Although the main jazz event of the year - the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat - doesn't happen until the end of the summer vacation, jazz fans all over the country are looking forward to a real treat this Saturday, when titans Chick Corea and Gary Burton team up at the Ra'anana Amphitheater.
Pianist Corea and vibraphonist Burton are quite simply one of the most celebrated jazz duos in the history of the art form. They began their shared musical journey a full 35 years ago, although Lady Luck had a generous hand in getting the synergy off the ground.
"There was an impromptu jam session arranged after the jazz festival put on as part of the Munich Olympics in 1972," Burton recalls. "Chick and I were the only ones who turned up to play."
The on-the-fly Corea-Burton show went down well with the audience. Manfred Eicher, who had recently established the German-based ECM record label, happened to be in attandance. A recording contract soon ensued, and Crystal Silence was duly released in November 1972. And the rest, as they say, is history.
To date, Burton and Corea have recorded five albums together with a sixth slated for a fall release. Burton admits to being somewhat surprised by the longevity of his professional association with Corea. "Initially, I thought, 'Who wants to hear a pianist and vibraphonist duo?' But I evidently got that wrong. We don't play together all the time, but it's always good fun when we do."
Corea is similarly enthused about the ongoing collaboration. "It's never been a reunion," Corea said in a recent interview. "Me and Gary continue to just play. It's always been: 'Oh, let's do another gig.' There was never a point where ... we reformed. It's always been a sideline with us, in the sense that we've always had main groups that we do, and then we've always gotten together with the duet. It's kind of worked out very, very nicely. It's a special little place that's all its own."
Burton and Corea are both now in their sixties, but advancing years do not seem to have slowed them down at all. "We've been touring, on and off, for the last 11 months," says Burton. "We've done over 60 gigs in that time, and in fact, the Ra'anana show is the penultimate one of the whole tour. So, you could say we know what we're doing."
Burton also reflects on the vagaries and risks involved in following a career in the arts, especially in an area of the arts that is not generally known for providing generous financial rewards.
"Most people, when they get to my age, are earning well after gaining so much professional experience. But, in jazz, you get lots of young guys coming through and styles change, so as you get older you can find work harder to come by."
That has hardly been the case for him or Corea. Burton also had a "day job" for over 30 years, as teacher and later director of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. "That certainly helped to provide a base for my life, a regular salary, health insurance and that sort of thing. Working at Berklee I never had to worry about that," he notes.
Burton's educational stint also gave him a different perspective on the generation gap.
"Some guys prefer to work with seasoned professionals, but I prefer to work with younger musicians. They are fresh and keen, and that keeps me on my toes and excited about what I'm doing."
In fact, Burton's last CD as director of Berklee and the first two he put out after he left the college were recorded with musicians who were less than half his age. "When you tour with young guys, they are just so up for the gig every night."
Does that mean Burton had to make sure the "kids" were safely tucked up in bed after the gig? "Quite the opposite," he laughs. "It was me who got to bed as soon as I could after the gig, and they'd keep on going all night long. Hey man, I can't do that anymore."
Burton may be past his first flush of youth but, judging by his more recent recordings with Corea, there will be no shortage of energy - or inventiveness - on the Ra'anana Amphitheater stage this weekend.
Doors open this Saturday night at 8. For ticket information, call (03) 604-5000.