An Arabian Tent Party Wedding

An Arabian Tent Party Wedding
Unusual gigs I used to do in Chicago… I never played too many “jobbing dates”, as they are called in Chicago. But in the early and mid 80’s, I did don my tuxedo and venture out with my electric keyboard or other axes to play the odd job here and there. The experiences varied wildly, and I have a few indelible memories from those years, some of which are hilarious, and some just plain weird (like the time a party guest stole the drummer’s cymbal bag and put it next to a dumpster -and I found it by a combination of deduction and imagination).

One of the coolest gigs I did back then was to play Greek weddings with The Aristons, a 3- piece Greek band consisting of drums, keyboard, andbouzoukee/guitar. The bouzoukee/guitar player, Bill Demis, was a friend of mine who was a very versatile musician who played many styles of music. He knew that I played all kinds of music, including Bulgarian and middle-eastern, and when the group’s clarinet player quit to become a full-time architect, he hired me as the 4th member. I memorized many Greek folk and pop tunes, played them on soprano sax and harmonica.

The band played a 50/50 blend of American pop and Greek music, so I played most of the pop material on tenor sax, which I used to play a lot in the 80’s. I really enjoyed the ritual dance medleys at the Greek wedding parties. There were traditional dances for all the relatives. I especially enjoyed playing theTsamikos, which Bill called “the Greek blues”. It’s in a slow 3/4 rhythm and I got to wail on it on harp. (I put one on The Old Country). Zeibekiko, a slow 9, was another of my big favorites.

I played a lot of gigs with The Aristons, but one was truly bizarre. It was “An Arabian Tent Party Wedding”, held at a very ritzy hotel in Chicago. We had to dress in costumes, and I almost left when I saw the turbans and vests. The other entertainment included a snake dancer, a female contortionist dressed in a frog costume who squeezed her body through barrels, a couple dressed as Tarzan and Jane who led a parade of wild animals including a cheetah and a chimpanzee, a sword swallower, and a male stripper (I couldn’t take playing for that and took a break). The couple were older, and the woman had two adolescent sons who periodically did break dancing in the middle of the floor. All of the guests were seated on the floor, middle-eastern style. One couple right in front of me got very sloshed and amorous, and were all over each other for most of the night. The whole event was being filmed by 3 cameras, and I wondered if Fellini was in charge of the camera crew.

Assyrian Music
Also in the 80’s, I did a lot of recording for an Assyrian record label called SY. The owner, Sargon Yonan, ran a dental laboratory, in back of which was a state- of – the – art recording studio. Sargon, who everyone called Sarge, was a brilliant guy who played many Eastern and Western instruments, and invented a pitch – altering device to make electric organs able to play the 1/4 tones needed in middle-eastern music.

I played (mostly piano, but some harp, flute, and maybe mandolin?) on 5 or 6 albums on SY. The only one I still have is by a singer named Linda George, who is very well known in the Assyrian world. The cover has a picture of her dressed as Queen Shamiram. I recently saw her in an Assyrian dance video while I was channel surfing late one night.

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