A Jazz Take on Classic Arab Song: Tarek Yamani Trio

Take a jazz journey to the Arab world of the 1950s with Lebanese pianist Tarek Yamani and his original arrangements of music from the classic era of Arab songs. The Beirut-born Yamani is joined by bassist Petros Klampanis and drummer Evan Sherman. Yamani breathes invigorating new life into songs made wildly popular by such singers as Uum Kulthum and composers Sayyid Darwīsh and Mohammad al-Maslūb and their orchestras. Winner of the Thelonius Monk Competition in 2010, Yamani created the annual music initiative Beirut Speaks Jazz in 2013 and has performed at the United Nations and in clubs across New York City.

This concert was originally performed at the Meyer Auditorium on December 6, 2014.


A Jazz Take on Classic Arab Song: Tarek Yamani Trio

Tarek Yamani, piano
Petros Klampanis, bass
Evan Sherman, drums

All arrangements by Tarek Yamani

This concert was presented in conjunction with Unearthing Arabia: The Archaeological Adventures of Wendell Phillips, on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from October 11, 2014, through June 7, 2015.

Title Time
Ah Ya Zein
Afro-dabke style/folk
Lamma Bada Yatathanna
Mohammad al-Maslūb (d. 1928)
Lush Life
Billy Strayhorn (1915‒1967)
Lahn Al Shayalin
Sayyid Darwīsh (1892‒1923)
Fi Hulal Al Afrah
Kāmil al-Khula‘ī (1879‒1938)
Zarani Al Mahboub
I Love You
Cole Porter (1891‒1964)
New Dabke
Tarek Yamani


This concert podcast features original adaptations of now-classic Arab songs that filled the music world of the Middle East when Wendell Phillips was engaged in his archaeological digs in South Arabia in 1950 and 1951. Lebanese pianist and arranger Tarek Yamani devoted his recording Lisan Al Tarab: Jazz Conceptions in Classical Arabic (released August 2014) to reimagining songs by some of the most popular Arab composers of the mid-twentieth century, including Darwīsh al-Harīrī, Kāmil al-Khula‘ī, Mohammad al-Maslūb, Sayyid Darwīsh, and Omar Zeenni.

Being a music lover himself—and a jazz drummer on the side—Wendell Phillips almost certainly heard radio broadcasts or LP recordings of the Arab music of his day. As early as 1904, 78-rpm recordings of Arab music were sold in the Middle East, and by the 1920s the music could also be heard on private radio stations in Egypt. The dramatic rise of Egyptian musical films in the 1930s brought many more performers and composers to public attention, some of whom became wildly popular. Outstanding among them was singer and film actress Umm Kulthum, whose career spanned four decades. Under the government’s sponsorship, Egyptian Radio went on the air in 1934 and employed singers, composers, lyricists, and instrumentalists. By the time Phillips arrived to explore southern Arabia in 1950, both live and recorded radio performances had overtaken record sales as the primary vehicle for hearing Arab music.

During his travels and excavations in remote South Arabia, Phillips and his team took numerous photographs of local musicians and dancers. Along with truckloads of excavation equipment, his caravan carried a battery-operated reel-to-reel tape recorder that they used to record Arab and Gypsy musicians. One photo from his archive shows Phillips entertaining his hosts by playing a recording of music by the American jazz trio of clarinetist Benny Goodman, drummer Gene Krupa, and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. This concert podcast is thus a natural extension of twentieth-century music, a testament to the enduring beauty of classic Arab song, and a reminder of the ever-creative life of jazz in today’s world.

― Michael Wilpers, Manager of Performing Arts, drawing on A. J. Racy, Making Music in the Arab World (2003), Virginia Danielson, The Voice of Egypt (1997), Wendell Phillips, Qataban and Sheba (1955), and “Uncovering Yemen,” Asiatica (2005).

This concert was presented in conjunction with Unearthing Arabia: The Archaeological Adventures of Wendell Phillips, on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from October 11, 2014, through June 7, 2015. Unearthing Arabia traced for the first time the archaeological expeditions of Wendell Phillips and his intrepid team. Much of their work was conducted in 1950 and 1951 at Timna, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Qataban, and at nearby Hajar bin Humeid in present-day Yemen. The exhibition also looked at excavations conducted in Marib from 1998 to 2006 and supported by the American Foundation for the Study of Man and its president, Merilyn Phillips Hodgson.


Tarek Yamani

Tarek Yamani, piano, is a New York-based composer and a self-taught jazz pianist. Born and raised in Beirut, Yamani was first exposed to jazz as a teenager. Since the release of his debut album Ashur in 2012, he has been dedicated to exploring relationships between African American jazz and the rhythms and melodic modes (maqam) of Arab music. This new direction in interpreting classical Arab music came to fruition in his album Lisan Al Tarab: Jazz Conceptions in Classical Arabic (2014). Yamani has performed his original music in solo, trio, and larger ensembles at the MuCEM museum (Marseille), the United Nations Assembly Hall (New York City), Blue Whale (Los Angeles), Detroit Institute of Arts, Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Egypt), and Ennejma Ezzahra (Tunis), among other venues.

