Just folk Just folk Just folk

Pasatiempo - - Music - Michael Wade Simp­son

Singer/song­writer Natalia Zukerman is tired of be­ing in­tro­duced as the daugh­ter of Pin­chas and Eugenia Zukerman. “I do what I do,” she said, “and it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent from what they do.” Still, there are cer­tain ben­e­fits to be­ing raised by an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed vi­o­lin­ist fa­ther and a renowned flutist mother. “I’ve been around the best mu­sic on the planet since I was a baby,” she said. Zukerman ap­pears at the Santa Fe Brew­ing Com­pany on Wed­nes­day, May 26.

Al­though she grew up in New York City, she and her sis­ter, Ari­anna, an opera singer, of­ten tagged along with their par­ents on con­cert tours. “I could pack a bag be­fore I could walk,” she said. In fact, Zukerman is so fa­mil­iar with the back­stage ar­eas of the world’s great con­cert halls that when she re­cently at­tended a per­for­mance at Lin­coln Cen­ter, she au­to­mat­i­cally walked to the stage en­trance with­out think­ing.

“My mother was a huge in­flu­ence,” Zukerman said. “She taught me to seize life.” Eugenia Zukerman, di­vorced from Pin­chas in 1985, tours as a cham­ber soloist, is a pub­lished author, and works as an arts cor­re­spon­dent for Sun­day Morn­ing on CBS. In her spare time, she runs the Bravo! Vail Val­ley Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, where, this year, the New York Phil­har­monic, the Philadel­phia Or­ches­tra, and the Dal­las Sym­phony Or­ches­tra are in res­i­dence.

Zukerman the daugh­ter ma­jored in art at Ober­lin Col­lege and ran a mu­ral com­pany in the Bay Area be­fore mov­ing back to New York. She said that peo­ple were al­ways telling her to “choose one form and con­cen­trate” — but, with her mother as an ex­am­ple, she sim­ply wants to cre­ate a life. “Get up ear­lier and sleep less,” Zukerman said. “It’s pos­si­ble to do all the things you love.”

In ad­di­tion to per­form­ing, Pin­chas Zukerman is a highly re­garded con­duc­tor and teacher. “Dad in­spires me with his spirit and drive,” she said. “He’s got a gift. Where does ge­nius come from? The story is that, as a child, he tuned his own vi­o­lin at his first les­son. I think it’s an oth­er­worldly, spir­i­tual thing. He feels like he is here to play the clas­si­cal rep. He has a higher pur­pose. It’s great to have a role model like that. Some­times when I’m freaked out about my own ca­reer, I re­mem­ber it’s not about me any­way. What a gift it is to be cre­at­ing mu­sic.”

Natalia started out study­ing the vi­o­lin as a child but hated it. “I was hear­ing all this great mu­sic, but I couldn’t re­pro­duce it. It’s such a hard in­stru­ment. I sounded like I was killing a farm an­i­mal.” But there was no giv­ing up. “My mother gave me a stack of mu­sic and said I had to learn all of it and play it for her. Then, I could de­cide to quit or not.” At 14, Zukerman switched to the gui­tar.

Her stud­ies be­gan with tech­nique — she learned to play clas­si­cal gui­tar. Mean­while she was lis­ten­ing to folk mu­sic and blues. She got an acous­tic gui­tar and ex­per­i­mented with “open tun­ing like Joni Mitchell.” Ani DiFranco used a per­cus­sive play­ing style that Zukerman ad­mired. She ex­per­i­mented with slide gui­tar af­ter lis­ten­ing to old coun­try blues by Mis­sis­sippi Fred McDow­ell, Blind Le­mon Jef­fer­son, and Muddy Wa­ters. And then she got a record by Bon­nie Raitt. “What is that sound?” Zukerman re­called think­ing. “I love that!”

Folk mu­sic seemed to fit her per­son­al­ity, Zukerman said. “I al­ways felt out of place in the clas­si­cal mu­sic world. It’s beau­ti­ful, but there is a pomp and cir­cum­stance to it that is so weird. It’s so po­lite. I ad­mire the craft and ath­leti­cism of clas­si­cal mu­sic, and I ap­pre­ci­ate my ed­u­ca­tion, but the mu­sic just didn’t speak to me in the same way.”

Zukerman didn’t be­gin the life of a tour­ing per­former un­til years af­ter col­lege. She had left her mu­ral busi­ness in Cal­i­for­nia and found her­self at a mu­sic con­fer­ence in Nashville. “I had no idea what I was do­ing,” she said. “I hooked up with two other singer/song­writ­ers, and we trav­eled around play­ing in crappy bars. It was a lot of Mo­tel 6s and bour­bon. It was a grass­roots thing.”

Eight years into her ca­reer, with her fifth record­ing com­ing out, Zukerman says that al­though this life has its ups and downs, she “couldn’t ask for a bet­ter job.” The mu­sic keeps de­vel­op­ing, and tour­ing with vet­er­ans like Willy Porter and Louise Tay­lor (who is sched­uled to ap­pear with Zukerman in Santa Fe) is in­spir­ing. “I can’t be­lieve I’m on tour with Tay­lor,” she said. “She’s out of con­trol. She holds down a rhythm like no one else. I’ve been pick­ing stuff up. One of these days, she’s go­ing to say, ‘Wow, you’re re­ally rip­ping me off.’”

Zukerman’s songs may have started out in the highly per­sonal, self-ob­sessed style of some folk singers, but, as she put it, “I’m not 25 any­more. I just don’t have that much angst. I’m try­ing to widen the lens and not just sing page six of my jour­nal.” In one of her re­cent songs, Zukerman ex­am­ines the life of Shirley Collins, who was ro­man­ti­cally linked with Alan Lo­max, the Amer­i­can folk­lorist and eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist who filmed, recorded, and doc­u­mented tra­di­tional mu­sic cul­ture in the U.S., Europe, and the Caribbean. Collins was a piv­otal fig­ure in the English folk-song re­vival of the ’60s and ’70s. Ac­cord­ing to Zukerman, she played Ap­palachian fin­ger-pick­ing banjo mu­sic and was a great mu­si­cian in her own right. “It’s a love story,” Zukerman said, de­scrib­ing her song. “I’m try­ing to imag­ine the woman be­hind a man, which isn’t nat­u­ral for me to do. How to have a life with an­other mu­si­cian. I’ve been cou­pled with mu­si­cians in the past, and it’s hard. The song is about the pos­si­bil­ity of shar­ing life and art to­gether.”

Natalia Zukerman

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