Lea Kõiv Jaan Meri, Holger Marjamaa, and Toomas Koger at Roy Thomson Hall Dec 2. Photo: Tiit Romet
Friday, 17 December 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 50 2021 - Vincent Teetsov
Of all the people who could be sitting in the audience while you play a show at New York City's Blue Note Jazz Club, what's the likelihood that one of them is a head of state? For pianist Holger Marjamaa, that likelihood was quite high. On December 7th, 2021, Estonian President Alar Karis was enjoying a night out and brought a box of chocolates for him as a gift.
Not only is Marjamaa an Estonian playing on the stage of a prestigious American music venue (which is celebrating 40 years of live jazz music in 2021), he is in the band of trumpeter Chris Botti, who has himself played with artists such as Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Yo-Yo Ma, and Sting.
Marjamaa, Botti, and company recently performed at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall, and in the spare moments between two nightly shows at Blue Note Jazz Club from Monday December 6th until Sunday January 2nd, he shared a few anecdotes with Eesti Elu.
You've been playing music your whole life, and this has brought you to stages across Europe, Asia, and North America. What led to Chris Botti then calling you in the middle of the night, asking you to join his band?
I think the main reason was that our drummer, Lee Pearson, and one of our saxophone players, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, recommended me for this gig. I met Lee in Tallinn about 14 years ago and we fell in love with each other’s playing. When Chris asked his band who to hire, they both recommended me. I started touring with Chris in August 2019.
Is there a particular story that summarizes your experience as an Estonian getting to know New York City for the first time, compared to how you relate to the city now?
I am a lucky individual who came to New York with certain dreams and managed to fulfill them in a way. And I didn’t do it alone. I had a lot of help from friends and sponsors.
When you make the move, you don’t know what’s gonna happen. The day I moved to New York to start my Master’s studies at Manhattan School of Music in late August 2015, I didn’t know where I would sleep and live. I remember I was with my friend from Finland in Times Square, grabbing pizza and a Coke. We had no idea where we would stay, which is a little surreal to think about.
(Read more: Estonian Life No. 50 2021 paber- and PDF/digi
Written by Vincent Teetsov