In an era of jazz giants lived a small Egyptian kid hellbent on leaving his own mark on the cobblestone path to fame; a young boy with a radio and the knowledge of an international jazz show, a bunch of magazines, and the drive for success. It’s a compounded interest that we have in Yehya Khalil, both for his music and for his story, one that could take a whole book to tell.
He knew from a very young age that if jazz is what he wanted to do, he was to give up on many things in life, and he did. The man is heavily devoted, and obsessed with music. His apartment is littered with posters of different jazz artists; his studio contains a drum set and an old piano. On this piano stand several awards, a testament to his achievements. One of Egypt’s best musicians sits in front of me – a man who played on the same stage as some of the world’s greatest artists, sharing the same bill with the likes of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Dizzy Gillespie, and many more.
Ever since he could remember, music took a big chunk of Khalil’s day. “The first time I listened to a jazz record I was a tiny, little kid; the first record I listened to, by Louise Armstrong, he was singing All Of Me,” he reminisces. “As a jazz promoter nowadays I remember how I loved and adored jazz music, and how I gave it all my life, as I discovered when I was very little that this is what is going to make me happy.
You can tell by just being with him in the same room how happy of a man he is. Life is one big show for Yehya Khalil, and I couldn’t be more amazed by how fascinated he still is by music after so many years of doing this professionally. He says the problem with the jazz scene in Egypt lies in the fact that most musicians are doing this solely as a source of income, not as their passion. “In the USA, every three guys walking down the street, one of them plays music,” he tells me. “Even when they are not doing it professionally, the American people love music – they love playing it and they love listening to it, with great passion, even if it’s just a hobby.”
Khalil’s lexicon of jazz will leave the most avid fan feeling uninformed, citing a whole world of sub-genres that make up ‘world jazz’, including his forte: Oriental jazz fusion. His musical endeavours took him far and wide, flying him across the globe to play. With all the spunk that is in Khalil, you can rest assured that he still has a long leg of musical performance ahead of him; yet still I couldn’t help but ask, if he was to end his career with one performance – one place in the world, where would he go? “The Chicago Jazz Festival, it’s where I started my career,” he answered confidently.
A gig at Cairo Jazz Club alongside The Egyptian Jazz Fusion Band on the 1st of December seems a way more affordable option for us to catch the legend in action than Chicago. “When it comes to clubs, I just love the Cairo Jazz Club, because it’s actually the only club where you can catch up with some jazz, sometimes,” he says of his favourite Cairo club.