Israel: a true jazz superpower

Today, Israel is a true jazz superpower, with around 200 – and counting – musicians currently based in New York and dotted around Europe doing sterling work on various creative fronts.

By
April 13, 2019 06:23
Israel: a true jazz superpower

BASSIST OMER Avital fuses his Moroccan roots into his jazz ouevre. (photo credit: SAPOSNIK ISRAEL INSTITUTE)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analysis from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later

It is an incontrovertible fact that jazz has evolved exponentially in Israel over the past three decades or so. The idiom has grown by leaps and bounds, in terms of the sheer numbers of players, the spread of styles and directions, and the audiences across the country.

On the other hand, jazz here has never been a mainstream draw in the entertainment stakes. While the summer version of the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat continues to bring in relatively large numbers of patrons, you simply don’t have jazz artists performing in stadiums. That’s a whole different marketing league.

Then again, things have moved along nicely locally since the Eilat event started life in 1987, and in particular, since the 1990s.

Today, Israel is a true jazz superpower, with around 200 – and counting – musicians currently based in New York and dotted around Europe doing sterling work on various creative fronts.

TRUMPETER ITAMAR Borochov will perform legendary American vibist Lionel Hampton’s King David Suite at the conference. (Courtesy)

But, what makes Israeli jazz tick? How has this turnaround come to be? Is this yet another miracle from the Holy Land, or is there some rhyme and/or reason behind the explosion of improvisational sonic offerings from these here parts?

Attendees of the April 14-15 Israeli Jazz and Hebrew Culture conference at the The Center for Israel Studies of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism, which operates at Sde Boker under the auspices of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, may well come away from the event with a better handle on that.

Conference organizers Aryeh Tepper and institute lecturer Prof. Arieh Saposnik, with the support of Ramat Negev Regional Council and the United States Embassy in Israel, have lined up a broad selection of lectures and musical interludes that, they hope, do justice to the wide-ranging swath of jazz-related sounds that have been emanating from Israel over the years.

Quite a few years back, I asked a well-known Italian jazz musician whether there was something fundamentally different about the way American and European artists approach jazz. He responded by saying that as jazz is an American art form, he felt that American musicians may be more “respectful” of the genre, while their European counterparts, looking in from the outside, have more freedom to play around with it, and invest it with their own cultural baggage. The same might be said for the Israeli jazz ethos.

“Jazz does not originate in Israel,” says Tepper, somewhat obviously. “By examining Israeli jazz, the character of Israeli jazz, the various paths of development, that is also a way of examining the boundaries of Hebrew culture.”

ARYEH TEPPER considers the growth of jazz in this country within a wider cultural context. (Courtesy)

It is, notes Tepper, the subject of ongoing discourse.

“The argument between [late 19th-early 20th-century Hebrew writer and philosopher] Ahad Ha’am and [contemporary counterpart Micha Josef] Berdyczewski is that whether Hebrew culture should be exclusively concerned with Jewish sources, or should it be open to the general culture. Ahad Ha’am wanted a more purist perspective, while Berdyczewski wanted to open things up.”

Tepper, Saposnik et al., are clearly looking to “open things up.” The two-day agenda features a wide range of issues and topics, including a spot on the work of American literary and jazz critic, novelist, essayist and biographer Albert Murray, who died in 2013 at the age of 97. Washington, DC-born Tepper helped to make Murray’s work more accessible to local jazz musicians and aficionados by helping to translate some of his writing into Hebrew.

Tepper feels that it is possible to nail the efforts of our jazz artists as distinctly the product of the cultural baggage, across its manifold layers and colors, of this country.

“Here you have Israeli jazz which has can be heard to be Israeli, there is an Israeli sound. But, at the same time, it originated in another place.”

That different location was New Orleans, itself a veritable cultural melting pot at the time. German jazz writer and producer Joachim-Ernst Berendt, in his seminal tome, The Jazz Book, questions whether New Orleans was, in fact, the sole birthplace of jazz, and talks about the entire Delta region as having some impact on the way the art form evolved. And even if we do go along with the notion that the creation of jazz can be attributed to that particular southern town, one has to relate to the many communities that populated New Orleans in the early 20th century, including the Spanish, French, English, Italian, German, Creole and “American Negro” groups. Add to that various religious beliefs, taking in Christianity, Judaism and Voodoo, and you have yourself a singular coalescence of sounds, smells, flavors and sensibilities.

