Next week (November 13-16), the third annual International Showcase Festival will take place at the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem and at the Zone venue in Tel Aviv. Over the four days, more than 40 festival artistic directors, promoters and other music industry leaders from all over the world will get the chance to catch an eyeful and earful of some of our most talented jazz and world music artists.
The proceedings open in Jerusalem with a concert by arguably Israel's most celebrated jazz artist, pianist Anat For and her trio. Fort, the first Israeli jazz musician to record with prestigious German label ECM, is currently working on her third release with the market leader. The rest of the first showcase slot features the jolly Bukharian Alaev Family troupe, jazz drummer Noam David's band, jazz bass player Itamar Borochov and his trio, and the irrepressible Malox duo.
The event's founder and artistic director, Barak Weiss, is naturally delighted that the event is taking place for a third time and says it is an important vehicle for the local music industry.
"There are so many talented musicians in this country making excellent and interesting music in jazz and world music," he notes. "The problem is that they don't draw big enough audiences here; and if artists don't perform for the public, there simply won't be any art anymore," declares Weiss. "Poets don't write poems just to stash them away in some drawer. An artist has to put his work out there." One of the ways to solve the entertainment consumer conundrum, according to Weiss, involves helping the artists to present their creations to the world at large.
"Israeli artists have to be introduced to the world and to convey to them that the world, and certainly Europe, is a suitable platform for them. In that way, they can get large numbers of people from different countries to get to know what they do. By doing that, we can free up the bottleneck," he says.
Weiss adds that from the outset, both he and the Yellow Submarine were keen to make the musical slots in the showcase accessible to the public.
"We realized that if we kept the shows closed to the public and have the artists perform solely for the delegates from abroad, the whole thing would turn out to be a kind of audition. That would mean you wouldn't get the energy of artists giving a real performance. This way, the guests from abroad get the full impact of how the artists perform," he explains.
Weiss is also keen to point out that the showcase is very much for local music fans, too.
"I believe that if you have cultural events in Israel, and especially in Jerusalem, we have an obligation to allow as many people as possible to access them." The artistic director also has an eye on the future.
"By enabling young people to come to shows, in effect you are nurturing the next generation of culture and entertainment consumers, young people who, at some stage in the future, will also have the wherewithal to pay for tickets and go to shows. That is crucial for me," he says There is also an educational aspect to the exercise.
"Everyone knows what jazz is, but people don't really know what world music is," Weiss continues. "There are so many styles and modes of expression within the field." That is particularly true of this part of the world and, according to Weiss, it often generates a healthy and mutually beneficial encounter.
"Israel has all these ethnic communities and so many genres, and they sometimes converge and you get amazing fusions. In Jerusalem, you sometimes get clashes between ethnic communities that cause trouble; but when it comes to music, that can produce great artistic riches," he says.
So when it comes to world music, the added value offered by Israel is clear for all to see and hear. But what do we have to offer the world when it comes to jazz? Surely, there are plenty of homegrown jazz artists in the US, the cradle of the genre. So how can one explain the amazing success of so many Israeli jazz musicians all over the world, particularly New York, the epicenter of the jazz cosmos? Weiss feels that Israel, both as a country and as a producer of jazz talent, has gone through a maturing process and is now primed to give of its own culture to the rest of the world.
"For starters, we have excellent jazz musicians who are as good as the best anywhere in the world," says Weiss, although adding that not everything our jazz artists do is 24 carat. Some of the sounds from here have been dubbed "felafel jazz", which refers to material that owes more to the fun, free-for-all jam session approach rather than offering the public something new and genuinely creative.
"There are those who take from the Great American Songbook and play things that have been performed and recorded by many times before. But there are artists who delve into their own culture and the things they grew up on, the things they heard on the radio, on the LP turntable or whatever.
That indicates a certain degree of maturity," he says.
Indeed, increasingly Israeli jazz professionals, such as Paris-based pianist Yaron Herman, the three Cohen Siblings – saxophonists Anat and Yuval and trumpeter Avishai – and German-based pianist Omer Klein are among those who have taken "Israeli oldies" which, back in the day, were sung around the campfire, and run with them into uncharted musical domains.
Weiss believes that contemporary artistic laissezfaire encompasses all known cultural areas.
"Today it is perfectly natural for someone from Netanya, even though he is called Klein, to take Eastern music and mix it into his jazz work. That's our added value," he says.
The rest of the showcase roster includes such leaders of the jazz pack as the envelope-pushing Hagiga sextet, the Avi Lebovich Orchestra bid band combo, Turkey-based percussionist Yinon Muallem and the Rast Ensemble, Persian music vocalist Morin Nehedar and madcap klezmer outfit Oy Division, and an intriguing synergy between Eastern music-tinged rock group Knesiyat Hasechel and the Andalusian Orchestra of Ashkelon.
For more information: (02) 679-4040 and www.yellowsubmarine.org.il