Tag Archives: Bob Belden

Interview with US Jazz saxophonist Bob Belden (first American musician to perform in Iran after 35 years)

Before the New York-based multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Bob Belden brought his band ANIMATION to Tehran, Iran, last month, it had been more than 35 years since American musicians had performed in the Middle Eastern country. Belden and his group performed to a sold-out, ecstatic audience of appreciative fans at Tehran’s Vahdat Auditorium and also got the chance to see parts of the country and meet with local residents.

Here parts of the Interview with the bands lead Bob Belden:

Did you have any resistance or other challenges from either American or Iranian officials?
BB: We never met nor saw any American officials and the Iranians officials we met and worked with were fantastic; a beautiful sense of humor, visionary, erudite and very open about our music. No challenges at any point during our stay in Iran. None! Smooth sailing from day one till we left on day nine, excepting some logistical issues beyond our control (huge traffic jams and the lingering effects of jet lag). Actually the only real challenge we had was eating all of the food that was laid out before us for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The city of Isfahan gave us credit to purchase gifts to take back home.

Where did you perform and what was the venue and the audience like?
BB: We had three gigs, only one with ANIMATION. The first “gig” was at a private school in Isfahan where young kids (ages 6-14) learn classical Iranian music. We listened to them perform and then jammed with them at the end of the informal concert. The second gig was only myself and Pete Clagett on trumpet and we performed at the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran during the World Greco-Roman Championships. What was significant about that gig was the group we played with: eight Iranian musicians including three women in the group. We performed the traditional Iranian national anthem (“Ey Iran”) but what made this moment special was the inclusion of women at a sporting event in a Muslim country. Never happened before. Our final gig, the gig that was our purpose for being in Iran, was held at the old Tehran Opera House now named Vahdat Hall. A classical opera house by German design, the acoustics and the sound system were perfect. The stage crew was first-rate all the way. Great gear and a fantastic Iranian-American engineer Hamidreza Maleki recorded the event.

Were the Iranian people welcoming to American musicians?
BB: Incredibly welcoming. Everywhere we went the people we met we very happy to see us and then astounded that we were musicians and then euphoric that we played jazz. The word jazz means a lot to people outside the U.S. And we did come in contact with a lot of Iranians from all walks of life. We hung out at a Starbucks in Isfahan and met a lot of younger Iranians and we ended up posing for a lot of photos with those at the cafe. The Starbucks is not official but a personal note to Starbucks in the U.S.: huge market in Iran for your coffee and brand! (I don’t drink coffee but the cafe also had tea!).

There’s a photo of the audience giving the band a standing ovation. What did the people you spoke to there say about the music?
BB: The applause spoke for everyone at the concert. We got a lot of hits on Facebook from Iran and even people from the audience posting photos and sending pictures to the guys in the band. We did not go there to find exacting understanding of what we played (this does not exist in the U.S. either) but to find a common need for expression. Everyone in the audience at the hall just enjoyed the music outright and, most important, the Ministers of Culture and Guidance were in the front row applauding not only our concert but their effort to bring us there. We all made the gig!!

What was your perception of the Iranian people’s understanding of and appreciation for jazz?
BB: There has been a gap of information as to the specific development and nature of jazz in the U.S. since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Mostly the Iranians have been exposed to Europeans as the travel restrictions were not as difficult for musicians from Europe. That is why in Europe what we did is not deemed so important. I can’t speak for an entire country’s understanding of any music so I have no real idea of their appreciation of what anyone in the U.S. calls “jazz.” But it did not matter as the music culture in Iran is very deep and is thousands of years old. So they could relate to us based on pure musicianship, beyond the contextually limited language of jazz.

Did you get a chance to interact with Iranian musicians, and if so, what did they tell you?
BB: We interacted with some kids in Isfahan and also some classical musicians in Tehran. As this was an expeditionary trip we could not meet with musicians en masse. We did play with Iranian musicians at the Azadi Sports Complex. We did meet some Iranian musicians backstage at our concerts with the promise of returning to work with and record with Iranian musicians.

