The Onassis Center in New York City exploded this year to the sweet saxophone and singing of Dimitri Vassilakis and his band. A jazz artist who is a scholar and teacher, but first and foremost a performer, Vassilakis managed to trump the roar of a huge crowd of gregarious Greeks indulging mezethes and wine (because the Onassis Foundation knows how to stage a party.) He brought the crowd down to a simmer to tune into his and his group’s renditions of music from the Beatles, Chet Baker, and Nina Simone.
Vassilakis - Cool Greek Jazz Artist
A tall, slender man with a shaved head, and a long, bony, and arresting face, Vassilakis vibrates with the music – his long hands twitching, his face moving in reaction to his other players. He alternates between playing the saxophone and singing in a lightly accented, smoky voice. His rendition of songs including Nature Boy and Time After Time comprise their own classics, and can be found on the recording, Across the Universe. On this CD, Vassilakis brings Greek passion to songs including Fool on the Hill and God Bless the Child.
Born in 1961, Vassilakis first earned a degree in Chemical Engineering at Athens University before surrendering to his great love, music, and ultimately, jazz. He moved to London in ’86 to study at the Royal Academy -- “I was very fortunate to have a scholarship from the Onassis Foundation” -- then did post-graduate studies in jazz for a Master’s Degree. “It was brand new, and the level was amazing at the Royal Academy.” Vassilakis went on to earn a Ph.D. in music.
He returned to Greece to teach, compose and perform. Says the multi-talented Vassilakis: “Playing is still my favorite thing – singing and playing the saxophone.”
According to the musician, jazz was “underdeveloped in Greece” when he first started performing there. “But as we started to produce and play – myself, fellow musicians and then my students – we developed a jazz scene in Greece that’s still evolving.” This summer, Vassilakis took his talent to the Greek islands, performing in venues on Mykonos and other popular spots. In the fall, he’ll go to Chicago where his brother, Pantelis, is the Chair of Acoustics at Columbia College. Vassilakis will give a concert, perform with a classical orchestra, and make a recording. He’ll then move on to New York and Boston. And if you haven’t seen or heard him, we suggest you watch your jazz calendars. Or catch the CD Across the Universe, dedicated to his wife, Elena, and son, Nestor.
Vassilakis has another intriguing gig. The super-luxurious Bentley car company commissioned him to make a CD To Bentley, and provides him with a car and driver for transportation to major festivals.
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