The Hot Jazz series honchos have been bringing a wide variety of jazzy sounds and performers to these shores for many a moon now. Generally, that entails inviting an instrumentalist or vocalist over, with local musicians filling the requisite sidemen roles while, on occasion, a whole band makes it over here to appear up and down the country, over the course of a week or so.
This time, series artistic director Ziv Ben is really letting his hair down, with the inaugural Tel Aviv New Orleans Swing Festival, which is due to take place at the Tel Aviv Museum of Arts from June 21-23. Ben has lined up a whole host of acts that have a penchant for the merry sounds and vibes that were all the rage in the United States and, later, elsewhere in the 1930s and 1940s.
You might not readily associate the Netherlands with the insouciant sounds of early jazz, but the Dutch Swing College Band (aka DSCB) has been pumping out Dixieland numbers by the hatful for over 70 years.
Lead by musical director, clarinetist, saxophonist and vocalist Bob Kaper, and featuring the likes of David Lukacs on clarinet, and soprano and baritone saxophones, and trombonist Maurits Woudenberg, the band will perform three gigs at the festival, including tributes to Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman, and a salute to 100 years of swing music.
And if it’s swing you’re looking for, the local scene also has a class act to offer, in the form of the highly popular two guitar and double bass Swing de Gitanes threesome. The trio, which comprises Oren Sagi on double bass, and guitarists Yaakov Hoter and Alon Sagi, plays a heady brew of gypsy jazz, seasoned with swing and some Middle Eastern colorings.
For their family spot in the festival agenda, they will be joined by vocalist Fantine Pritoula, who goes by her given name.
Given that she was born in Moscow to a Russian father and Dominican mother, perhaps it was in the stars – or genes – that Fantine should do her fair share of globe-trotting while deciding what she wanted to do with her life. In addition to her country of birth, Fantine has spent lengthy periods of time in France, Australia and the US. She currently resides in New York.
She also spreads her impressive vocal abilities across broad tracts of musical endeavor, taking in various strains of Latin music, pop and jazz. That, says Fantine, is partly down to her international, cross-cultural backdrop, although she never loses sight of the source. “Most times, people think it’s a lot more mixed, like it’s a great melange of things, like the music is all just mixed up together. But, really, it is a lot more fragmented. Jazz stays jazz, soul stays soul, and pop stays pop. I guess the traveling and all the different cultures I’ve been exposed to help me understand the different genres, but I don’t really mix them very often.”
Fantine has always had an eye, and ear, on a spread of sounds and styles. “Music started for me by listening to all kinds of stuff on the radio, and soundtracks, anything my parents played for us – CDs and cassettes they had in those days. It was pretty much anything and everything, thus I wasn’t limited in what I listened too.”
Fantine may have been enthralled by the sounds her young ears caught, but she didn’t initially harbor any serious ambitions of a career in music. In fact she went for a much more “respectable” line of work. “I discovered jazz quite late,” she notes. “I was already at university. One of my ex-boyfriends actually introduced me to jazz, on TV and that kind of thing. He said I needed to grow up a little bit, musically.” Like many budding female jazz vocalists, for Fantine it started with Ella Fitzgerald, although there were other, more commercial, stops en route. “I got into [pop-soul singers] Whitney [Houston] and Mariah [Carey] and all the divas. I wanted to sing like that. But, intuitively, for me, it also became Ella and Aretha [Franklin] and Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. There were all these gorgeous women with incredible voices, that I could learn from.”
The final shove in the requisite jazz direction came – as it does – serendipitously. “It happened almost by accident,” Fantine recalls. “I was studying law and accounting at college. My sister and I walked into a bar one night and there was a band playing, sort of cheesy soul-dance stuff, but it was fun.” The siblings wanted more of the same. “The next week we went back. My sister is a really shy person, but she did something out of character. She went up to one of the band members and told him I was a really good singer and asked if I could sing with them a bit.” And that was that.
The band was duly impressed with Fantine’s one number turn with them, and she began appearing with them on weekends, in between getting on with her college studies. The penny had well and truly dropped. “When I finished my degree I realized I didn’t like accounting or law, and I wanted to do music. I went to a music school briefly and that was it. I have never looked back.”
As time, and her professional trajectory progressed, she became involved in several musical projects in Australia, made a number of musical forays to the States with Russian jazzman Igor Butman, and accrued some prestigious gigs with pop icons the likes of Gloria Estefan and Dave Stewart.
By and large, things appear to have gone well for Fantine since she opted for a musical career, and she says she is always ready just to go with the flow. “If there’s one thing you can say about my life you can say that I just jump and see what happens. Usually it works out just fine.”
For tickets and more information about the Tel Aviv New Orleans Swing Festival:
(03) 573-3001 and www.hotjazz.co.il