See ya der cher

Tel Aviv turns into Bourbon Street for the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

June 17, 2019 21:43
4 minute read.
MARSH DONDURMA will be performing at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in Tel Aviv

MARSH DONDURMA will be performing at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: CHEN WAGSHALL)


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I come from New Orleans. Jazz is in my blood. I went to the huge symbolic jazz funeral for Louis Armstrong back in 1971 when I was 10 years old, carrying a traditional umbrella, as thousands converged on Canal Street, even though there was no body and the beloved native son who did so much to make jazz immensely popular was buried in far off New York.

I was a purist. Over the years as jazz blossomed in Tel Aviv, the Red Sea resorts of Eilat and elsewhere I’d tap my foot. But I couldn’t help but long for the rough-hewn, sparkling Dixieland style I grew up with and wished to hear it again here in Israel.

It turns out there is an appetite here for this “happy, bouncy” music and the second New Orleans Jazz Festival in Tel Aviv is taking place this weekend at the Tel Aviv Museum from June 20-22.

“After the success of last year’s festival, the dream has become a reality,” says Ziv Ben, the founder, creator and visionary of the festival. “This is an opportunity for all lovers of the conquering jazz music from New Orleans, the city that fashioned the world of jazz, and those who love music to enjoy the wide variety of styles in the taste of yesteryear.”

Some 90 musicians are performing, including two dozen from abroad and seven from the Crescent City (New Orleans) itself.

One of the top names is Dr. Michael White, probably one of the best know living jazz clarinetist and composer from New Orleans. He’ll be performing with his band each and every day of festival.

“The music of New Orleans is the essence of jazz so there is so much to celebrate,” says Eyal Vilner, co-music director and a jazz musician who will be performing with his big band. “The program that we were able to make this year is very varied and exciting and brings a lot of different sides of jazz.”

The venue provides two large theaters and a more intimate auditorium where the audience can get very close and hear almost like a jazz club atmosphere, with the audience surrounding the musicians, Vilner says.

Unlike the established Red Sea Jazz Festival, which is more connected to fusion and world music, this three-day happening is rooted in traditional jazz, Dixieland and swing.

There will be musicians from Hungary, Norway, Great Britain, Cuba, Switzerland, France and more. Saxophonist Oliver Franc, whose father played with Sidney Bechet, will be performing from Champs Elysees to Bourbon Street with his band.

Ben says that the artists are coming with an appetite to play.

“They come from so far. They say to me ‘Give me more, man.’” Ben says.

Besides the slew of shows, there will also be a number of lectures, in Hebrew, such as the birth of jazz in New Orleans, and swing dancing. One English lecture by American trombonist Ron Wilkins is about Louis Armstrong.

And it’s not strictly jazz. There is a performance of Spirituals from the Mississippi River by Denise Gordon of the UK and the Israeli Opera Jazz Trio.

Big Band, Gospel and Swing have all slipped into this festival.

“Israelis like the traditional jazz,” says festival manager Ziv Ben, explaining his bold step to repeat last year’s NOLA jazz fest. He says it’s the “unknown” where musicians will go off on a syncopated tangent that makes this music more attractive to the local audiences.

“In the philharmonic you know exactly what will be. And it is very safe. If you come to our concert you have to be a strong adventurer. You know the song for about half a minute and then comes the improvisation. And this is the most important thing; the art of improvisation and the vibe and the special way of New Orleans music, the talking music on stage. It is not just playing,” says Ben.

“People feel safe, but they want to get something from the unknown too.”

 In New Orleans there’s lagniappe, colloquial slang for something extra thrown in “fo’ free.”

And this festival has done it thrice. Once each night there is a huge street party for everyone. No tickets necessary. Starting at 8 pm.

Thursday: 1930s Boogie Woogie Madness with the Shay Zelman Sextet & Silvan Zingg, followed by Doctor Jazz’s Dixieland Celebration Friday Swing Dance Party with Eyal Vilner Big Band & Swing It dancers.

Saturday: Welcome to Swingland with Isradixie Octet followed by a huge street party led by The Great Marsh Dondurma Street Party mixing Dixieland and ethnic gypsy music.

I’m definitely going. I guarantee. See ya der cher.’

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