Mike del Ferro is a serious globetrotter. Granted, these days most jazz musicians accumulate thousands of air miles, but Del Ferro probably spreads it around more than most.
The 40-something Dutch pianist will be aiming to bring some of the wisdom, colors and sounds he has acquired when he teams up with local saxophonist Amikam Kimmelman, Australian-born bassist Simon Starr and drummer Eitan Itzkovitz as part of the Hot Jazz series.
On his website, Del Ferro says he has visited 103 countries and counting, and feels he’s learned a lot from traveling.
“It has influenced me so much. My playing totally changed because of all these influences,” he says, adding that he recommends getting firsthand knowledge of as many cultures as possible to any musician. “I love to play different styles of music; and if a musician wants to be versatile, he or she should assimilate any style of music. In other words, be open-minded.”
If pushed, he says he would opt for the music of Africa and Latin America. “The music of Africa appeals to me because of the rhythms, and I love Latin American music – mainly from Brazil – because of the melody and harmony.”
Both of these cultural approaches to music will feature in Del Ferro’s shows around the country February 4 – 9 in Jerusalem, Herzliya, Modi’in, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Another influence will come to the fore during his Israeli tour. Del Ferro’s father was opera singer Leonard del Ferro, who sang and recorded with such giants of the classical world as diva Maria Callas and conductor Leonard Bernstein. Del Ferro started out on his musical path by studying classical piano at age nine. But when he discovered jazz at 16, new vistas opened up before him.
“When I discovered the freedom of improvising in combination with rhythm, I changed my musical direction,” he says.
Over the last 20 years, Del Ferro has worked with musicians from a wide range of cultures and has also benefited from the rich experience of some of the senior members of the jazz community. One of them is 90-year-old Belgian harmonica player Toots Thielemans, who played on the pianist’s 2007 release Opera Meets Jazz, which forms the basis for the upcoming Hot Jazz tour repertoire. Thielemans gave the pianist some invaluable insight into the roots of modern jazz, not only into the music per se but also into the actual goings-on among jazz artists back when.
“Working with people like Toots has given me a sort of direct link with a different, earlier, time in the evolution of jazz – nearer the pioneers of modern jazz,” says Del Ferro. “I played on and off with him for 10 years, and besides learning so much on stage with him, I also learned and heard many great life stories. That was an incredible experience and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with a pioneer.”
It has, of course, not gone unnoticed that while some musicians have recently chosen – of their own volition or due to pressure exerted on them – to eschew this part of the world, Del Ferro expresses no such concerns. He believes that meeting and collaborating with people from different parts of the world helps to overcome negative preconceptions. He says he also tries to express this through his music.
“I always stay away from politics, but at the same time I realize that by fusing with other cultures it shows that we are all connected and that music is a universal language and an incredibly powerful way of uniting people with different backgrounds and beliefs.”
While, naturally, feeding off the American roots of jazz, Del Ferro says he brings different cultural and artistic elements to his work. “Growing up in Holland, in Europe, gave me a different angle on jazz compared with artists from the States. I grew up in a strong European-classical music environment, in a European country, and I was the son of an opera singer. I love to play classical themes with many sounds, dynamics, ballads, and not just fast music,” he says. Del Ferro's trip to Israel was in fact sponsored by the Dutch embassy.
Thus far, Del Ferro has enjoyed fruitful synergies with musicians from several Middle Eastern countries and has explored Arabic modal music. However, the voluminous list of countries he has passed through to date does not include Israel. “I have never been to Israel before, and I am really looking forward to it,” he says.
It will be interesting to see what musical baggage Del Ferro takes with him when he leaves here.
Mike del Ferro will perform at the Gerard Behar Centre in Jerusalem on February 4 at 9 p.m. (02) 523-7000 and *6226; Herzliya Zappa Club on February 5 – doors open 8:15 p.m., show starts 10 p.m. (1-700-500-039); Einan Hall Modi’in on February 6 at 10 p.m. (03) 737- 5777; Tel Aviv Museum of Art on February 7 & 8 (9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., respectively) (03) 573-3001 and 1- 700-500-039; and Abba Hushi House in Haifa on February 9 at 9 p.m. (04) 822-7850.
Del Ferro arrived Israel by the Netherlands embassy sponsorship.