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(photo credit: Courtesy)
They say artists are generally a sensitive bunch - at least the genuine ones. If sensitivity is anything to go by, then Hamid Drake is the real McCoy.
The Chicago resident jazz drummer will be in Tel Aviv this evening for a double header at Tel Aviv's Levontin 7 club, with Israeli - mostly NYC resident - saxophonist Assif Tsahar, with some added ethnic seasoning thrown in by guest percussionist Zohar Fresco. This will be Drake's third visit here in the last two years and he says this country, particularly Jerusalem, has left a lasting impression on him both as a person and as a musician.
"I was very moved by Jerusalem when I played there last year," said Drake in a telephone interview from Italy, where he was touring prior to his foray here. "I think it is probably the most special and wonderful place I have ever seen." That's quite an observation, coming from someone who has spent most of the last 25 years globetrotting.
"There are three of the world's major religions who consider Jerusalem holy to them," Drake continues. "I felt some kind of elation being there but and I also felt the heartbreak of humanity there. I felt that humanity is this tender tree which can be tended. It's clear to me - without any political connotations - that Jerusalem is a truly unique place." Drake says he was so moved by being in Jerusalem that he feels it has impacted on the way he now approaches his art. "I think it's made me more compassionate towards others, and towards myself. That definitely enters my music."
In fact there's not much Drake has experienced or heard that hasn't left some mark on how he approaches his drum set and an ever increasing array of non-western percussion instruments. His influences range far and wide, both by way of his parents and the stuff he got into growing up in the sixties. "My mother was an avid fan of [legendary gospel singer] Mahalia Jackson. My father was the first one who really spoke to me about [avant garde icons] John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, for instance, but he was also aware of the music of people like [big band leaders] Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Glen Miller. He was really into jazz of all forms."
Then there were the more contemporary sounds Drake heard on the radio. "I was in to R&B, rock and pop. I listened to stuff like the Stones, Led Zeppelin, the soul music coming out of Motown, Otis Redding and [Jimi] Hendrix. That rhythmic idea of how to play shaped what I did back then. There were a lot of things coming at you from the radio in those days."
The Sixties were also, of course, a time of turmoil and great sociopolitical awareness in the States. "Then there was a lot of political and social stuff which I listened to - groups like [early civil rights era hip hop band] The Last Poets, and Oscar Brown Jr., whose music carried a wide range of social and political views. Later I got into the music of guys like [saxophonist] Archie Shepp. At the time, I didn't even know it was called avant garde. All that sort of melting pot was important for a lot of us coming up at the time. For African Americans, that was a time of great strides, and looking for roots."
Drake was aware of the cultural and ethnic sounds outside the States from a very early age, and that helped him eventually begin to feed off musical inspirations from all over the world. "My father would talk to me about things like the ancient Ethiopians, how Ethiopia was one of the first Christian civilizations, and stuff like that. He was very knowledgeable about what you'd call in Hebrew the Torah and the Tannakh."
Today, Drake is considered one of the foremost drummers in the field, partly because of his ability to incorporate an abundance of rhythms and tonal structures from beyond the strict boundaries of Western music. "I identified that cultural baggage with Assif right from the beginning, too," he says. "I feel very comfortable playing with him, and being in Israel. It's a very inspiring place to be in and play in."
Hamid Drake will perform at Tel Aviv's Levontin 7 club this evening at 8:30 pm. and 10:15 p.m.