Performance Friday, March 6, 2015 | 9:30 PM

Edmar Castañeda Trio

Zankel Hall
When Colombian harp virtuoso Edmar Castañeda plays, it’s hard to believe only one man and not a trio of harpists is performing. Castañeda’s remarkable technique—he plays lead, rhythm, and bass lines all at once—is equaled only by his soulful improvisations. He leads his acclaimed global jazz trio in this concert.

Part of Late Nights at Zankel Hall.


  • Edmar Castañeda, Llanera Harp
    Shlomi Cohen, Saxophone
    David Silliman, Drums and Percussion
    with Special Guest Andrea Tierra, Vocals

Event Duration

The program will last approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.


  • Edmar Castañeda

    Edmar Castañeda was born in 1978 in the Colombian city of Bogotá. A master of beautifully complex timing and lush colors, his virtuosic command of the harp has revolutionized the way audiences and critics view the instrument.

    Not unlike others who have transformed their lives through art, Castañeda's journey has humble, inspiring beginnings. The son of a musician and a mother who nurtured her child's natural talents, he embraced the noble folkloric traditions of his native country. The joropo dance classes he attended with his sister were a master class in movement, accompanied by the harp. In the mid-1990s, he moved to New York and briefly studied jazz trumpet before returning to the harp. Today, on stages all over the world, it is remarkable how Castañeda's body engulfs his Colombian harp as he crafts almost unbelievable feats of cross-rhythms layered with chordal nuances.

    Castañeda has released three recordings, collaborating with artists such as John Scofield, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Miguel Zenón, and Marshall Gilkes. His performing career has included feature spots at the DC Jazz Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Tanglewood Jazz Festival, 10th World Harp Congress, and Paquito D'Rivera's tribute at Carnegie Hall. In addition to D'Rivera, Castañeda has performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, John Scofield, Chico O'Farrill's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, John Patitucci, and Marcus Miller. He has also opened for Rickie Lee Jones, Diana Krall, the Yellowjackets, and Paco de Lucía.

    A committed teacher, Castañeda's residencies have included a weeklong initiative and performance at The Banff Centre with Dave Douglas and other jazz luminaries, as well as an interactive workshop at the Berklee College of Music that focused on Latin culture, culminating in a tribute to the great Mambo King, Israel "Cachao" López. He is frequently invited to give master classes and workshops in diverse musical contexts worldwide, and is also increasingly recognized as a composer.

    Together with the French manufacturer Camac Harps, Edmar Castañeda has developed a new instrument: The EC Llanera is a state-of-the-art version of the traditional arpa llanera of Colombia and Venezuela. Alongside its many structural improvements, it is also the first arpa llanera with levers, increasing the instrument's potential for chromaticism.

    For more information, visit

    Shlomi Cohen

    Grammy-nominated saxophonist Shlomi Cohen has had a multicultural music education, thanks to his time in Tel Aviv (where he was born) and in New York City (where he now lives), as well as from his Moroccan and Yemeni heritages. This mix of styles in his sound has made him a sought-after musician.

    Shlomi was part of the Grammy-nominated album Frutero Moderno by Gonzalo Grau and La Clave Secreta. He regularly collaborates with various musical projects around New York City and beyond.

    David Silliman

    Drummer and percussionist David Silliman's exciting rhythmic energies add color and mood to any musical performance. Highlights of his past work include concert tours with Al Di Meola, Cassandra Wilson, and Leslie Uggams, as well as four years in Blossom Dearie's trio. He has also performed with Aretha Franklin in New York, including the 2001 VH1 Divas Live concert.

    Silliman was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was exposed to a wide variety of music. His first studies were in the classical field, studying snare drum, xylophone, and timpani. Later studies exposed him to jazz, Latin jazz, funk, and Brazilian music. Silliman's current setup, when needed, includes a standard American drum set augmented with a South American cajón; drums from the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean; and various other percussion (some his own creations).

    Andrea Tierra

    Hailing from Medellín, Colombia, Andrea Tierra blends Latin American rhythms with jazz and poetry to create a one-of-a-kind musical experience. Her songs focus on love, life, and the land (Tierra is Spanish for "Earth"). Her new project is a quartet that includes exotic instruments in which she creates poetry that draws upon Latin rhythms, including cumbia, bambuco, and joropo (Colombia); zamba (Argentina); lando (Peru); bossa nova and samba (Brazil), and flamenco (Spain).

    Tierra's first CD, Melodía Verde (2008), is a trip around Latin America with a New York sensibility. Two years before that, she released her first book of poetry called Canto (Singing), mixing her Colombian roots with her adopted US culture. She has performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and festivals throughout Colombia, Uruguay, Panama, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Austria. She has also appeared at such venues as Jazz at Lincoln Center, Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Kennedy Center, the Blue Note, and Madison Square Garden, among others.

    More Info


Edmar Castañeda, Colombian Harp
Arpa Y Voz Productions

Jeff Tamarkin on Edmar Castañeda

In the annals of jazz history, there is no shortage of brilliant pianists, saxophonists, guitarists, or trumpeters. But a harpist? Even the most ardent jazz fan would have trouble naming an artist who’s made inroads on one of those heavenly sounding, if somewhat unwieldy, instruments.

Edmar Castañeda didn’t know he was being a pioneer when he first applied his harp to jazz; he just liked the way it sounded. He hadn’t even discovered jazz when he moved from his native Bogotá, Colombia, to New York at age 16, harp in tow. But once he did, he couldn’t see any reason not to play this music that so excited him.

Today, Castañeda is recognized as the foremost harpist in jazz—specifically, he plays the Colombian harp, or arpa llanera—and he’s making his debut as a Carnegie Hall headliner, performing with saxophonist Shlomi Cohen, drummer Dave Silliman, and Andrea Tierra (Castañeda’s wife) guesting on vocals.

“I’m glad to have people getting inspired by this,” Castañeda says about his music. “It’s really an honor. I feel that I was born to play the harp. I could just feel it.”

But before he ever touched a harp, Castañeda had already taken up dance and tried his hand at the trumpet. He was 13 when he told an aunt that he wanted to learn the harp; she gave him one and he never looked back. Soon after making the move to the US, while earning money playing the instrument in restaurants and attending Five Towns College on Long Island, Castañeda’s epiphany arrived.

“I came here not knowing any English, and after a few days I went to register for high school,” he says. “They took me to the music room, where the jazz band was playing. After they finished, I asked them the name of the tune they were playing and it was ‘Take the ‘A’ Train’ by Duke Ellington. That was my introduction to jazz. I learned that you can improvise, and I liked that because in llanera music, you improvise too.”

In addition to Ellington, Castañeda devoured the sounds of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and other jazz greats. “Every day I was in the library listening to all these great musicians,” he says. “I wanted so much to learn the language of jazz to apply whatever I could to the harp. In the beginning, I would tell people I played the harp and they’d say, ‘What? The harp?!’ But now they know me.”

Eschewing other chordal instruments, Castañeda handles lead, rhythm, and bass lines simultaneously. “It’s like having two brains,” he says. “It comes naturally to me. I divide my hands so I’m playing bass lines with the left and finding a groove, then I improvise with my right hand. Sometimes I do workshops and I’m asked how I do it. I tell them I’m still figuring that out!”

—Jeff Tamarkin is the associate editor of
JazzTimes magazine.


This concert and The Shape of Jazz series are made possible by The Joyce and George Wein Foundation in memory of Joyce Wein.
Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Absolutely Live Entertainment LLC.
This performance is part of The Shape of Jazz.