Israeli jazz pianist Shimrit Shoshan dies at 29
First Person: Shoshan was one of the brightest stars in the stateside Israeli jazz firmament.
Israel jazz pianist Shimrit Shoshan. Photo: Tau Battice
Israeli jazz pianist Shimrit Shoshan died on Sunday from cardiac arrest at the
age of only 29.
Shoshan, a New York resident, was one of the brightest
stars in the stateside Israeli jazz firmament and maintained a busy performance
schedule, often working with the leading edge players there.
I met her
last year when she visited Israel to spend some time with her family. I
interviewed her for an article which eventually ran in The Jerusalem Post last
December, and she was full of ideas and exciting plans for the
She released her debut album, Keep It Movin’, in 2010, and was
busy working on her second release.
Typically, all eight tracks on Keep
It Movin’ were self-penned and developed carefully over a protracted period of
time. Shoshan never rushed into her work without giving due thought and
consideration for every aspect of the desired results, and when it came to her
music, she never asked for or gave any quarter. She was willing to do
practically anything to keep the wolves at bay, as long as she could continue to
“The numbers evolved over a long time,” she told me when we met
in Jerusalem in spring 2011. “I’m not in a rush. I sold diamonds, I worked in
real estate – everything Jews do there to survive.
I actually made decent
money out of selling apartments, but it wasn’t for me. I have to stick to my own
truth, whatever the price.”
That was a message that came through loud and
clear from her debut release, and from her infectious enthusiasm when she talked
about her artistic path.
Shoshan’s jazz road began at the Thelma Yellin
High School of the Arts, where she studied in the same class as guitarist Gilad
Hekselman – who has been making waves in the Big Apple and beyond for some years
now, and played at last month’s Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat. She noted late
pianist and high school teacher Amit Golan as one of her formative influences,
crediting him with teaching her “all the formal stuff I hadn’t learned before.”
In 11th grade, she attracted high praise from one of the jazz world’s legendary
figures, when octogenarian drummer Max Roach presented a master class
“Lots of students played for him,” said Shoshan. “He said: ‘You’re
all great but the pianist is really great.’ That was fantastic and it gave me a
lot of encouragement.”
Typically, there was not a hint of hubris in that
recollection, only satisfaction with the progress she made at the
Shoshan caught the music bug at the young age of eight, when she
started tinkering on an organit – a small electrical keyboard designed for
children – and quickly embarked on her road to musical discovery.
she hadn’t really expected to be accepted by Thelma Yellin at all. “All I had
done until then was play around on an organit, so I didn’t think I had much to
offer at the audition for the high school. But I’ve got a really good ear,” she
In actuality she was a natural, and took her inspiration from the
rhythms and vibes of the street, not just from the records she heard or the gigs
she went to. “I can pick up on, say, the sound of a taxi driving by and take
that sound somewhere musically.
I really feed off the sounds of the
street, the sounds of life,” she observed at the time.
Shoshan never took
the easy way out, and preferred to compose her own scores rather than use
readymade material. She hardly played jazz standards and did not follow the
increasingly popular trend among young Israeli jazz artists of taking items from
the Israeli Songbook and turning them into jazz numbers. For Shoshan it was all
about digging deep into her own creative and spiritual resources to find her
“It’s true that you can take any melody and do something with it,
but it depends how you go about it,” she declared in Jerusalem last year. “Also,
if you want to take something Israeli, why not take something from inside, from
your own ‘Israeliness?’” After taking her burgeoning learning curve and career
as far as they could go here, she eventually moved stateside, studying at the
City College of New York and the New School. Her teachers included some of the
most celebrated veterans of the global scene – pianist Kenny Barron, bass player
Reggie Workman and trumpeter Charles Tolliver. She soon began playing at some of
the best jazz venues in New York and, in 2009, was a finalist in the prestigious
Thelonious Monk Institute Ensemble Competition and the Mary Lou Williams Women
in Jazz Competition.
My 2011 article for The Jerusalem Post closes thus:
“One gets the idea that, no matter where she is or who she is with, Shoshan will
always find that room for maneuver, that freedom to tell the world exactly the
way it is for her.” A talented musician and pure spirit has left us far too