Gilded Serpent presents...

Part 4: Teamwork Among Musicians


Fred Elias Ensemble
The Fred Elias Ensemble– photo from back of LP titled, "Artistic Moods for Dance" Photographer- John M Bellino. Band Members: Fred on violin and viola, Richard Bayrouty on oud, George Kokoras on accordian and organ, Nick Kokoras on guitar and bass, Arthur Chingris on percusion.

Dancing with Legends: Interview of Freddie Elias

by Artemis Mourat

posted April 30, 2009
part 1, part 2, part 3

Professionalism

What I’m proud of also, is that whatever I say, I don’t talk behind your back. I am not a phony. I will give you an example. Recently, I had quite a foul up with a bouzouki player, and he probably had a problem, but you know, if you have a headache, go out in the car like I do. You’ve got people in the audience who are paying you. If you’re dying, don’t come to work. But if you come to work, do your job. It does not matter what else is going on in your life.

You still have to play. You’re getting paid for your services. And when you are on that stage, you can’t say; “I don’t want to do that song again.” There are people out there that want to hear “Never on Sunday” whether you have played it 25 or 30 times that week.

We had a drummer take Mike’s place. I won’t mention any names. He said, “I don’t wanna do that.” I said; “Look, all you have to do is get off the stage, go in the kitchen and get a coffee and we’ll do it without you.”

If I talk to anybody, I won’t do it behind your back. Like the bouzouki player. I was pulling my hair out of my head. I said; “When we finish the night, I want to talk to you. And I went up nicely, politely, as a gentleman. I said; “Why were you so penetrating and so loud? I can’t even hear myself and now I have a headache.” He said; “Well, my friend was here tonight.” I said; “What does your friend have to do with making me sick?” He couldn’t answer. I said; “Believe me, the next time you’re loud like that, I’m just walking off the stage.”

I play all string instruments. Not exactly 100 percent, but I study all of them. Viola, cello and bass. I did these all professionally. Guitar, I had a problem. Playing the guitar and then getting on to the violin was a problem for me. Another violinist, Billy Alaveris, God rest his soul, played violin and played guitar. I just couldn’t get onto the guitar. I had a problem with the chord structure. I stuck with the strings. I tried the clarinet one time. I struggled to get just one note. The gentleman who is a great artist, his name is Philip Marino, he told me; “Look, I know you. I know who you are. Sell that clarinet and don’t come back. {We all laugh} But I am going to pick it up again. We have to keep learning.

Advice for New Musicians
Not to give themselves a grand philosophy and also no degree of conceit. And to love the gentlemen that you are working with on the stage without anyone misunderstanding. You have to love the guy on the left. You have to love the guy on the right. You have to love everybody. Also, I always tell anybody who is playing too fast that they have to slow down. You see, they want to feature themselves immediately and show off. I say to them; “Look, Rimsky Korsakoff composed the; ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ and he died. You can forget him.”

Above all the most important thing is don’t put your hand to the fire, they’re gonna hear you anyway. Don’t try to beat you (He points to Mike) and don’t try to beat me (He points to himself).

We have all had this problem. For example, we have musicians that are very loud. If I am making a change and they are so loud, then they can’t hear me. They say; “Why didn’t you tell me?” And I say; “I did but you were so loud, you could not hear me so it did not register.”

If I was to make a change in the music, they wouldn’t understand it, they don’t have the right mentality towards being in a group.

Yes, in one word, they should go to the dictionary and look up “dynamic expressions.” That is the key to everything. If they memorize that, it’s like going to kindergarten again. They should tell themselves; “I’m gonna remember dynamic expressions.” Soft here, loud there, pivot points, crescendos, compassionato, allegro, adagio – Italian words for beautiful things. Right Michael?

(Michael Gregian comments, "That’s the most articulate I’ve ever heard you!" Everyone laughs)

I’m not projecting prejudice whatsoever (gestures towards Mike). He is to me, in my personal opinion, the greatest drummer internationally.

I don’t care for the ones over there, they’re great but they don’t do what he does. If I want to go into Tiko Tiko and then into Caravan,
he’s there. He knows the exact rhythmic pulsation and his dynamic expression is unbelievable. If I am going slower, he has got the place down to a whisper. You are going see him tonight. That’s going to confirm what I’m saying about the gentleman. He also plays clarinet and flute.

I play here every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, which is great. Just what I wanted. I do other events too with the band – concerts and other performances. I recently taught a workshop in Vermont on maqams and Mike taught there too and we played a concert at that venue. I work with Chris Papoutsy too and he has a 30 piece orchestra. I do arrangements for him and I play with his orchestra. I have enough time to study on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We have to always keep studying. I also teach guitar. This schedule gives me time to do everything.

Working as a Team

Jennifer with Fred Elias in December 2007
Photo generously submitted by Jennifer- "Here is a photo taken at the Athenian Corner in Lowell, MA, December 2007.  The other band members are Michael Gregian (dumbek) and Costas (oud). 
I’m in the front."

Well, I love working with these guys here and they are great musicians but that is not always the case out there. Let me put it this way if I may.

I would prefer not to work with a great, great musician if he is only going to concentrate on himself. I’d rather work with a pacified musician that is a good musician.

That musician is going to work well together with the band. But if you have got a great musician and he is a big, big artist, he may be looking at the band with a downfall, like it is beneath him to play with the band. Then you are in trouble. I’ve worked with “great” artists before and fortunately I had enough knowledge to know how to cope with them. But I would rather work with good musicians than great ones. We have to work together, we have to be compatible. You should not give yourselves the grand philosophy. You have to blend in. Remember, in the old days, we had only one wire and one microphone and one amp. We had to work together.

That is the beautiful thing. They are great but they do not act in that negative and selfish and demanding way that the other great musicians I described often did. I love these guys.

You know, every time I work with someone I give them some sort of lesson, like a grandfather. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But ninety percent of the time, it works. I talk to them a little. “We’re working together tonight. I have had the pleasure of seeing you again. Do me a favor. If you don’t know the chords just let me know, because I will help you. Don’t play a wrong chord against my melodic vein or melodic line. That is going to sound dissonant.” It works, they play softly, they ask questions, they learn and it works. And when they finish, I say; “Put this down, A7, D minor” and they do. A good musician will say “Thanks!” He gets a pen out right away and he writes it down.

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MaryEllen Donald