Episode 4:

Rhythms from Cyprus

Percussionist George Lernis combines traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern rhythms with American jazz. (Photo by Heidi Shin with Prisma filter)

Heidi Shin

George Lernis holds a bendir, a traditional hand frame drum, used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean music. (Photo by Heidi Shin)

George Lernis holds a bendir, a traditional hand frame drum, used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean music. (Photo by Heidi Shin)

When George Lernis talks about drumming, he uses the phrase “it captured me.” His rhythms and technique are intricate, at times dazzling, but the way he plays, it sounds effortless.

Growing up on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean, opportunities for musicians were limited. So at age 20, percussionist George sought to travel half-way around the world, to follow in the footsteps of the American jazz masters.

But a few things stood in the way of George’s musical aspirations. First, the mandatory military service in Cyprus, and second his father’s disapproval of his interest in the arts. So he decided to apply to music school in the U.S., with his mother’s help, in secret.

Lastly, there was the issue of the visa. An immigration attorney suggested George apply for an O1 visa — a special designation for “extraordinary artists.” But what does it take to prove that you’re an extraordinary musician, invited to contribute your talents to America? From Boylston St. in Boston to Carnegie Hall in New York, we follow a Cypriot percussionist, in his pursuit of jazz.

Hear the full story above, or on iTunesStitcherRadioPublic and other podcasting apps.

Music Credits

In this episode of the New American Songbook, we hear music from:

Esthema “Long Goodbye”
Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol & Whatsnext? “Resolution”
Mina Cho “Love Transformation”
Muscari “Kanarini Mou Glyko”
George Lernis’ Jazz Quartet “Shapes of Nature”
The Pharos Ensemble

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