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I first met Lara Eidi in the summer of 2016 at the final recital for her Master’s degree at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I was impressed. At the time I wrote: ‘Lara Eidi is one of those singers who connects with the audience as soon as she starts to sing. Perhaps psychologists can explain the gift – and it is a gift – personality? a love for what she is doing? an empathy with the music and the band? knowing she can take her great voice where she wants it to go? Whatever it is, it gained her a distinction and an appreciative audience at her final recital.’
It is now some months later in 2017 and I am meeting again with Lara at the small but excellent Buhler & Co café in Walthamstow. At the end of last year she went to Athens, but now she is back. The UK should be pleased!
Lara Eidi describes herself as being of ‘Greek, Lebanese and Canadian ethnicity’. What that means is that Lara was born in Athens where her father moved from Lebanon and her mother is Canadian Lebanese. This is reflected in Lara’s interest in music that crosses genres; she studied jazz at the Guildhall, but her background and approach embraces a wider perspective.
Her father plays guitar and also sings, but that is the music of Bob Dylan and Jethro Tull. Her mother paints and writes stories, and Lara’s younger brother plays drums and guitar. The only other family member who pursues music professionally, however, is Lara’s uncle, Billy Eidi, a classical pianist based in Paris. Billy trained to be a doctor but at the point of qualifying rang his father to say that he could not follow that route. He wanted to be a musician. His father was as supportive as Lara’s family has been in her decision to become a musician.
Here is a video of Billy Eidi playing Liadov’s beautiful Berceuse op.24 n.2 In Sol Bemolle Maggiore:
Lara was playing piano by the age of eight and has gone on to play to degree standard. She also sang in the school’s classical choir at Kodaly Conservatoire. The school was equally supportive of music staging choir and theatrical productions. When Lara was eleven, there was a competition between school choirs to take part in a production of Bizet's Carmen. Kodaly Conservatoire won the competition and perhaps Lara’s ‘Eureka moment’ came when she was cast to lead the children’s choir in the production. ‘I was coached by one of the leading ladies,’ Lara recalls. ‘Not just in singing, but in all the aspects of theatre, even down to how to deal with dressing room protocols.’ The experience was a turning point.
On leaving school, Lara took a Gap Year and then pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature. Looking back, she thinks that was valuable in her approach to song writing. She had continued to sing, found a voice coach, Karen Solomon, in Athens who, together with Lara’s determination, finally led to Lara deciding to pursue music professionally when she returned from her studies in St Andrews, Scotland. ‘Looking back,’ she says, ‘I think that really helped with my creative writing and song writing.’
Returning to Greece, Lara taught English as a foreign language but contact with renowned international Greek singer Maria Farndouri led her to sing with the gypsy jazz quintet, Hot Club of Greece, who played gypsy jazz in the style of the original Hot Club of France. It was there she realized she loved the improvisational aspect of jazz and knew she wanted combine it with the folk music of her upbringing.
Working as a backing singer as well as solo artist, she began writing and arranging her own songs and building up contacts with other musicians. One of these was cellist and collaborator Stavros Parginos with whom she started her duo project and performed frequently at the Lebanon Music Festival. Later guitarist Giotis Paraskevaidis joined them to form the trio.
Meeting a sound engineer who encouraged them to record, Lara self-produced and self-funded her debut EP recording, Little People, in 2012. She describes the album as ‘Music for the People’ - ‘The music speaks for those whose voice has been drowned out by society; whose thoughts of hope are shadowed by a dominance of power.’ Writer Andrea Vermark described Lara's voice and music as: "Sincere, heartfelt. It was then that I realised that music runs through Lara’s veins. It is not just something she does, but it is a part of her very being, far more than just an intense passion."
Listen to Opened Eyes from the album.
Her second EP, Tell It Like It Is, followed in 2014. The band’s music was described as: ‘... developing their folky sound into something more experimental and contemporary. As they are not your typical four piece band, they used their talents as multi-instrumentalists and at every performance gained the respect of their audience by sounding like a small jazz-folk-pop ensemble, backed by Lara on voice, chorus loops, piano, acoustic guitar, Stavros on the cello, loops, and Giotis on guitars, loops, and beatboxing.’
We can watch a video of Lara singing a cover of Be My Husband, a song by one of her favourite singers, Nina Simone. The video was recorded with Stavros and Giotis on a rooftop in downtown Athens.
Tell It Like It Is received good reviews and a cover of Pharrell Wiliams song Happy was picked up for airplay:
Lara thought it was time to take her career a step forward. She applied for the Jazz Voice course at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama and was accepted. It was where she first came across the inspirational jazz singer, Ian Shaw. Lara remembers her first meeting where he asked her to sing Evergreen. She clearly made an impression as Ian has stayed in touch with Lara, inviting her to sing at his November 2016 An Evening Of Words And Music concert in support of refugees. Lara’s version of Mongo Santamaria's Afro Blue was captured on video. Her arrangement of the song opens with an Arabic taxim introduction and ends with her own extra verse and original lyrics.
During her time at Guildhall, where she also took a leadership course and continued with developing her piano and writing, Lara learned much from the School’s tutors and visiting tutors amongst whom were Lee Gibson, Malcolm Edmonstone and Liane Carroll. She was also playing at various function and other gigs and beginning to realise that she wanted to use her voice to bridge jazz, folk and other music. Here is a video of Lara with Giotis on guitar singing Errol Garner’s Misty at a private function in Athens:
I have already mentioned the impression Lara made at her Final Recital at the Guildhall. We can see the event on video, but it is unable to really capture the atmosphere of the occasion and the charisma that was evident in a performance that gained her a distinction in her Master’s degree. The other musicians here are other students from Guildhall: Edwin Ireland (bass), Charlotte Keeffe (trumpet) and Adam Teixeria (drums) and Jamie Saffiruden, a regular accompanist for Ian Shaw and a well known musician on the current jazz scene, is the pianist:
When the course finished, Lara returned to Greece, but decided that she wanted to return to London, so in 2017 she has come back and is teaching at the City Academy as a voice tutor covering a range of genres and developing her interest in the theatrical side of music. She is involved with a Gospel workshop and putting together a duo with singer Andri Antoniou, as well as working on a project with trumpeter Charlotte Keefe. Lara plans to be touring with a trio and is working on new material for a further album, and if possible she would like to collaborate with an orchestra to develop some of her music.
Lara Eidi is a singer whose talent stands out. If you have the opportunity to hear her sing, take it. We shall let you know when Lara releases her next album.
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© Sandy Brown Jazz 2017
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