There can’t be many more joyous sounds in the realms of 20th century-rooted music than the delightfully insouciant strains of trad jazz. Anyone who has caught a combo in said genre reeling off a fun riff or two will, surely, have sensed their toes itching to start tappin’, if not actually getting down to some actual hoofing.
Trumpeter Eli Preminger is looking forward to his audience being drawn into such a happy course of action this weekend (December 1-2) when he and his five co-instrumentalists in the Eli & The Chocolate Factory troupe, plus New York-based guest vocalist Tamar Korn, take the stage at this year’s winter edition of the Jacob’s Ladder Festival, at Nof Ginossar on the Sea of Galilee.
Preminger has clearly always been keen to get the glad tidings message across, right from the band naming stage.
“I spoke to a friend, who is a traditional jazz blogger in New York. He told me that if the band plays happy music, the name should say something about happy music,” the band leader states. “Then the idea name just popped out,” he says, adding that the moniker does not reference the Tim Burton movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “I’m not a great fan of the movie. Anyway, what’s in a name?” he observes.
As the trumpeter is still “the right side” of 40, one wonders why he was drawn to a style of jazz that first saw the light of day over a century ago. What drew him to the syncopated rhythms of incipient improvisational musical offerings spawned by the social-cultural milieu of the late 19th century? It was actually a very different art form that led him in the direction of melodies scored by the likes of Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and Paul Sarebresole.
“I remember, when I was at school, in an animation class and the teacher put on a CD while we worked. It was old jazz. It really grabbed me. I didn’t really know what it was. I think it was something by [iconic pianist-band leaders] Count Basie or Duke Ellington. It was a very powerful experience of something I enjoyed without knowing what it was.” The young student was well and truly on board the trad jazz train.
There were other formative events in the youngster’s evolving musical consciousness.
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“When I was at high school someone gave me a few tapes – one of Ella [Fitzgerald] and Louis [Armstrong], and another one of the [1920s] Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven [bands]. Then I got into Miles Davis, which is something I constantly go back to. After the army I got seriously into Duke Ellington, then [clarinetist] George Lewis which brought me into traditional New Orleans jazz.”
All the above was augmented by more contemporary fare too.
“I also always listened to modern jazz, people like [trumpeter] Freddie Hubbard, [drummer] Art Blakey, Miles, [modern jazz pioneering pianist Thelonious] Monk and [pianist] Herbie Hancock, all sorts of things you could call pure jazz.”
Preminger has largely carved his own path through the byways and highways of his chosen craft.
“I am fortunate that I didn’t study at the academy. I wasn’t guided through bebop or sophisticated harmony, so I just play what I’ve been playing all these years,” he notes. “That is to my advantage.”
Does that mean he is less constrained by a particular musical mindset?
“I am anchored to something else,” he says, although his definition of being locked into a strictly defined ethos is open to interpretation. “I think playing together, playing without ego, is the way.”
The latter is a rare and elusive property in the artistic world and, of course, in life in general.
“But we are all human beings. We all have our egos.”
If you have ever caught Eli & The Chocolate Factory in the act you will, no doubt, have sensed that spirit, of just playing the music for the sheer joy of it.
Preminger may not have followed the institutionalized course of acquiring the rudiments of the discipline, but he did get down and dirty where it really matters. “I went to New Orleans and I played with the [New Orleans-based trad jazz] Preservation Hall [Jazz Band],” he recalls. “I really fit it with them. I’m really happy about that.”
The trumpeter says he is also drawn to the naiveté and unpretentiousness of the earliest jazz genre.
“In contrast with the problematic nature of modern jazz, [in trad jazz] you don’t try to show how good you are, out of context. Playing this music is more like making a community musical creation. It’s like a telling people a joke, or singing together.”
Preminger experienced the proof of that mindset pie at the music’s nerve center.
“When I played with the Preservation Hall guys, it wasn’t like what’s this guy from Israel doing with our music,” he says. “They really appreciate it when someone respects their culture.”
And, if you happen to be swept away by the Eli & The Chocolate Factory show this week – and the chances are good that will be the case – and want more where that came from, fret not. The band, together with Korn, are planning on releasing an album of trad jazz in the near future. Preminger says that fans of early jazz will get the authentic spirit behind the venture.
“It’s not going to be, sort of, let’s put on a straw hat and try to play old songs,” he notes. “We realized that this album is going to include old songs, from the source.”
Mind you, this is not going to be a yesteryear replicated project. Preminger wants to make the album relevant to this day and age, while referencing the era of the original music as organically as possible.
“We have starting working, for example, on a reading of the Beatles song ‘Your Mother Should Know.’ That came up when we talked about old music. ‘Your Mother Should Know’ connects with another song, a jazz standard from the 1920s, and also with a Jewish song from Odessa – you know, the whole story with [early 20th century Ukrainian-born Jewish entertainer] Sophie Tucker. There’s a lot to this.”
There’s also a lot to this weekend’s festival, with a slew of ever-popular musical offerings, dance workshops, a guided bird watching tour and kiddies’ activities, among the program items.For tickets and more information about the Jacob’s Ladder Festival: (04) 685-0403 and www.jlfestival.com.
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