. We feel like rock stars from our audience’s reception after the show. It’s great to play jazz and get that kind of feedback. It inspires me that musically the band is on the right path.

Bayterek Tower at night

7:30am lobby call the next day to fly back to Astana. We have another big show tonight this time in Astana at Shabyt, the National Academy of the Arts. I have a few press interviews in the afternoon before the band heads out to soundcheck. There is a nuclear proliferation conference in Astana going on at the moment and there are diplomats from all over the world in attendance. Kazakhstan has been a leader in nuclear proliferation and this is an international conference to discuss future plans. Our concert turns out to be not only for the general public but also for the international delegates of the conference. We are honored to be playing a part of such an important event. The concert (video clip of “Caravan”) is well-attended by over 500 people with standing and sitting room only as the hall is packed. I’m happy that our energy from Pavlodar carried over and continued in another great show featuring our interpretation music from all over the world. People feel like they are being treated to a smorgasbord of great sound. I guess growing up in diverse San Francisco I like it that way. Again much applause, photographs, conversation and autographs afterward. I’m especially touched by those we meet who work to foster a sense of cultural understanding and diversity and to those aspiring musicians that we’ll be working with the next day during our workshop during our master class. It’s been a great night.

In front of Shabyt

Our last day in Kazakhstan and we’re back at the National Academy of the Arts (Shabyt) this time to teach the students. Many of the students saw our performance the night before but not everyone. We play some music up front and this time we can get more in depth about music then many of our other workshops because today we have college students and aspiring professionals. We get the opportunity here to teach and invite students to play with us and give them some constructive criticism. The students here are talented and eager to play as well as eager to learn. Improving in a skill involves not just practice and developing new habits but unlearning certain habits as well. A real transformation can take place when a student unlearns an old habit and replaces it with a new, more constructive one. It’s always a joy to witness that transformation take place during the course of one master class. We leave them with as much encouragement and advice as possible and the students and teachers are very thankful. Hopefully this is a place we can return to as there is much learning that took place during this 90 minute short period of time. We have a photo session and conversation afterward with autographs and hope to come back in the future.

This has been a nice end to our Kazakhstan part of the tour. We will miss Maren and Zhanar who have been with us since we arrived in Kazakhstan. We do get a chance to be in Almaty but only the airport as a two-hour layover before taking another plane to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where another set of experiences await us. We will have fond memories of Kazakhstan in terms of the people, the culture, our interaction and the concerts we played there. It feels like we’re starting this tour on a real high note. Our next move is to learn some music from Kyrgyzstan. We have a big concert the first day of our arrival and we will play an arrangement of a Kyrgyz folk song on that show. In the meantime we’re going to enjoy our two hours in Almaty as our last stop in Kazakhstan by having some traditional Kazakh food at the airport. It’s surprisingly good. Now for our next flight.


Rhythm Road South and Central Asia Tour 2011 – Kazakhstan: Part 1

Paul Beaudry & Pathways performance in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan Oct. 11, 2011

Round #2 for Paul Beaudry and Pathways to head out on a Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad international tour! We’re so happy to be going to South and Central Asia and this time very prepared in terms of what to bring. Our tour this time brings us to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh and India. One of the first things I notice in the planning stages is the mixture of languages we’ll be dealing with. Last year was easy – Spanish and English. This year it looks like it will be Russian, English, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Bangali, and maybe Hindi. Doing some advance research all of the countries in this region share a common history in being connected by the Silk Road, the ancient trading routes that connected China and India to Europe. The Romans in particular were very fond of the gold, fine silk products and spices of India, the silk having originally come from China. After the fall of the Roman Empire the trade route continued until the 15th century. Throughout that period those who controlled portions of the Silk Road became very wealthy so the South and Central Asian region has a history of common kings, dynasties and rulers.

It was finding an alternative to the Silk Road that prompted Columbus to sail west of Europe in search for India. Well we all know how that story went, some still call Native Americans “Indians” to this day but this goes to show the length a king would go to control a piece of the Silk Road or in Spain’s case to find another sea trade route altogether to bring the riches of China and India to Europe.

I’m planning our repertoire to be a mixture of the first Paul Beaudry & Pathways CD, the new “Americas” CD (our arrangements of Caribbean, South and Central American tunes we learned on our last tour plus a few more from the region), some new songs we haven’t played yet and whatever new music we find along the way. We still plan to learn at least one new song in each country. So 4 countries, 12 cities (plus a 2-day layover in Istanbul, Turkey) and 16 airline flights in 30 days – here we go.

Map of Kazakhstan

We arrive in Astana the capitol of Kazakhstan close to midnight completely beat. We left JFK the night before at 9:45pm, had an 8-hour flight to Frankfurt for a 2-hour layover then a 5-1/2 hour flight to Astana. We’re now 10 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and our body clocks are completely turned around. But Astana is beautiful. I’m floored, I had no idea this city was so amazing. Not much time to relax we’re extremely tired and we have a 6am lobby pickup to fly on another small plane for a two hour flight to Aktobe. Early next morning we’re met by our Embassy guides that will be with us for the rest of our travels in Kazakhstan – Maren Payne-Holmes from Minnesota and Zhanar Kul-Mukhammed from Kazakhstan. And we’re off for another flight.

