Oran Etkin has been described as a "ebullient" by the New York Times and "composer of eminent individuality" by Yusef Lateef. He was voted #1 Rising Star Clarinetist in DownBeat Magazine's 2016 Critics Poll and has been invited several times to Harvard University as a guest lecturer. Etkin's music can be heard on concert stages worldwide and numerous recordings including a Grammy Award Winning anti-bullying compilation album. Etkin's duo concert with Sullivan Fortner in Paris was chosen as one of the Top 6 Musical Highlights of the year by Libération, which described it as "a concert of weightlessness, class, spark, inspiration and sharing. Magic uninterrupted for two hours. The crowd... went wild. For such is the music of Etkin: sensitive to the exchange with the audience.”
Etkin's unique sound on the clarinet, bass-clarinet and saxophone emanates from an openness to deep musical connections that often transcend cultural and generational boundaries. Etkin began reimagining how touring can become part of the creative process with his Gathering Light project. Flipping the traditional record-then-tour model, he first toured in Indonesia, China, Japan, Israel and West Africa and then let the rhythms and melodies he encountered influence the music he created with his New York based band of Nasheet Waits, Ben Allison, Lionel Loueke & Curtis Folks. Since then, he has only deepened his concept of gathering light as he tours: taking time off between shows to live with traditional mbira masters in Zimbabwe, building collaborative projects with Roma (Gypsy) musicians in Czech Republic. In April 2020 Etkin launched the Open Arms project - a monthly release of singles and music videos recorded & filmed around the world with master musicians in Rio de Janeiro, Harrare Zimbabwe, Prague, São Paulo, Paris and more. Last fall he released a similar project for children, called Finding Friends Far From Home, also filmed and recorded on location around the world!
Etkin feels a strong responsibility to continue passing the rich musical traditions of this world on to the next generation. For nearly a decade, Etkin's Timbalooloo program has created a paradigm shift in music education, instilling the idea of music as communication and dialogue by making instruments come alive and talk with each other. This innovative approach has attracted the attention of thousands of parents, including Naomi Watts, Live Schreiber, Martha Stewart, Ken Burns and Edie Falco, all of whom enrolled their children or grand-children in Etkin's Timbalooloo program. Harvey Keitel, who enrolled his son in Timbalooloo for three years remarked "our son was talking about Herbie Hancock, Mozart, Samba and African music - and he knew the difference!" In fact, Herbie Hancock recently heard about all the children learning his music through Timbalooloo and invited Etkin's Timbalooloo band to perform in Paris for UNESCO's International Jazz Day. Hancock makes a brief appearance in one of the Timbalooloo TV videos, which UNESCO premiered at schools and venues in its 195 partner countries. Through a creative approach to music education, as well as concert performances, recordings and video content, Timbalooloo endeavors to nurture a generation of children to speak the international language of music with the same fluency as they speak their mother tongue.
Etkin's deep passion for music was nurtured from an early age by both formal training and informal mentorship by his elders. By the age of nine, Etkin was playing piano, guitar, violin and saxophone. After falling in love with the music of Louis Armstrong, Etkin's parents took him to visit New Orleans where the legendary Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen briefly took the young Etkin under his wing. He continued his studies with jazz saxophone greats such as George Garzone, Dave Liebman and Yusef Lateef, symphonic clarinetists such as Charles Neidich and Tom Martin and traditional griot musicians from West Africa. He received his Masters in Music from Manhattan School of Music. Now as a touring musician Etkin continues to collaborate with great musicians from many cultures, experiencing firsthand how in every society, the true power of music lies not just in the individual's pursuit of technical mastery but in the joyful and soulful creation of community!