Red Sea beats

This year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival, takes place at its perennial berth at Eilat Port on August 25-27, is replete with big names from abroad. But there are also some of our own big guns in the mix.

July 24, 2019 19:35
4 minute read.
Red Sea beats

THE HOENIG TRIO: The word has gotten out about me [among Israelis] as a teacher, so I’ve taught a bunch of them.. (photo credit: JAKE MOSES)

This year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival, which takes place at its perennial berth at Eilat Port on August 25-27, is as usual replete with big names from abroad. But there are also some of our own big guns in the mix.
Those who are not familiar with the name Ari Hoenig may be forgiven for thinking he is a homegrown talent.
“Yes, it does sound a bit Israeli,” says the 45-year-old American drummer. “My full name is Ariel, which is definitely a Hebrew name. That comes from my dad’s side.”
Hoenig’s Israeli-Jewish associations are only genetic. Over the years the Philly-born New Yorker has made a habit of working with Israeli musicians, with, to note just a few, the likes of guitarist Gilad Hekselman and pianists Eden Ladin and Shai Maestro in his bio. His current trio, with which he will perform on the first evening of the Eilat bash (9 p.m.), also comprises leading artists from this part of the world – pianist Nitai Hershkovitz and bassist Or Bareket, who also play on the new Hoenig release, Conner’s Days.
“I do play a lot with Israelis, certainly lately,” Hoenig laughs, adding that it was not a premeditated career move. “In this case, Or [Bareket] was a student of mine, from the New School [in New York]. There are a lot of Israeli jazz musicians who go to school there, and I’ve taught a lot of them. The word has gotten out about me [among Israelis] as a teacher, so I’ve taught a bunch of them. And when Nitai came to town, he called me up and said he’d like to play with me and Or, and they came over. So I met Nitai through Or.”
The threesome has been doing good sonic business for a while now, but Hoenig likes to keep his options open. His bulging gig and recording résumé to date features a range of formats, including quartets and even a nonet. As far as the drummer is concerned, almost anything goes. That includes trying out different drum set combinations which may, for example, include only a bass drum and a hi-hat cymbal.
“Why not see what you get from something like that?” Hoenig moots. “The less [instruments] you bring to play, the more creative it forces you to be.”

HOENIG FEEDS off multiple disciplinary strands.
“My parents are classical musicians, so I grew up with that music,” he says.
His father is a conductor and vocalist, and his mother plays violin and piano, and before he began pounding the skins, Hoenig tried out on both piano and violin.
So does any of that early training inform the way he approaches the drums, in terms, say, of colors, textures and harmony?
Hoenig says he eschews that line of creative attack, and has a more open view as regards hands-on music-making. “The instruments, to me, don’t play much of a part. It’s more the music itself. It almost doesn’t matter what instrument you – I – play. It is the musical background, the musical knowledge, the communication.”
It is, he says, more a matter of ingesting the essence of making music rather than the physical means for putting that into audible practice. “I played piano from the age of three until I was 12. Getting my ear into that was what gave that value, not the technical knowledge I gained from playing those instruments.”
In the intervening three-plus decades Hoenig has had abundant opportunity to hone his craft, and played alongside some of the titans of the art form. Bona fide jazz legends such as organist Shirley Scott, pianist-keyboardist Herbie Hancock – the star turn at last year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival – Belgian harmonica player Toots Thielemans, guitarist Pat Metheny and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan all benefited from Hoenig’s evolving drumming skills. He also enjoyed long fruitful collaborations with pianist Kenny Werner and New York-based French pianist Jean-Michael Pilc.
The world and all its sonic offerings are grist to Hoenig’s artistic mill. “I would listen to stuff on the radio, in the ’80s – it could be pop or rock – to the drum part and I’d learn how to play it. The good thing about that time was that it was still pre-drum machines and computers, so all the band were really playing.”
That is not to say that Hoenig is averse to some technological enhancement, although he never allows that to overshadow the organic stuff. “I like electronic music, and I listen to it and I play it, but when I play it I play live drums. I like the sound of it, and what it is, but I don’t actually do any of the programming. That’s not my thing.”
Hoenig’s “thing” is plying his own furrow through the infinite universe of putting sounds together in a harmonious and rhythmic manner. “Coming from a classical family, I felt that [with jazz] I could figure things out on my own. I play by ear. My ear is always my strongest quality. That’s how I can understand an idea and understand it quickly.”
Hershkovitz and Bareket will be on their toes in Eilat, to stay the leader’s pace, and the audience will, no doubt, also be along for the ride.
For tickets and more information:, *9066 and

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