Willy Schwarz & the All-American Immigrant Orchestra | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Willy Schwarz & the All-American Immigrant Orchestra


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There's already a syndicated radio show called Pulse of the Planet, which purports to broadcast a "two-minute sound portrait" of the earth every weekday, but the name would've been a good one for this show assembled by Chicago percussionist and keyboardist Willy Schwarz. Schwarz's music employs not one pulse but a host of the world's rhythms, folk melodies, and even lyrics. Local audiences have heard him in a dozen different bands and through the scores he's composed for theater companies like Steppenwolf, Goodman, and Lookingglass. He draws his greatest inspiration from the folk and classical traditions of India: they resonate throughout his CD Live for the Moment (Clearspot), slated for August release in Germany but presently without a U.S. distributor. For the album he's written original melodies in the vein of Indian music to carry his lyrics, which overflow with earnest but sweet 60s-folk-rock homilies. But that material makes up only about a third of the program Schwarz is in fact calling Emigrants, Refugees & Nomads: it also includes traditional music from displaced peoples (Tibetans, Rwandans, and Armenians, to name a few) and what he refers to as "messed-with traditional" songs, folk melodies for which he's written new English lyrics. As Schwarz explains, "A large part of my musical endeavors has been concerned with all the different ethnic genres I've pursued over the years, not so much as they exist in their points of origin, but how they transmute and evolve and synergize with other idioms." His interest in the music of uprooted peoples isn't simply academic, though, or even altruistic. It's been woven into his life from the start: his Italian father and German mother met in Iran in the 1930s as refugees from fascism and in 1940 fled to the U.S. Here Schwarz will sing, play accordion and various traditional instruments, and lead a ten-piece band that includes noted geomusical explorer Howard Levy on piano and harmonica, Quebecois singer Louise Cloutier, Indian and Afro-Cuban percussionists, violin, jazz bass and guitar, and pipa and erhu (Chinese silk-stringed lute and two-string violin). This is the seasn finale of Steppenwolf's "Traffic" series. Monday, 7:30 PM, Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted; 312-335-1650. NEIL TESSER

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