In 2010 Yamani won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composer’s Competition for his piece Sama’i Yamani, which was released as a single featuring singer Rasha Rizk. Two years later he was among musicians from thirteen countries who were invited to perform at the inauguration of International Jazz Day at the United Nations headquarters in New York, where he appeared with Wayne Shorter, Richard Bona, Zakir Hussein, and Vinnie Colaiuta. Since arriving in New York in 2011, Yamani has played as a leader or sideman at the Lenox Lounge, Iridium, Smoke, Smalls, Cornelia Street Cafe, Bill’s Place, The Stone, Cleopatra’s Needle, and Le Poisson Rouge. Internationally, he has shared the stage with Michael Moore, Troy Roberts, Ari Hoenig, Ambrose Akinmusire, Rudy Royston, Jimmy Greene, Khaled Yassine, Bill Saxton, Drew Gress, and Chico Freeman.

In 2013 Yamani produced Beirut Speaks Jazz, a unique initiative aimed at promoting jazz in Lebanon by encouraging collaborations between artists from the worlds of rock, pop, tarab, rap, blues, and alternative music over the foundations of jazz. In its second year, the event gathered thirty-three musicians on stage and in different combinations.

Apart from music, Yamani and Darine Hotait co-wrote the feature film Decoding Bach, which was selected by the New York Foundation for the Arts for its fiscal sponsorship program. He also wrote the music for ASH, a short film by Yasmina Hatem, produced by Cinephilia Productions, and premiered at the 2013 Montreal Film Festival. Yamani self-published an eBook on rhythm titled Duple vs Triple: A Melodic Approach to Mastering Polyrhythms in Jazz and Other Groove-Based Music in 56 Steps.

Petros Klampanis

Petros Klampanis, bass, grew up on the Greek island of Zakynthos surrounded by the confluence of Mediterranean and Balkan folk music. He dropped out of the Polytechnic School in Athens to pursue his musical passions, and he began his double-bass performance studies at the Amsterdam Conservatory in 2005. Three years later he completed his formal studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music in New York. Since moving to New York City, Klampanis has performed alongside some of the city’s renowned jazz musicians, including saxophonist Greg Osby, pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, and drummer Ari Hoenig. In addition to appearances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center, he has performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival and the Palatia Jazz Festival in Germany. Jazz Times magazine has called Klampanis “a formidable bassist and composer.”

His collaboration with Greg Osby led to the release of Contextual, his debut album on the saxophonist’s Inner Circle Music label. In 2012 Klampanis was invited to perform a series of concerts throughout Latvia with the Liepaja Symphony Orchestra. His arrangement of the Greek folk song Thalassaki was performed by the Greek Public Symphonic Orchestra in Athens, with which Klampanis performed in 2013. As an educator, Klampanis has given international workshops and serves as guest lecturer at Oberlin Conservatory and the Ionian Academy of Music in Greece. His second album, released in 2014, features his Contextual bandmates Jean-Michel Pilc, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, percussionist John Hadfield, and a string quartet formed by violinists Megan Gould and Maria Manousaki, violist Lev Zhurbin, and cellist Yoed Nir.

Evan Sherman

Evan Sherman, drums, had played with some of the great musicians of jazz, including James Moody, Wynton Marsalis, and Roy Hargrove and in bands led by Jimmy Heath and Ron Carter, by the time he was twenty. He continues to tour with pianist Cyrus Chestnut and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars, with whom he performed at Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow in 2011. Sherman traveled to Doha and Shanghai with Jazz at Lincoln Center, both as a performer and a teacher. In October 2014 he returned to Moscow with bassist Russell Hall.

Sherman has performed at the Kennedy Center and Blues Alley (Washington, DC), the Los Angeles Convention Center and Grammy Museum (Los Angeles), Jazz at the Bistro (St. Louis), and Jazz Showcase (Chicago). He has played with headliners on the Jazz Cruise as well as at the jazz festivals of Rochester, Litchfield, DC, Twin Cities, Bellevue, Chestertown, and Detroit and the TriBeca Film Festival. Based in New York City, Sherman has performed at the Blue Note, Symphony Space, Jazz Standard, Smalls Jazz Club, Smoke Jazz and Supper Club, Flushing Town Hall, and Le Poisson Rouge, among other notable venues. He also leads the Evan Sherman Big Band, a multigenerational ensemble of up-and-coming musicians alongside jazz veterans. The band performs monthly at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Dance Party. Sherman received his bachelor’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music in May 2015.


Podcast coordination by Michael Wilpers, F|S Manager of Performing Arts. Thanks to Andy Finch for audio recording, SuMo Productions for audio editing, Nancy Eickel for text editing, Torie Castiello Ketcham for web design, Neil Greentree for photography, and especially Tarek Yamani for granting permission for this podcast of his performance at the Freer Gallery. This concert was presented on December 6, 2014, in conjunction with Unearthing Arabia: The Archaeological Adventures of Wendell Phillips, on view at the Sackler Gallery from October 11, 2014, through June 7, 2015.c

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