Like all great musician origin stories, it starts with Sir Mix-a-Lot. “The first cassette I ever got was Sir Mix-a-Lot’s Seminar album,’ notes Seattle-area musician Eli Rosenblatt. “Remember that song ‘Gortex’? ‘Posse in effect, scramble up, new rhyme/Big Gortex, crushed down, two time.’ I loved that album.”
It’s not the only album Rosenblatt loved growing up in the Seattle area. There was Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, grunge music and bebop greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins. But before he discovered all of that, he was kid. Kids can hear Rosenblatt play tunes FOR FREE (adults are $5) at Phinney Center on April 13 as part of Town Hall’s Saturday Family Concert series.
The first musical memories Rosenblatt has are of the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong duets that his parents played. It struck young Eli dumb. “There are no wrong notes. There is not one beat that does not swing,” he says enthusiastically. He grew up listening to his parents’ albums. They’d listen to jazz, and Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” Bob Marley, and Paul Simon’s Graceland album, graced with the sounds of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The family’s tastes, and Eli’s own forming musical tastes, were eclectic. Then he heard Afro-Cuban music and a lifelong love affair was born. “I heard the piano at the beginning of a mambo song and thought, ‘well, this is the best thing that exists.’”
He picked up a guitar at young age and soon after a notebook to write his own songs in. He started playing in clubs as a teenager and he doesn’t want to brag, but “I was one of the best local freestyle rappers coming up.” His first paid gig was at a Greek restaurant in Eastlake. “I can’t believe that I could get paid for this.”
He got enough gigs to play professionally full time, leaving his job at UW Hospitals as a medical interpreter. Currently, he fronts the band Bakbuk. They play a mix of original music and reinvented classics in global music styles like Salsa, Cha Cha, Waltz, Klezmer, Swing, Hip-Hop and Samba. Bakbuk performs at Cafe Nordo on 4/11.
All the while, now with a kid of his own, he’s opened wide the door to playing music for children. “It’s brought me a lot. It took me on a journey into my authentic self. It made me feel comfortable with love and unity and acceptance. It opened my heart and I can truly say I love the children I play for.” He plays songs like “Elephant Car,” “Watermelon,” and “Mr. Fox.”
“To make a connection with these kids is really special,” he says. When kids come to his show he wants to them to have the freedom to be themselves. For Rosenblatt, it’s a freedom to express himself in melody and rhythm, rhyme and meter. For the audience: “I want them to be inspired. I want much rejoicing.”