The Oud

oud player in New York

I'm a Brooklyn, New York-based oud player with over 20 years of experience. Available for performances, recordings, educational programs, and individual lessons.

My unique background means that I'm fluent in traditional Arabic music as well as being adaptable to other styles of music, and have played oud for everything from classical Syrian and Egyptian ensembles to modern jazz groups, singer-songwriters, film scores and Broadway.

You can read more about my story, watch a video, or listen to recordings below.

In 1998, a series of events started me on a musical journey that would profoundly affect my life and music in ways I could never have predicted.  Living in New Orleans at the time and working as a jazz guitarist, I got a ride with a cab driver.  He was Lebanese, if I recall correctly, and we had a nice conversation about music.  He asked what kind of music I played, and we discussed jazz and guitar a bit.  As we neared our destination, he told me: "the guitar is nice, but if you want to play the most beautiful instrument, listen to Marcel Khalife."  As a musician, you get used to people giving you odd suggestions and nonsensical advice, so I didn't think too much about it—I had never heard of the instrument he was talking about. 

I was a fairly adventurous listener at the time, and in the days before streaming and YouTube, you were actually gambling with dollars whenever you picked up a new album that you hadn't heard.  Consequently, one tried to find ways of hearing new music before purchasing.  The university music library was one such resource — there was an impressive assortment of classical, jazz, and "world" recordings.  Also, Tower Records would let you listen to some new releases.  But the real hero was Blockbuster Music (yes, they had actual record stores) , who would let you listen to any album in the store.  So it came to pass that through various sources, I wound up with albums by Hamza el Din, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Ahmed Abdul-Malik and Anouar Brahem.  I found the music deeply engaging, but it was the sound of the instrument that drew me in and I began to look for other music featuring the oud.  There weren't a lot of options; at one point I was going to the Lebanese grocery store and buying any cassette that had a picture of an oud on the cover (hit and miss).  After about a year of this, I decided I needed to find an oud and try to play it, which I did. Coming from guitar, it wasn't terribly difficult to get a moderate level of facility and soon I had started adding some oud to my performances.

Eventually I heard Simon Shaheen and was astonished that the instrument was capable of even more power and beauty than I had suspected, and realized that I had dramatically underestimated the sophistication and subtlety the oud demanded.  To my surprise and delight, while searching for oud-related information on a recently-introduced tool called "the world wide web" or simply "the internet," I discovered that Simon Shaheen actually led a music retreat every summer in Massachusetts and resolved that I had to attend and meet this musical master.  The welcome provided by Simon and the rest of the Arabic music community, and the generosity with which they shared their knowledge and culture cemented my commitment to learning Arabic music to the fullest extent of which I am capable. Eventually this led to my actually touring with Simon Shaheen's ensemble Qantara and being the first American invited to teach oud at his Arabic Music Retreat.

Shortly after that first Retreat, I happened to come across a recording by Marcel Khalife. That was when I remembered the cab driver from years before and finally understood what was trying to tell me — he had been talking about the oud, and he was right.


The video above is with the Bil Afrah Project, an ensemble I co-founded with various musicians in the New York Arabic community.  This group is a direct outgrowth of the Arabic Music Retreat, and features teachers, including the legendary Michel Merhej on riq, playing with former students who are now professional performers in their own right.

 

I would like to thank some of the wonderful musicians in the Arabic music community
who have contributed to my understanding of the oud, maqam, and Arabic music: 

Simon Shaheen 
Najib Shaheen 
Bassam Saba 
Sami Abu Shumays 
Johnny Farraj 
Michel Merhej Baklouk 
William Shaheen

Charbel Rouhana  
Jamal Sinno  
Dr. AJ Racy  
Rima Khcheich  
Zafer Tawil  
Samer Ali

Nashaz

Nashaz

ABOUT THE ALBUM:
The eponymous debut for Nashaz fully realizes the band’s vision of a organic new integration of jazz and Arabic music, with tastes of Sudan, the Balkans, and Central Asia. Featuring 8 original compositions by the band’s leader, oud player Brian Prunka, the album will immediately engage fans of Arabic music, jazz, and masterful oud playing. Trumpeter Kenny Warren makes abundantly clear why he is a rising star in the NY creative jazz scene, his improvisations showing a rare range and depth, exploring a wide variety of tones while always maintaining a beautifully full and warm sound. Prunka’s melodies are intricate yet memorable, don’t be surprised if you can’t stop yourself humming them later.

Review Quotes:

"One of the best new Arabic Jazz CD's I have heard in 10 years" —Ray Rashid, Rashid Music (America's largest distributor of Arabic music since 1934)

"A vibrant fusion of Arabic music and jazz, Nashaz is at times mysterious, at times racing, always fresh and adventurous. Highly recommended." —Midwest Book Review (midwestbookreview.com)

"Sounds unlike anything else. . . as listenable as it is engaging. Strong melodies that are both memorable and easy to hum along to . . . will leave the listener wanting more. Highly Recommended." —Dave Sumner, Bird Is the Worm blog (birdistheworm.com)

"Wild, engaging stuff that simply clicks . . . a must" —Midwest Record

"Nashaz has taken up the gauntlet and run with it. Lyrical and poetic . . . there is an authenticity of this music that can only come with an intimate experience of tradition and culture. An impressive accomplishment." Dawoud Kringle, DooBeeDooBeeDoo Online Magazine (doobeedoobeedoo.info)

"The music is fascinating . . . excellent throughout." Rick Anderson, CD Hotlist (cdhotlist.com)

"My new go-to disc . . . It's got under my skin!" —Alistair Johnston, Misikifan blog (Muzikifan.com)
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