We all know times have been hard here, and one of the hardest-hit sectors has been the entertainment business. But this summer seems to be heralding the dawn of better times for music fans. Sting and Roger Waters sold tens of thousands of tickets to their recent shows, Jerusalem had its first international jazz festival, and now the Zappa Club in north Tel Aviv is putting on almost two months of special shows to mark its second anniversary.
While there is no shortage of local music venues, many seem to emerge, flourish and burn out in double quick time. Zappa, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength since its inception. The club offers high-quality local and international music, with food and drink within intimate distance of the stage. Some of the biggest names in jazz - the likes of saxophonists Yusef Lateef, Kenny Garrett and Benny Golson, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster - have all done stints at Zappa, as well as top rockers and purveyors of electronic music, not to mention the very cream of the local scene.
"Yes, things are going well for us," admits Zappa co-owner Yoni Feingold. "We try to offer our customers quality, and Israeli artists a home base." The mix appears to be a successful one. The club operates seven days a week, and most nights it is packed to the rafters. In the case of foreign acts, that often means two shows per night.
Feingold is certainly proud of his club's achievements over the past two years. "I think we have managed to establish an international music venue that demands respect, just like the Jazz Caf in London, the Blue Note in New York and lots of others around the world. We have brought all sorts of acts over, like Echo and the Bunnymen, and different kinds of jazz bands that people have never seen in Israel before."
You could say that Zappa is a classic music club. Take a look at any month's roster and you will get the idea that there is almost no genre left untried. "We touch upon so many different styles - reggae, rock world music, you name it. We are a music club," says Feingold. "In a sense we also have a duty to educate the public, and introduce people to new kinds of music. In general, however, we don't stray too far from the mainstream."
Feingold is particularly proud of the platform the club provides for local talent. "The idea, at the end of the day, is to provide Israeli musicians with a stage. They all know that Zappa is here to stay and will help them get their message across. I'm sure that gives the local music business a huge boost."
Naturally, Tel Aviv is the place where all artists want to perform and expose their material to potential CD buyers. "In the past, artists would launch an album and set off to perform around the country," Feingold continues. "At Zappa they know they have a place to show the public what they can do. That's one of our objectives - to act as a home for Israeli music. We allow the artists to meet their public and maintain contact with them over time. I think that produces a more sustainable effort."
In the jazz department Zappa doesn't appear to have much competition. Shablul has been putting on local jazz and blues shows for a few months, and a new club called Levontin 7 has just opened, offering a mix of local jazz, rock and pop. However, neither does things on Zappa's scale.
"We try our best to appeal to a wide cross-section of the public," Feingold explains. "Zappa is a respectable place without being stuffy. We can have acts like Ahinoam Nini who attract the older crowd and, the next day, Shotei Hanevua, The Jews and Mosh Ben-Ari. But there are plenty of shows that attract young and old, rich and poor alike. We sometimes have Friday afternoon shows with Shotei Hanevua, and you see parents, teenagers, all types. That's very encouraging to see. I think everyone finds their own thing to come to at Zappa. That's always been our aim."
Meanwhile the second birthday celebrations are already in full swing, ending on August 17. The festive line-up includes such crowd-pleasers as Yehudit Ravitz, Arkadi Dukhin, Shalom Hanokh, Aviv Geffen, Hadag Nahash, Shlomo Artzi and Mayumana.
Feingold is happy about the way things have gone thus far, and is busy looking ahead. "We're expanding the place and increasing the capacity to about 300 seats, plus a few more in the aisles. We're always looking to the future and searching for new ideas."
As a founder of the Camelot Club, Feingold is one the more experienced members of the profession, and well aware of the pitfalls of over-extending. "We are experienced and serious about what we do," he declares. "We're building for the future but know the most important thing is to safeguard what we already have. We have time. I think we're doing OK."