THAT SOUNDS a lot like this part of the world, too. But as any jazz artist will tell you, you have to pay your dues. You have to work through the underlying established strata before you “find your own voice.” It took Israeli jazz a while to do that. Starting out with the efforts of the likes of American-born saxophonist Mel Keller, who made aliyah in the early 1950s, and is credited with kick -starting the Israeli jazz scene, things gradually evolved through the founder generation of Israeli jazz players, such as now 80-year-old pianist Danny Gottfried, the founding artistic director of the Red Sea Jazz Festival, 77-year-old drummer Areleh Kaminski, and 81-year-old multi-instrumentalist Albert Piamenta.

ARYEH SAPOSNIK will take a learned look at the evolution of Israeli jazz. (Saposnik Israel Institute)

Piamenta is the subject of a slot at the conference, the first day of which will be presented in English, by Israeli jazz pianist, arranger, composer and educator Dan Cahn, “Albert Piamenta and the First Israeli Ethno-Jazz Album.” The latter refers to 1973 release Mezare Israel Yekabtzenu by the Jazz Work Shop quartet of Piamenta, Gottfried bassist Teddy Kling and American-born drummer Jerry Garval. Piamenta played alto and soprano saxophone on a six-track run out that fused Jewish, Arabic and Mediterranean grooves with jazz.

That was a rarity back then. The still diminutive Israeli jazz community generally tended to follow the American jazzy route, performing bebop, swing and even some Dixieland and ragtime. Israeli jazz began to find its “own voice” around 25 years ago, when bassist Avishai Cohen who, along with fellow bassist Omer Avital and trombonist Avi Lebovich, was part of the vanguard triad that relocated to New York to seek more expansive jazzy pastures. Cohen’s first three albums – Colors, Devotion and Adama – sought to marry the jazz discipline he had trained in with the melodies he had naturally imbibed as a youngster, taking in material written by the likes of iconic songsmiths Mordehai Zeira and Sasha Argov, and Arabic melodies. Musicologist Meirav Meron will take a closer look at the bassist’s Middle Eastern-oriented avenues of creation with her talk, “Between New York and the Arava: Israeliness in Avishai Cohen’s Work.”


INCREASINGLY IN the last decade-and-a-half or so, jazz artists from here have culled items from the Great Israeli Songbook, feeding off Israeli folk and pop as well as more traditional and even liturgical songs. The latest release from pianist Guy Mintus, Connecting The Dots, for example, includes a plaintive ethereal rendition of the Avinu Malkeinu prayer, and a delectable reading of Mizrahi staple Haperach Begani, with Mintus drawing on his Moroccan roots to produce a highly convincing turn on vocals.
Then there’s longtime Paris-based Israeli pianist Yaron Herman’s various versions of such venerated Israeli nuggets as Layla Layla and Ein Gedi, and even a stirring take on Hatikva.

And it hasn’t all been one-way traffic. Some of the greats from the big wide jazz world have also taken on board some of the sounds and sentiments from this neck of the woods. One of the most striking examples of outgoing influence is The King David Suite written by Lionel Hampton. The legendary American drummer and vibraphonist, who became interested in Judaism after World War Two, met then-Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, and subsequently came here to perform the work in a mammoth stint of almost 50 concerts.

YOUNG ISRAELI jazz pianist Guy Mintus feeds off the Great Israeli Songbook. (William Coupon)

That momentous event in the jazz annals of the infant state will be marked by a couple of slots at the conference, including the keynote address, titled “Musical Relationships: Lionel Hampton’s King David Suite,” to be delivered by American jazz writer Greg Thomas. It won’t all be talk over the course of the two days. The first day will close with a concert at Ben-Gurion University, featuring an arrangement of the Hampton composition by internationally renowned New York-based Israeli trumpeter Itamar Borochov. The Borochov rendition will be performed by a jazz foursome and string quartet. The trumpeter says he invested heavily in the venture. “I had many sleepless nights over this,” he says. “It was a lot of grafting. I have the original copy of the score.”

