A dream come true

For artistic director Leonid Ptashka, the Ashdod Super Jazz Festival is the fulfillment of lifelong vision.

November 19, 2010 16:35
3 minute read.
Leonid Ptashka

Leonid Ptashka. (photo credit: Courtesy)

For some musicians, “just playing music is enough,” says the founder and artistic director of the Ashdod Super Jazz Festival (November 24 – 25) Leonid Ptashka.

“But not for me. I need communication with my musical friends, and festivals are the best way to do it. After performing in New York, Europe and Russia, I see it only natural to host my friends in Israel, which is my homeland. Or one of my homelands,” he adds with a chuckle. “There was one where I was born, another one where I reached maturity as a musician, and that’s where I have I felt Jewish.”

The first Super Jazz Festival took place in Ashdod a year ago, but on the whole “this is my 10th festival in Israel,” says Ptashka, who ran a similar festival between 1994-98 in Ashdod, as well as music events at different locales in Israel. “Now, with the support of the new city authorities, the jazz festival in Ashdod has been reborn.

Granted, with a budget of $150,000 I can’t really go wild, but even with this modest sum of money in my coffer I manage to bring high-caliber artists from 15 countries. Although money talks, in the world of music – and especially that of jazz – people usually never say no when asked for help.”

The roster includes such names as outstanding American saxophone player Lew Tabackin, who played with Charlie Parker; legendary jazz violinist and composer Hannes Beckmann, who has been serving as the artistic director for the Munich Jazz Festival for 40 years; his vocalist wife Brigita Beckmann; Hungarian percussionist Imre Kozsegi; singer Grace Garland; one of the leading Japanese jazz musicians, trumpet player Ryo Sasaki; as well as several Israeli musicians such as vocalist Moses Sea and Ptashka himself.

The concerts of the festival, which is dedicated to the memory of Duke Ellington, will take place at Ashdod’s Heichal Ha’sport, which seats 1,000.

“Six to eight soloists will perform every night, and I’ve opted for the plan where one ticket allows you to enjoy the entire program without hopping from hall to hall to hear this or that artist. The NIS 75 tickets are subsidized by the municipality, and I have nothing but praise for these people for their support and their appreciation of cultural values.

I was always envious of other Israeli cities, like Karmiel, that had festivals of their own. A festival in Ashdod had been my dream for many years, and now it looks like it has come true,” he says.

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1965, Ptashka knew from his early childhood that what he wanted was to play piano. He graduated from the jazz department of the prestigious Moscow Gnessin Institute as jazz and classical pianist and composer and was the first Soviet jazz pianist to tour the US in 1985.

His career was flourishing, but in 1990, due to instability in Russia, he immigrated to Israel.

“I had a lot sentiment for the Jewish country, which was fine, but I needed to survive,” he recalls with a smile.

“With more than a dozen prizes, as well as performances at prestigious venues behind me, such as Carnegie Hall and the Moscow Conservatory, I played in all kinds of places. The best Italian restaurant around was the peak of my career, and I really enjoyed a portion of excellent free spaghetti during the breaks. But that all belongs to the past.”

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