If you are going to put on a convincing performance for the public, it can help to know where you’re coming from and to have – at the very least – an empathetic take on the subject matter. While at first glance it may be hard to see a smooth continuum between jazz and the ever-stirring oeuvre of late Yemenite-born diva Shoshana Damari, saxophonist Shauli Einav says he identifies strongly with the material that he, his quartet and his vocalist wife Naama Liany will deliver at Beit Avi Chai on Tuesday. The Jazz of Roses show is the swansong slot of the Jazz in Hebrew series at the Jerusalem cultural hub.
Although now based in Paris, after a lengthy Stateside study and work sojourn, the 30something reedman says that besides imbibing the sound of Damari’s trademark velvety vocals as a kid, he hails from the right part of the world to do justice to the evocative vocal energies and textures of the late iconic songstress.
“You could always hear her songs in my home when I was young,” Einav recalls.
Damari’s signature numbers such as “Kalaniot” (Anemones) and “Hayu Leilot” (There Were Nights) will feature prominently in next week’s jazz show playlist.
“I also come from [Moshav] Kfar Uria [near Jerusalem], and there were all those songs – although they were written in the 1950s and 1960s and even earlier – that reference Shaar Hagai and the Burma Road route through the Jerusalem Hills, like ‘Mishlat Azuv’ [Abandoned Military Post]. These are places I grew up in and identify with. When Damari sings that song, I can imagine the pine trees growing there, and the colors and the scent of the air. All that comes into my work on this concert. That region is very meaningful for me and a part of who I am,” he says.
For his upcoming working visit here, Einav has enlisted the help of pianist Ronen Shmueli, bassist Avri Borochov and drummer Haim Peskoff, in addition to the vocal qualities of Liany, who earns her crust as a mezzo-soprano. The latter was a key factor in the way Einav went about arranging the Damari songs.
“Naama is not going to do operatic renditions of the songs, but I will definitely benefit from the quality of her voice, whether she sings with a lot of vibrato or sings straight,” he notes.
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While Liany and Damari belong to different generations and musical-cultural backdrops, Einav says it is a pretty natural fit and that he was inspired by Damari’s vocal textures, as well as those produced by his partner in life and music.
“Shoshana Damari was not an opera singer, but she used absolutely all the power of her voice and all the shades at her disposal.
It’s not like the pop singers of today who use ‘small’ voicing. In the 1950s and 1960s, in effect, Damari was like a pop singer, but she invested all her vocal abilities in her singing. I think that perhaps the only contemporary singer who does that is Rita,” he says.
Today, Einav is an acclaimed professional who regularly performs at leading jazz venues around Europe, as well as making the odd jaunt over here, but he needed some early confidenceboosting to really get going. The latter was provided by late US-born and latter-day Jerusalemite saxophonist and teacher par excellence Arnie Lawrence, who was responsible for kick-starting the careers of many of the 30something Israeli members of today’s global jazz scene.
“Arnie was the first person who gave me hope that I could really make it in jazz,” says Einav. “He told me I was gifted and that I could make it.”
Einav came from the wrong side of the geographic and educational tracks.
“Today, you have kids at Thelma Yellin [School of Art in Givatayim] who constantly get encouragement from their music teachers, but I came from Boyer [boarding school] in Jerusalem. I didn’t have anybody around me playing jazz; and anyway, there wasn’t much going on in jazz in Jerusalem back then. I remember I used to sit in at shows at an Italian restaurant where [singer] Julia [Feldman] used to perform, and other [Jerusalemite] people like [bassist] Asaf Hachimi and [pianist] Itzik Yedid in the 1990s,” he says.
Besides teaching Einav and his fellow budding musicians the rudiments of the art form, Lawrence was also a living link with some of the major figures of the evolution of modern jazz with whom he played, such a bebop pioneer trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Einav subsequently got more of that when he attended Rochester University in Upstate New York as a master’s degree student.
“There was a bunch of senior citizens there who played jazz, and they used to invite me to sit in with them on Saturdays,” he says.
“They came from there, and from that time, and that was their music. It was in their bones.”
That is a highly salient case in point. While Einav certainly learned the jazz tradition ropes and has paid his dues over the years, his roots are ultimately blue and white rather than red, white and blue.
“I am an Israeli, not an American,” he states. “I love the American jazz standards, but they are not mine. I love music by George Gershwin and Cole Porter, but I didn’t live in New York of the 1930s.”
That makes playing a program of Damari’s songs a far more natural performance vehicle for him.
“These are the songs I heard on the radio as a kid. Damari was a wonderful singer. You can’t help but be moved by her voice,” he says.The Jazz of Roses show will be performed on Tuesday night at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem. For tickets and more information: (02) 621- 5300 and www.bac.org.il
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