A year before he escaped communism in his native Romania by walking through the mountains of Yugoslavia and into Greece, the seed of Damian Draghici’s dream was planted when he was just a 17-year-old teenager who snuck into a Bucharest nightclub to watch a set by an American jazz combo. Nearly 30 years later, his vision will finally come to fruition on July 8 when Century Jazz Records issues “The American Dream,” a 13-song disc of standards produced by Dan Siegel and Tom McCauley that showcases the pan flutist collaborating with nearly two dozen jazz, Brazilian and Latin music greats, Grammy winners, icons and top-shelf musicians. Preceding the album at jazz radio is the sultry bossa nova “Ceora,” an exquisite duet with trumpeter Chris Botti.
As trumpeter Randy Brecker soloed in the crowed club that 1987 evening, what sparked Draghici’s imagination was recording a jazz album that would feature the tones, textures and the unique voice produced on the hollow-tubed bamboo instrument, the pan flute. “The American Dream” also pays homage to the jazz giants that influenced Draghici’s artistic expression.
"’The American Dream’ has been a dream of mine for a while now,” Draghici recalls. “Here’s how the story started almost 30 years ago. When I was 17 years-old during the communist times in Bucharest, Romania, I saw and heard for the first time real American jazz musicians playing live. That was the moment I fell in love with jazz and I knew that I had to go to America to learn jazz - to play and improvise bebop on my instrument - to become the Bebop Pan-piper.”
Twenty years ago, Draghici first arrived in America to attend the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston on a full scholarship, which is where he linked up and began working with a bevy of premier jazz musicians, including drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Weckl, who keep time on “The American Dream.” The respect Draghici garners from his musician peers helped him attract an impressive list of guest soloists who perform on the collection, including Botti, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, clarinetist Eddie Daniels, Grammy-winning pianist Michel Camilo, Grammy-winning vocalist Luciana Souza and Grammy-winning guitar virtuoso Frank Gambale along with a stellar ensemble of internationally-renown players such as Siegel, Stanley Clarke, Brian Bromberg, Russell Ferrante (Yellowjackets), Tom Kennedy, Alan Broadbent, Charlie Bisharat, Alex Acuna, Luis Conte, Paulinho Da Costa, Oscar Castro Neves, Mitchel Forman, Otmaro Ruiz, Ramon Stagnaro and Jorge Calandrelli. With so much talent gathered around Draghici’s improvisational pan flute forays and flourishes, the musicianship throughout the session is masterful while Siegel and McCauley’s acoustic jazz production is warm and organic.
The set list Draghici & Company chose to reimagine consists of selections from Charlie Parker (album opener “Donna Lee”), Lee Morgan (“Ceora”), John Coltrane (“Giant Steps”), Chick Corea (“Spain”), Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Modhina” and “One Note Samba”); Michel Legrand, Marilyn & Alan Bergman and Jacques Denny (“You Must Believe In Spring”); Keith Jarrett (“My Song”), Pat Metheny (“See The World”), Bill Evans (“Waltz For Debbie”) Castro Neves (“More Than Yesterday”) and Cesar Camargo Mariano (“Curumin”) as well as Camilo’s “From Within.” Inventive arrangements chisel space in the elaborately-constructed cuts for the pan flute harmonics, genteel vocalizations and stirring melodies knitted from piano, guitar, horns and strings to effortlessly waft beauty and splendor on quieter numbers. More aggressive tracks are granted the expanse to expound dexterously on playgrounds of layered percussion and sinewy basslines.
Recognized as an award-winning prodigy when he was a teenager in Romania before seeking refuge in Greece, Draghici landed a record deal after busking on the streets of Athens, garnering acclaim in Europe. He’s toured with an array of signature artists that spans James Brown, Joe Cocker, Cyndi Lauper, Shaggy and Gypsy Kings. In 2006, he formed Damian & Brothers with “his gypsy brothers,” adopting the purpose of changing the perception of gypsy music globally. They toured extensively throughout Europe performing over 600 concerts in three years. Draghici now splits his time living in the valley near Los Angeles and abroad. For more information, please visit www.DamianDraghici.com.
Draghici’s “The American Dream” contains the following songs:
“Donna Lee” with Arturo Sandoval
“Ceora” with Chris Botti
“Giant Steps” with Eddie Daniels
“From Within” with Michel Camilo
“Modhina” with Luciana Souza
“You Must Believe In Spring”
“More Than Yesterday”
“See The World”
“Curumin” with Frank Gambale
“Waltz For Debbie”
“One Note Samba”