Upon arrival in Aktobe we check into a hotel for a bit then head straight to a well-needed lunch, our first real food in two days. We find that there are local delicacies that are Kazakh and some that are Russian from Soviet times. Fermented mare’s milk and horse meat seem to be the top Kazakh favorites but for now a Turkish menu will do.

with American Corner hosts (plus Tony saying "hi")

In our tour plans I’m noticing several events for American Corner. American Corner turns out to be a group which hosts events at libraries and other public spaces to showcase information about American culture. The attendees are normally college and high school students, teachers, researches, or any one else in the general public that’s curious about America. Our first American Corner event is a comfortable sit down setting at a library. There are press cameras taking pictures and video as we come in and prepare for our information session/performance. Some attendees are also a part of an ‘English Club’, some are jazz fans, and some have never heard jazz before but all are curious about jazz and American culture. We talk a bit about us, about jazz, about New York, play a few short songs and talk about improvisation and music. Along the way we get people to clap and sing along so they can participate in what’s we’re doing and experience what we’re talking about. It’s a very successful event and we’re presented with a beautiful picture coffee table book about Kazakhstan and a trophy. Afterwards there’s a short press conference with a few newspapers and local TV stations.

Traditional Kazakh ensemble

Our first masterclass is at the Philharmonic. The audience is largely music students, teachers, and local professional musicians with some general audience in attendance. Along with teaching jazz, getting some audience participation and talking about how to become a highly trained musician we challenge the audience that we would like to learn from them. A local piano teacher jumps on stage and teaches us a Kazakh folk song ‘Kamazhai’ on the spot. After hearing it a few times we try a version of it. We promise the audience that we’ll have an arrangement of it for our performance at the International Aktobe Jazz Festival the next day. Everybody is happy with lots of pictures and autographs afterward. We find out that a traditional Kazakh ensemble will be playing at the Philharmonic that evening and we decide we need to see some of that show before dinner. That night we see 30 minutes of the show then have dinner at a traditional Kazakh restaurant with some local Peace Corps volunteers stationed in the area. I’m really curious and this is my real opportunity to eat local food so I try fermented mare’s milk and horse meat. Not bad. Back to the hotel for our first full nights’ sleep since we left New York.

Next day we have a soundcheck at the Philharmonic around noon time for our first performance of the tour. I’m glad to be a part of the International Aktobe Jazz Festival here. We get the sound set and keep working on our ‘Kamazhai’ arrangement. We find that there will be other Kazakh instrumental and vocal groups there playing “Kazakh jazz” music and one of Tim Armacost’s old friends from Holland, pianist Mike Del Ferro, is headlining the whole festival. That night we play a 4-song set including “Kamazhai” (see video). The audience goes crazy. We end with “Maria” the song from Suriname that will be on the “Americas” CD coming out soon. 450 wildly applauding fans at the end of the show and we’re feeling good. We stay a bit for a Kazakh a cappella vocal jazz group then head for a Soviet-style dinner at an old Russian restaurant.

Soviet-style pool table

Wow! This Soviet-themed establishment really kept the vibe with relics from the early 1900s and very old maps, typewriters, computers, a large Soviet-style pool table (larger than American and all the play balls are white and the cue ball is red), posters and portraits of Soviet leaders. I feel like I’m in a different world. The food is fabulous as I had a Borsch soup (beef and vegetables) as a starter then lamb and vegetables cooked and served in a small iron pot. After dinner and plenty of pictures there we head back to hear the end of Mike Del Ferro’s set and gather the rest of our equipment. Successful day, we’re still jet lagged but ready to do another workshop in the morning before flying back to Astana.

Workshop at orphanage in Tamdy

I didn’t know how special this day was going to be. We’re doing a jazz workshop for an orphanage in the village of Tamdy about an hour drive outside of Aktobe. We arrive and again I feel like I’m in a different world. Rural area mostly agricultural where Kazakh and Russian is the primary language. Many of the houses are very simple with clothes lines, animals outside and most houses have an old, giant satellite dish. We arrive at the rural orphanage and it’s apparent the principal and teachers here are totally dedicated to their calling of educating and being mentors to the children here. We’re told there’s a few students who want to perform for us. We sit down to hear them first. I’m moved. Their peers are cheering them on as they sing and perform their music mostly Kazakh pop music that’s on the radio right now. We applaud them. There are about 60 children here ages 8-14. We want to teach them about jazz, inspire them to study hard and be curious about the world around them. Our arrangement of “Kamazhai” comes in real handy as we use that and variations on “Happy Birthday” to show improvisation on a set song and form. We do some group improvisation exercises and play another song. Afterward we have a round of pictures and autographs and everyone is happy. We leave Tamdy and head to pick up our things at the hotel before going to the airport in Aktobe for a flight back to Astana. After arriving just before midnight we’re ready for our first rest day the following morning. Astana is a beautiful city. We already have an idea what we’d like to visit as it’s our only day off in Kazakhstan.