Most Monday nights, Oz Noy can be found onstage at the venerable New York City
nightclub The Bitter End, offering what he calls a “live rehearsal” to an always
Appreciative, because they get a chance to listen
to a virtuoso guitarist who blends rock, jazz blues and funk into his own unique
style that has established him as one of the premier players in the Big Apple –
not bad for a boy from Rishon Lezion.
“The fact that I get to play there
every week is unbelievable. I use it as kind of a laboratory for my records,”
said the 40- year-old Noy, who has released five well-received albums since
moving to New York in 1996. “I get to experiment and keep my chops up. With the
kind of improvisational music I do, if you don’t play all the time, you get
rusty. You have to constantly play in order to maintain that
Noy apparently is very inspired. In addition to his own
albums and shows, which feature a broad cross section of New York’s best musical
talent like drummers Keith Carlock and Anton Vig and bassists Will Lee and
Reggie Washington, Noy is a prolific gun for hire – with recording and touring
credits for a who’s who of contemporary music including Harry Belafonte, Cyndi
Lauper, Clay Aiken, Toni Braxton, The Gil Evan Orchestra, Warren Hayes and Gov’t
Mule, Allen Toussaint, Don Was, Nelly Furtado and Natasha
“I’d say at this point, it’s about 50/50 between doing my
own stuff and playing with other people,” said Noy, speaking last week from his
home in New York.
“I don’t turn down gigs. There’s so little work for
musicians – and even if there was a lot of work – if somebody asks me to record
with them, I’ll do it as long I get paid what I need. For live performances, I’m
a little more picky – if it was music I really didn’t like, I wouldn’t do it.
But for me, it’s all work. There are very few musicians in the world who are in
a place that they can say no to work.”
Noy developed that philosophy back
when he was a teenage phenomenon in Israel, performing with some of the top
artists of the day by the time he was 16.
Always interested in music, he
wanted to pursue drumming. But at age 10, after accompanying a friend to a
guitar lesson, his ambitions were derailed. “One look at the guitar and that was
it,” he said.
By age 13, Noy had become so proficient on the instrument
that he was performing in a band with players in their late teens. It was the
last youth band he was in, because his talents soon became apparent to the local
“I never had that phase of being in lots of bands during
high school, because by that time I was already semi-professional,” he said.
Recording credits for artists like Ariel Zilber and Meir Banai piled up, while
on the side, Noy wrote and performed his own jazz-inflected material.
his early 20s, he was leading the house band on the late Dudu Topaz’s
mega-popular TV show Rishon B’Bidur (First in Entertainment). But despite the
heady success at such a young stage, the ambitious Noy at age 24 decided to test
the musical waters in New York.
“I had friends who had gone to New York
and returned to Israel and kept telling me to try it there. And some other
friends went there at 18 or 19 and established pretty successful careers. I was
beginning to feel left behind,” he said. “I knew that it was a matter of time,
but it took me a couple years before I had the courage to actually
Noy experienced a couple difficult years in New York, but word of
his amazing guitar skills began to spread, and eventually the requests for
recording sessions began coming in. However, even 15 years later, he admits that
being a working musician is still a challenge.
“It was hard to find my
place, and it’s even hard now,” he said. “It’s part of being a musician, no
matter if you live in New York, Paris or Tel Aviv. You have to find your own
way, and everyone has a different road to travel.”
“There’s a good
community of musicians in New York, and like anywhere, there are cliques or
people who play together. But the funny thing I found is that for a place that’s
supposedly so big, when you get into the circles, it’s generally the same people
that keep cropping up.
I found New York to be smaller than it
Noy’s traveled road has been a superhighway, dotted with his
inventive albums, beginning with 2003’ Oz Live, recorded at the Bitter End. The
next year he signed with Magna Carta Records and has been releasing new material
up through last year’s acclaimed Twisted Blues. Along the way he’s been lauded
for his skills, being named by Guitar Player’s readers poll in 2008 as “best new
A frequent return visitor to Israel, Noy will be joining two
other guitar masters – Andy Timmons and Preston Reed – for Guitar Day, a special
three-set performance on December 12 at Reading 3 in Tel Aviv. The 49-year-old
Timmons has done everything from playing heavy metal with Steve Vai to leading
Olivia Newton- John’s touring bands. Reed, 57, is a finger- style guitarist
patterned after the blueprints of Leo Kottke and John Fahey, and together with
Noy and Timmons, will present just about every sound that a guitar can
“I’ve never met either of them, but I certainly know of them, and
they’re great,” said Noy, adding that he always enjoys returning to perform in
Israel. “It’s not really a homecoming, because I’m back quite frequently. But
having family and friends come to the show makes it special.”
to him, the phenomenon of Israeli musicians populating the New York landscape is
no longer a novelty, but is now an everyday experience made commonplace by the
opportunities opened up by online music options.
“The fact is that there
are lots of musicians from Israel doing well in New York, but there are a lot of
musicians from other countries too,” he said. “And these days, when everything
is so available and open online, it doesn’t really matter where you’re
Not, at least, as long as you can play like Oz Noy.