Willy Schwarz

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Willy Schwarz’s vision has always been eclectic.

After decades spent absorbing music from around the globe, Willy has alchemically transformed his experience into songs – songs that reflect his love for the dozens of traditions he’s studied, yet maintain the unity of conception and imagination that is the prerogative of a master storyteller and a master.

As a child, Willy had learned the Italian and German folksongs his parents sung together. At seven, he began making up melodies at the piano – at first just to keep his mother happy while she did the ironing.

By his early teens, he’d taught himself to play the lute (after pestering his dad for months to buy one), then learned to play at least a dozen different instruments; Young Willy was clearly destined for a life in music

Schwarz began traveling internationally at 13. As the leader of a folk trio the ‘Young-uns’ he went on his first American tour at 14. Schwarz has hardly stopped in the four decades since then.

Though the world is full of musical nomads, few indeed have gone so far and learned so much. Willy went on to sing, play, learn and explore all over the world – traveling from Brooklyn to Bombay on an Indian freighter, moving from Kathmandu to Kabul – wherever Willy went, his restless musical mind absorbed the songs and sounds he heard, transforming them in the crucible of imagination.

In the 1980’s he toured internationally with the critically-acclaimed trio ‘Eclectricity’, whose enormous spectrum of music defined ‘World Music’ a decade before it became a recorgnized musical category.

Though this multi-instrumentalist is probably best known for his stint as keyboardist and sideman to Tom Waits, Schwarz’ resume commands other accolades such as his internationally-acclaimed musical travelogue ‘Jewish Music Around the World’.He has also created many musical compositions for theater, using his exotic and conventional instruments to score dozens of plays in Chicago, several of which have toured across America, Europe and Broadway. Willy often served as onstage musician and music director.

Throughout the 1990’s Chicago’s commercial music producers knew him as ‘the weird instrument guy’ – If you needed an Indonesian flute, a Tibetan trumpet or a Ugandan kettledrum, Willy Schwarz would not only bring them, he’d play them brilliantly, idiomatically and with consummate musicianship.

A love for the genuine led Willy to research Chicago’s immigrant musical traditions with the intent of presenting the music to listeners across the USA over National Public Radio. He took this idea further and assembled the 21-piece ‘All American Immigrant Orchestra’, which featured solo and ensemble playing and singing from Brazil, Puerto Rico, China, India, Poland Hungary, Quebec and Armenia; topping the Chicago Tribune’s list of Best Concerts of 1999. After the success of the Chicago project, he followed suit in Europe, organizing an analogous ensemble known as the ‘Bremen Immigranten Orchester’, whose premiere performance was received with equal enthusiasm as it’s Chicago predecessor.

Throughout all his travels, Schwarz kept adding to an ever-growing file of original songs. Well over a decade of creating music for other people’s visions, he decided it was time for his own unique conception of ‘multi-ethnic singer-songwriting’. Travelling to the Indian city of Pune, Willy laid down the basic tracks of his first solo album with the help of over twenty Indian instrumentalists. ‘Live for the Moment’ was finished in Chicago with contributions from artists like Paul Wertico and Howard Levy. It won highest critical praise after its release in 1999. His follow-up CD, a song cycle titled ‘HOME; Songs of Immigrants, Refugees and Exiles’ was released in 2001.

Most recently, Willy Schwarz has composed the music for Mary Zimmerman’s Tony-Award winning Broadway hit, ‘Metamorphoses’, for which he won the 2002 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play. The soundscore for ‘Metamorphoses’ and other theatre music of Willy Schwarz was released by Knitting Factory Records.

Willy has toured and collaborated with such diverse artists as Tom Waits, Theodore Bikel, Ravi Shankar, Alan Ginsberg, David Amram, Shlomo Carlebach and Leon Russell.

Willy was awarded the Villa Ichon Peace and Culture Prize 2011 for his work in bringing together music and musicians from many cultures. This prestigious award has in previous years been received by such illustrious personalities as philosopher Ivan Illich and rock giant Udo Lindenberg.

Album: Jewish Music around the World – Jewish People, scattered across continents for 2000 years, developed as many different musical styles as the lands in which they settled, yet remain united through the texts of the Bible and the yearly festival cycle . Willy takes the listener on a journey through time and space, singing in 9 different languages, playing 24 authentic instruments, and retracing the musical sources of the Jewish Diaspora. From the archaic strains of an Ethiopian fiddle to a merry Irish ditty, from the mystics of Yemen to the shepherd’s pipe of the Asian steppes, from the yearnings of the Jews of the Malabar coast of South India to those of the Hassidim of Eastern Europe; Rarely has one artist painted so deep a portrait with so broad a palette.

2. Moses
4. Rang

In recent years, Klezmer music has experienced a worldwide revival among both Jews and non-Jews, giving listeners a glimpse of the past as well as pathways to the future. Willy Schwarz’s ‘Jewish Music Around the World’ fills out the spectrum of the rainbow, of which Klezmer is but one hue. Over years of ethnomusicological research, he has assembled a stunningly eclectic bouquet of musical flowers, each revealing the historical and sociological roots of the Jewish experience , scattered among many diverse cultures. Yet each of the 14 songs is sung and played with deep feeling as well as Willy’s ingenious command of 24 traditional instruments. There is humor, irony, and wit here as well as pathos, yearning and piety.

Veteran actor and singer Theodore Bikel, himself one of Willy’s heroes , says about Jewish Music Around the World; “I think this is amazing work. There is scholarship, erudition, musical and lyrical dexterity, and such a variety of colors that makes this CD a jewel of a collector’s item for anyone who has any interest in Jewish music”.

This wonderful and unusual recording features selections from Jewish communities throughout the world. Willy Schwarz, not only sings, but play 24 instruments on renditions of Jewish songs from Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Ethiopia, Yemen, Italy, Germany, Greece and more. One of the most unusual songs in this collection, “Moses Ray-Too-Ra-Lay-Ay“, from Ireland–and sung in English–tells the story of a Bobby who, arrests a peddler when mistakes his Yiddish sign for Gaelic,which was illegal at one time. Fortunately for the peddler, the judge turns out to be (Jewish) a “friend of Lord Briscoe“,  Robert Briscoe, the Jewish mayor of  Dublin in the mid 1950’s.

Album: “Jewish Music around the World” by Willy Schwarz

Buy album: iTunes $11.99 | Amazon $8.99
Genres: Folk,  Jewish, Yiddish Music, World, Klezmer,  New Acoustic
Released:  January 23, 2004 ℗ 2004 Produced by Peter Schulze



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