Making musical tracks
Having made a name for himself in New York’s jazz scene, Israeli guitarist Gilad Hekselman returns home to perform at the annual Red Sea Jazz Festival.
Gilad Heskelman (center) Photo: Derek Branscombe
Considering his ascendancy in the global jazz world in recent years it is hard
to believe that Gilad Hekselman has yet to appear at our preeminent jazz
gathering, the annual Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat. But that will be redressed
this time round, when the 29-year-old New York resident guitarist fronts a
stellar band at Eilat Port on July 31 and August 1.
Hekselman left these
shores and headed Stateside eight years ago. During that time he has put out
three well-received CDs. His last release, Hearts Wide Open, has attracted
particularly high praise and Hekselman is now an established leading member of
the New York scene and the global jazz circuit. And the next album is already in
His debut in Eilat will see Hekselman front a heavyweight
quartet, featuring stellar saxophonist Mark Turner, longtime colleague drummer
Marcus Gilmore and bassist Matt Brewer, who replaces Joe Martin, who played on
the album but is unable to make the Eilat date.
The guitarist says he has
come a long way since moving to New York, and particularly since he took charge
of his own artistic output.
“I am always thinking about my music, and
always writing,” he says. “I recently decided to take charge of producing my own
albums. It gives me complete freedom to achieve the end result I really
Some musicians write with specific sidemen in mind. Hekselman
likes to take a broader view with his writing.
“I did think about Mark
[Turner], but I know there are a lot of composers that do think about specific
players at the writing stage, like Duke Ellington thought about his bands. But,
with me, I start with a song. I sit at home, find a melody, which generally
comes with the harmony too, and then the members of the band come into the
picture. What is great about my band is that, when they get to play the score,
it sounds even better that I imagined beforehand.”
That’s not a bad
position to be in at all.
“Yes, I am lucky in that respect,” he
In fact, it is probably far more about Hekselman’s talent and honed
instrumental skills than about any four-leafed clover he might have hidden in
his guitar case. The truth is that during his time in the Big Apple to date the
Israeli has attracted bucketloads of praise from fans and fellow jazz artists
alike, including from some of the veteran members of the fraternity, such as
iconic septuagenarian trombonist Curtis Fuller.
In the final analysis,
Hekselman actually writes for the specific players who perform his music, and he
says he feels blessed by the top-drawer talent he has managed to recruit for the
“All the guys I have in my band are my favorites on their
particular instruments. When I write music I write it for my ideal band so, I
suppose, I do write for these guys, because they are my favorite
Naturally, it can help to have developed an understanding,
over time, with your musical cohorts.
“Marcus [Gilmore] and I have been
playing together for around five years, and he is an essential part of my work,
and integral to my sound,” Hekselman observes. “As soon as we started playing
together it was clear to me that we have a special and interesting
Mind you, there was some groundwork to set in place before
the drummer and guitarist could entirely go with the flow.
“I had to
learn how to play with Marcus. Sometimes, in the middle of a solo I’d lose my
place in the piece. But I learned how to listen to him and how to play with him.
It was the same with Mark.”
Hekselman singles out Turner with singular
“He was one of the musicians with the most individual sound out
there in jazz today,” he declares.
“On the other hand, when he comes to a
band, he tries to see where he fits in with the others. Once someone asked Mark
what he thinks about when he plays, and Mark said he always tries to make the
band sound better. And he does that – even when he’s not playing and just
standing to the side. He projects something special onto the other guys in the
Before leaving these shores Hekselman learned the ground rules of
his craft at the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim, with such
teachers as Yossi Regev and the late Amit Golan. He first set out on his musical
road on piano, but after three years he realized he should try his hand at
“I understood I wasn’t going to be a concert pianist,” he
recalls, “so I moved to guitar.”
It took a while for jazz to make it into
his consciousness, and for several years Hekselman played in rock bands in and
around Tel Aviv. Eventually, jazz became his musical direction and the rest is
Above all, Hekselman says it is about emotion. “I listen to
vocal jazz a lot. I always ask myself what really moves me, and the answer is
always vocal jazz.”
Some of that emotion will, no doubt, be on display in
Eilat at the end of the month, with not a little polish and adventurous
For more information about the Red Sea Jazz Festival: www.redseajazzeilat.com