What would you like Americans, many of whom have been taught that Iran is not a U.S.-friendly nation, to know about the country and its people now that you’ve seen it first-hand?
BB: Perception is easy to create. Misperception is hard to break. In the U.S., for the most part since the Iranian Revolution, Iran has been subjected to a political and cultural analysis that is always shone in a negative light. It was as if thousands of years of history were negated to a footnote and the only history we intend to maintain in the U.S. is from 1979 onwards. This myopic view is not based on logic but composed of a systemic ignorance of global culture that is enabled by a weak education system in the U.S. and intense partisan calibrations meant to maintain a dark cloak of intrigue about Iran by people or entities that have agendas not expressed in their public statements. But a country is also made up of people, actual human beings, and this is what is most important for American citizens to understand. At the human level Iranians are the same as Americans. They eat food, they drink water, they have children and send them to schools. The parents fret over their kids just as parents here. People work for a living, they go to the movies, watch TV, ride the subways or buses to get to and from work. Young women scream at rock concerts for their favorite band. The traffic is similar to Los Angeles. English is spoken openly and quite well. Street signs are in Farsi and English. Magazines are in English and there are English newspapers. They have their own Burger Kings (called King Burger!), KFCs and pizza joints mixed with traditional Iranian food. And we ate at a truck stop that was emblazoned with the words FAST FOOD. For jazz musicians the words Truck Stop and Fast Food make you homesick!!

We could not sum up an entire country’s psyche in a week’s experience inside the country. Iran is a glorious and complicated country that lives in many different worlds at the same time, from the ancient to the modern. The people we met and worked with are beautiful people by any cultural definition. Sincere charm, subtle elegance and a very cosmopolitan demeanor were common in many of the people we met. Iran possesses a graceful and pastoral understanding of Islam. What we understood from being in an Islamic country is that if you use common sense and display an open respect for others then there is no problem at all reconciling the two views.

Source: Jazz Times | Bringing cultures together in peace

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Video: Impressions of US musician Bob Belden on Iran

The audience members in Tehran’s Vahdat concert hall rose from their seats, clapping wildly as the frontman Bob Belden, a fun-loving New Yorker with a predilection for loud shirts, rested his soprano saxophone on a nearby stand.

“We love you Bob!” someone shouted in English from the balcony after Mr. Belden, 58, finished his third song of the night. A Grammy Award-winning producer, composer and jazz performer, he smiled broadly. “It is an utter honor to be here in Iran,” Mr. Belden said, drawing even more cheers.

The concert last Friday was the first by an American musician in Iran since the 1979 revolution.

View Bob’s impressions on Video (Playlist: 4 short videos – keep on watching):

Officials from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance sat in the front row, nodding their heads to renditions of tunes by Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Mr. Belden’s own compositions. The Iranians who filled the 1,200-seat theater clapped and cheered. They recorded video with their mobile phones of Mr. Belden and his four bandmates, who did little to suppress their own enthusiasm, waving, smiling and taking their own pictures of the audience.

The Tehran gig was the end of a short, wild tour through a country that officially considers the United States its enemy, but where people go out of their way to please guests, especially when they are American.

“This guy comes up to me, an Iranian; asks me where I’m from. I say, ‘America!’ He says, ‘I love you!’ ”

Mr. Belden said before Friday’s concert. “I tell him I’m a jazz musician. He says, ‘I love jazz!’ ”. “Everybody is nice to us here,” he added.

Source: The New York Times | Rebirth of the cool: American music makes a return to Iran

US American saxophonist and Grammy Award winner Bob Belden: “I will never forget Iran”

American saxophonist Bob Belden, who gave performances with his band Animation in Tehran, says he will never forget Iran.

Trumpeter Pete Clagett, keyboardist Roberto Verastegui, drummer Matt Young, and bassist Jair-Rohm Parker Wells are other members of ‘Animation’ who accompanied Belden in the Tehran performances.

In his short speech before the concert, he expressed his happiness to have been visiting Iran, adding that he and his companions found love and happiness in the presence of the Iranian audience. The musician also referred to their trips to the historical cities of Isfahan and Shiraz and added that they were delighted to see the cities and meet their good people.

In addition, Belden said that during their trips, they met several young Iranian musicians who were very talented. He asserted that he liked Iran and its people very much and especially enjoyed Persian kebab.

He called music the common language among all nations and said that he has found many friends through music in different countries. His speech was followed by performances of several pieces, some of which were from his Grammy nominee compositions.

Speaking of his interest in visiting Iran again, he said that he would download their performance in Tehran on internet sites to let other people watch and see where the concert was performed.

The 30th edition of Fajr International Music Festival ran from February 13 to 20 in different venues across the Iranian capital Tehran.

About Bob Belden:
James Robert Belden (born October 31, 1956) is an American saxophonist, arranger, composer, bandleader and producer. He is noted for his Grammy Award winning jazz orchestral recording titled The Black Dahlia. He is also a past head of A & R for Blue Note Records.

Sources: Payvand News of Iran, Wikipedia | Bob Belden