The history of the contemporary arts world is, sadly, littered with tales of wunderkinds and, especially, the offspring of celebrities, who have started out so brightly but burned out not long after their first flush of youthful genius.
Tomer Bar certainly got an early start to his musical journey. As the son of guitarist and long-serving honcho of Jerusalem’s famed Yellow Submarine music venue Acha Bar, the pianist was exposed to music-making from the off, and thrust into the limelight when he was barely into his teens. Add to that the genetic boon of being the great-grandson of British-born internationally acclaimed cellist Thelma Yellin and you have yourself a suitably fertile hereditary backdrop for furthering a career in the arts.
Now a seasoned veteran at the still tender age of 23, 11 whole years after releasing his debut jazz album, Bar seems to be making a habit of spreading his musical wares far and wide, as will be evident tomorrow evening when he marks the launch of a new single – “Ladaat Hakol” (Knowing It All) – this evening at the HaEzor club in Tel Aviv (9 p.m.).
“My father was basically responsible for me getting into music,” says Bar. “He’s a doer.”
That “doing” also included introducing Bar and his younger brother Nitzan, now a celebrated guitarist in his own right, to the dynamics and excitement of the recording studio.
“My dad took us to all these places, and showed us stuff, but he never did it in a forceful way,” Bar notes.
It may have been a gentle paternal push in a particular direction, but Bar really went for it from the word go. By the age of 10 he was writing his own music – generally of a jazzy ilk – and he released his first recorded offering, Memories, just a couple of years later. I recall the gig which, naturally, took place at the Yellow Submarine, and I was among a packed audience of jazz fans who were left open-mouthed not only by the youngster’s dexterity, but also by the maturity of his delivery, writing and stage presence.
His sophomore effort, Reflections, came out two years after that and there were two more releases by the time Bar made 18. Now, five years on, Bar has attained lofty status in the local music industry and entertainment sector, and his bio features a diverse range of projects, across expansive musical domains. Just last week his arrangements powered the Non Standards show at the Jerusalem Jazz Festival, with stellar French-Israeli pop singer Keren Ann front stage and a top-notch bunch of jazz instrumentalists in tow.
Bar Sr. may have provided the initial impetus but the baton was soon picked up by acclaimed jazz and classical pianist Itai Rosenbaum, who was also a member of the Yellow Submarine Ensemble along with Bar’s dad.
“Itai showed me a lot of things. He taught me classical music, and counterpoint – which, when I think about it, is a bit crazy at the age of nine,” Bar laughs. “And there was a jazz musician teacher at my school in Modi’in who showed me the rudiments of jazz, you know, A-A-B-A, four [chord] changes. I thought, OK now I can express myself.”
It was a formative moment in the youth’s life.
“Of course I knew about jazz, and I’d heard a lot of it, but I hadn’t really played it.”
Bar also benefited from the tutelage of celebrated composer, arranger, pianist and educator Menachem Wiesenberg, who also helped to keep the young man’s musical vistas stretched.
“Over time I am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that borders and definitions are not cut and dried,” Bar notes. “Menachem was a life changer for me.”
In addition to enlightening the youngster about tonal possibilities, the aforementioned Modi’in educator introduced Bar to the magic of verbal expression.
“We played around with lyrics,” he says, reeling off a pop-inflected line.
Bar may be best known for his instrumental work, and lauded for his arranging skills, but his new venture will reveal some of his more singer-songwriter inclined gifts.
“I just did a spoken word spot,” he says proudly. “I was really nervous beforehand but it was great. I had a really good time. But, when you think about it, it’s just all expression. It’s all the same.”
The more our conversation developed, and after watching Bar do his thing on stage several times over the past decade or so, it dawned on me that there appears to be very little the 23-year-old can’t do. Piano is his principal instrument but he also plays bass guitar and drums and, now, also lends his vocals to his work.
But, surely, one applies different skills to different forms of expression? One can be a gifted keyboardist, but not have any idea how to approach making sweet music on a wind instrument. Bar simply goes with the flow, taking his accrued professional, instrumental and personal evolutionary continuum to the next stage, and the next.
“As far as I am concerned, learning how to say something in a particular tone, and then changing tone in mid-flight, that’s exactly the same as playing something in one [musical] mode and then moving into a different mode. Yes, there is a technical aspect, but it’s all about the idea behind it.”
In fact, Bar says he connects with something akin to a higher force when he writes music, harnessing all his knowhow and expertise on, for example, piano to convey his feelings and thoughts.
“When I create I connect with something else, something that has nothing to do with what I experienced during the day. It is something that passes through me.”
The latter, when it occurs, is a marvel to behold. It is a rare event when you get the impression that the artist on stage has, as it were, stepped aside to allow the spirit to come to the fore. It is as if the musician is only a conduit for a composition that was ready and just waiting to find the right mouthpiece.
Besides possessing prodigious talent, and developing his musical skills, Bar says he has learned to work with other professionals, and to learn from them.
“I have a list of people who found their way into my heart, into my brain, and into my music so deeply that it became more powerful than anything else,” he observes.
Wiesenberg is on that list, and Bar attributes some of his own eclectic approach to his time with Wiesenberg.
“He taught me something called musical sensitivity,” Bar recalls. “I’d come for a four-hour lesson and I’d leave overloaded with information and ideas. I learned from his strong links with Israeli music, and other things.”
At the end of the day, the artist has to bring his or her own baggage to the fray.
“I have been looking for my true identity, my musical identity, for a long time,” says Bar. “I was in shock when I met Menachem. He opened up so much for me. That’s why I stopped with the project-oriented albums I’d made by the age of 18. I didn’t want to do ‘projects.’ I wanted to be me.”
That is, of course, a work in progress. There is surely much more to come from the 23-year-old.For tickets and more information: (054) 446-7240 and http://haezor.com.