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It is tempting to describe Marty Ehrlich in expansive terms. The Jewish US jazz wind instrumentalist has incorporated so many influences in his 30-plus-year career to date that it is almost impossible to categorize his artistic output. That also makes Ehrlich - who will perform at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv next Friday, with his own trio and Israeli saxophonist Albert Beger appearing as a guest - the ideal person to ask about cross-cultural influences and whether cultural baggage has a telling influence on musicians of one kind or another.
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"That's a huge question," he says, "I sometimes see what I do [musically] as who I am, as a singular person. Other times I think in relation to music and cultural history."
The 51-year-old Ehrlich grew up in St. Louis and, as a youngster, was exposed to the lively jazz scene there. He was also, initially, influenced by what he heard on Shabbat mornings. "I loved listening to our synagogue cantor as a kid," he recalls. "I always found that moved me."
That early liturgical influence has stayed with Ehrlich and, for him, ties in comfortably with the work of some of the giants of jazz.
"People often wonder about the appeal of [legendary jazz saxophonist] John Coltrane to a lot of Jewish jazz musicians. Well, you could argue that Coltrane used an almost cantorial type of song, which surely has some very strong roots in African-American music, related to some very strong roots in Jewish liturgical music. I always felt that growing up. What I heard from Coltrane, at a very young age, made perfect sense to me in relation to what I'd been hearing in the synagogue. There was also a very lively underground cultural scene in St. Louis back then. For me, there are lots of interesting connections."
Ehrlich also finds some correlation between his Jewish upbringing and his musical ability. "In the Torah it says you should remember you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt, although that's a little bit more of a political thing. My ethical understanding of that is that, as a Jew, you should welcome the stranger in your midst. Maybe that helps one share cultural and musical experiences."
As Ehrlich grew up, one influence was jazz multi-wind instrumentalist Eric Dolphy - who, like Ehrlich, played saxophone, clarinet and flute - as were classical composers such as Bartok and Stravinsky.
"I remember hearing my first Led Zeppelin record. Playing Dvorak's Sixth Symphony in a classical orchestra was also an important milestone. These are all part of what I am now, as a person and as a musician."
Some of pop, rock and folk sounds Ehrlich heard in the Sixties will be evident in Tel Aviv next week. "I'll be doing a take on a Bob Dylan song, but I'm not divulging which one," he says. "And you'll hear my Jewish musical influences in the concert, too. I'll be doing a couple of traditional Jewish pieces and some of my own compositions."
At the end of the day, Ehrlich says it's all just music and tries not to analyze it too much. "You can call me a radical conservative or a conservative radical," he laughs. "I think the concert in Tel Aviv will range from the lyrical to the sonic and stuff in between."
The Marty Ehrlich Trio will play at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv on January 19 at 10 p.m.
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