More than a few venerable jazz artists have contended that their chosen art form, today, goes well beyond the strict confines of “black American music.” Jazz is, possibly, the most accommodating of musical genres and, as such, is able to embrace all kinds of cultural baggage, which suits Michal Hoter to a T.
Galilee-based Hoter recently released her debut jazz album, Earth Color, and will officially mark that momentous event with a concert at Bet Ha’amudim on Tel Aviv’s Rambam Street this evening (9:30 p.m.).
The 28-year-old vocalist clearly fits the eclectic take on jazz, and says she received a well-rounded musical education from the word go.
“Music, for me, comes from home,” she observes.
“My father’s a Yemenite. He sings the whole time, and my mother was a singer when she was younger – she sang Yiddish songs in a group in London.
They’d go to senior citizens’ homes to sing, and that sort of stuff.”
That love of music was passed on to the next generation.
“I and my five siblings have sung since the day we were born,” Hoter continues, adding that she also generally managed to grab the familial limelight.
“I am the first girl after three boys, so I was the princess who also got her voice heard,” she laughs.
The Hoter family home frequently resounded to a rich multicultural mix of sounds.
“I grew up with Yemenite songs, and Beatles numbers,” she recalls. She also received some helpful pointers about improvisational artistic endeavor.
“My [paternal] grandparents, Esmond and Barbara Hellerman, are into jazz. As far as my grandfather is concerned, Frank Sinatra is a folk singer,” Hoter chuckles.
Left-field take on Ol’ Blue Eyes notwithstanding, Hoter imbibed the sound of his peerless vocals, and more, as naturally as mother’s milk.
“I didn’t know it was jazz. I didn’t know what jazz was. For me it was just music I liked. They listened to swing, and people like Louis Armstrong, and [divas] Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Billy Holiday, and I listened too. We all did.”
Hoter also got down to carving her own niche from a very young age.
“I have always written songs,” she says. “Sometimes the words came first, and sometimes the music.”
It also helps that Hoter is bilingual, and she rattles off lyrics in English and Hebrew with equal facility.
That comes across in Earth Color. The album comprises originals in both English and Hebrew, a couple of jazz standards and an intriguing Yemenite-inflected take on Ehud Banai’s “Hayom,” off 2004 album Anneh Lee. There is also a touching and jazz-oriented tribute, in Yemenite Arabic and Hebrew, to Hoter’s late paternal grandmother Ziona, who died a couple of years ago.
“The things I write are a mix of everything, everything I have experienced,” says the singer.
“For me it’s a matter of emotion, and what touches me. And, you know, the earth has so many colors.
I try to convey that sense though my music too.”
It is an impressive and touching debut offering from Hoter, who says she needed to get something out of her system so that she can continue to ply her professional way and make musical strides.
“The album is a mixture of things, but that’s who I am as a person in everyday life too.”
With her domestic DNA firmly in place, at the age of 17 Hoter decided it was time to up her educational ante. She left her Galilee home and moved to Tel Aviv, and enrolled at the Rimon School of Music in Ramat Hasharon. The college’s syllabus suited her free-flowing artistic ethos and she dipped into various sectors of sonic creativity, including composition.
After completing three years of military duty and taking a year out to travel the world, Hoter got an opportunity to take her jazz training up a further peg or two.
“I initially thought of going to Berklee [College of Music in Boston].
I was accepted but I didn’t get a grant, and the studies there are really expensive.”
Help soon arrived from a very different part of the world, and she was offered the chance to complete a music degree at New Park Music College in Dublin, Ireland.
“That was really crazy and great,” she recalls. “At Rimon, we did so many things. But, in Dublin, it was only jazz. It was really intense, and I learned a lot.”
She also hooked up with a like-minded bunch of siblings in musical arms, including Italian bassist Marco Santaroni, Venezuelan-born pianist Leopoldo Osio and Peruvian drummer Cote Calmet who, with Israeli saxophonist and clarinet player Jonathan Klein, all play on the new CD. Hoter wrote all the arrangements.
It appears that the singer’s variegated musical talents also stretch into instrumental realms.
“I play a bit on all sorts of things, but piano is my main instrument,” she says, adding that she is not about to take any of her sidemen’s berths. “I mainly use piano for composing. I like to try to focus on one thing at a time. When I am performing, I concentrate wholly on singing. That is tough enough.
For me, singing is emotion. That’s enough for me.”
Hoter does not always come across as a bona fide jazz vocalist on Earth Color, which is not at all a bad thing. There are Ella-like riffs and the sort of delivery one might expect from a “genuine” jazz singer, but there is other fare too, when Hoter appears to simply sing as the mood, and the material at hand, require. These are still early days for the young singer, but that bodes well for the possibility of Hoter coming with up with all kinds of interesting goods in the years to come.For more information: michalhoter.com and (03) 510-9228.