Strickly jazz

While jazz has been making great strides here over the last 20 or so years, New York is still the genre's undisputed epicenter.

January 26, 2010 17:57

While jazz has been making great strides here over the last 20 or so years, New York is still the genre's undisputed epicenter. So collaborating with a venerable musical academic institution from the Big Apple isn't a bad idea. The Center for Jazz Studies, Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv - aka Stricker - runs a four-year bachelor's degree in jazz in collaboration with The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, NYC. Students spend the first two years in Tel Aviv and complete their degree in New York.

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And it isn't a bad idea to periodically import some big names from over there to offer the students - and the general public here - a taste of what's going down on the Stateside jazz scene either. This will be amply taken care of in the forthcoming New York Jazz Masters series, which kicks off on January 23 at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv with guitarist Peter Bernstein, with subsequent slots occupied by 69-year-old trumpeter Eddie Henderson and octogenarian drummer Jimmy Cobb.

The ages of the incoming stars suggests that pianist-teacher Amit Golan, who is co-director of the series along with drummer-teacher Shai Zelman, was aiming for a representative generational spread.

"Yes, that was part of the idea," says Golan, who also teaches at Stricker, as well as at the Thelma Yellin Arts High School's Jazz Department in Givatayim. "But they are also all rooted in the traditions of the art form."

That has always been of paramount importance to Golan.

"You have to constantly feed off the roots, and use them as a base for your musical explorations," he continues. "Bernstein comes from a younger generation, but you can hear he is steeped in the history of jazz, he is conversant with everything that preceded him."

Golan should know. He and Bernstein not only share the same profession, they also shared a classroom at the New School back in the mid-Eighties.

"It's like bringing a friend over to do some concerts," says Golan. "Peter and I know each other well, and he's a fabulous guitarist. He's very melodic, with lots of tradition, and has a unique sound. We all look for that. [Veteran jazz guitarist] Jim Hall rates him very highly, and that's good enough for me."

Hall was, indeed, effusive in his praise for Bernstein, saying: "He has paid attention to the past as well as the future. He is the most impressive young guitarist I've heard. He plays the best of them all for swing, logic, feel and taste."

Golan says he has fond memories of the New School and has tried to replicate some of the ambience from there at Stricker.

"I was at the New School from the start, when Arnie Lawrence was there," he recalls.

Saxophonist Lawrence founded the jazz department of the New School, along with drummer Chico Hamilton, and moved to Jerusalem in the late Nineties. Lawrence established a music school in Ein Kerem in Jerusalem and nurtured a generation or two of budding jazz artists, some of whom will play with the Stricker series frontmen over the next few months.

STRICKER STARTED life in 2001 as a small jazz department for ninth- to twelfth-grade high-school students, catering for teenagers from around the country.

"We taught, and still teach, kids from Jerusalem, Afula, Nazareth and the Golan Heights - all over," says Golan. "And I always wanted to have that sort of family atmosphere that I had at the New School. That's something that Arnie was very much in favor of. Arnie was also a great advocate of experiencing live music, and getting the flavor of music in the making."

The New School-Stricker academic collaboration began last November and, although it takes in some other musical strands, the core is jazz-oriented.

"We have [pianist] Alon Yavnai teaching Brazilian jazz at the school but, as I always say, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. So the basis is very much jazz," Golan says.

Golan is naturally delighted to have secured Cobb's services, and to finally bring him to Israel. Cobb was due to play in the jazz series at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv a few years ago, but he eventually canceled and his place was taken by Ben Riley.

"It is wonderful to bring Jimmy Cobb here for the first time," says Golan. "The man is a legend. He, of course, played on [Miles Davis' landmark 1959 jazz album] Kind of Blue, and he has just finished a year-long world tour to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the record. That says something of Cobb's energy and his ability to still do the business at his age."

The Cobb-Stricker synergy closes the series at the end of May with the veteran drummer due to do three gigs here with an Israeli threesome, including forty-something guitarist Ofer Ganor, New York-based young bassist Yonatan Levy and highly talented Jerusalemite pianist Omri Mor.

Mor - who will also support Bernstein along with another Lawrence protégée, New York-based bassist Tal Ronen, with Zelman behind the drum set - took his initial steps in jazz under Lawrence's aegis in Jerusalem.

"Bringing Jimmy here is the realization of a dream, and also for Omri," says Golan. "Jimmy's been around for a long, long time, and has seen jazz go through a lot of changes, but he has always stayed true to the roots."

Golan is no less enthusiastic about the forthcoming visit of the evergreen Henderson, which will take place at the end of April.

"He's 69 years old but very young in spirit, and he's been very active in jazz for many years," Golan says.

Henderson straddles a range of jazz genres, including some more contemporary styles.

"He played with [drummer Art Blakey's long-serving, fabled hard bop-based group] the Jazz Messengers, but he also worked with [pianist] Herbie Hancock when he was doing his fusion stuff in the Seventies," Golan says. "I wanted to bring a trumpeter with all the tradition, but with a more modern and open view."

Golan also has a somewhat "ulterior" motive for bringing Henderson over.

"I am going to record my second CD with him when he is in Israel," he says.

Golan will also share the bandstand with Henderson, on the trumpeter's three gigs here, along with New York-based Israelis tenor saxophonist Assaf Yuria and trombonist Yonatan Vulchuk, and locals drummer Yonatan Rosen and in-demand bassist Gilad Abro.

Bernstein, Henderson and Cobb are not exactly coming over here for a vacation. Besides three concerts - at Tel Aviv's Einav Center, at the Lab in Jerusalem and a fundraiser gig - all three will present no less than 10 hours of master classes.

"We have five groups at Stricker," Golan explains. "Each of the artists will devote two hours to each group. It will be an invaluable experience for the students."

Mind you, the stars may also learn a thing or two while they are here. New School executive director Martin Mueller was very impressed with what he saw, and heard, on a recent visit to Tel Aviv.

"To come here and to see these young people - 14, 15, 16, 17 year olds - playing on this kind of a level, in the exact spirit and style, it's a remarkable thing," said Mueller.

For more information about the series:

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