That is no mere aside. The sheet music was thought to have been lost in a fire that decimated Hampton’s Manhattan apartment in 1997. Hampton was particularly devastated by the loss of the score. He died in 2002 and was not to know that six years later, the original manuscript would be unearthed in the collection of Frank Como, who orchestrated the work for a 100-piece ensemble. Four years ago, the sheet music was donated to Ben-Gurion University, and is now in Borochov’s capable hands.

The trumpeter says Hampton did a good job and got the Israeli vibe down pat. “I think he really got the Israeli sound. He’s got some quotes from hassidic melodies in there, and in the first movement there is a sort of lamentation that sounds like Hatikva.” Borochov feels the American vibist married his own musical and cultural references with Jewish Middle Eastern culture. “What is really great is that he managed combine that with the sound of the blues. It’s a masterpiece.”

The conference will also pay tribute to Arnie Lawrence. The late American jazz saxophonist and educator made aliyah in the late 1990s, and literally transformed the Israeli jazz scenes. Generations of jazz artists from here – including Borochov, who was Lawrence’s last student; Avital; pianist Omri Mor, who today combines jazz with Andalusian music; Paris-based saxophonist Shauli Einav; and bassist Hagai Belizki, who now channels a highly creative path through Arabic musical pastures – all owe much to Lawrence. Borochov is happy to spread that word.

“I am always asked, in interviews around the world, why there are so many great Israeli [jazz] musicians, and my answer is always because of Arnie. You can’t overstate his role in the growth of Israeli jazz.”

The King David Suite concert is free with advance registration. To register, or for more information about the Israeli Jazz and Hebrew Culture conference: THAT SOUNDS a lot like this part of the world, too. But as any jazz artist will tell you, you have to pay your dues. You have to work through the underlying established strata before you “find your own voice.” It took Israeli jazz a while to do that. Starting out with the efforts of the likes of American-born saxophonist Mel Keller, who made aliyah in the early 1950s, and is credited with kick -starting the Israeli jazz scene, things gradually evolved through the founder generation of Israeli jazz players, such as now 80-year-old pianist Danny Gottfried, the founding artistic director of the Red Sea Jazz Festival, 77-year-old drummer Areleh Kaminski, and 81-year-old multi-instrumentalist Albert Piamenta.

Piamenta is the subject of a slot at the conference, the first day of which will be presented in English, by Israeli jazz pianist, arranger, composer and educator Dan Cahn, “Albert Piamenta and the First Israeli Ethno-Jazz Album.” The latter refers to 1973 release Mezare Israel Yekabtzenu by the Jazz Work Shop quartet of Piamenta, Gottfried bassist Teddy Kling and American-born drummer Jerry Garval. Piamenta played alto and soprano saxophone on a six-track run out that fused Jewish, Arabic and Mediterranean grooves with jazz.

That was a rarity back then. The still diminutive Israeli jazz community generally tended to follow the American jazzy route, performing bebop, swing and even some Dixieland and ragtime. Israeli jazz began to find its “own voice” around 25 years ago, when bassist Avishai Cohen who, along with fellow bassist Omer Avital and trombonist Avi Lebovich, was part of the vanguard triad that relocated to New York to seek more expansive jazzy pastures. Cohen’s first three albums – Colors, Devotion and Adama – sought to marry the jazz discipline he had trained in with the melodies he had naturally imbibed as a youngster, taking in material written by the likes of iconic songsmiths Mordehai Zeira and Sasha Argov, and Arabic melodies. Musicologist Meirav Meron will take a closer look at the bassist’s Middle Eastern-oriented avenues of creation with her talk, “Between New York and the Arava: Israeliness in Avishai Cohen’s Work.”

INCREASINGLY IN the last decade-and-a-half or so, jazz artists from here have culled items from the Great Israeli Songbook, feeding off Israeli folk and pop as well as more traditional and even liturgical songs. The latest release from pianist Guy Mintus, Connecting The Dots, for example, includes a plaintive ethereal rendition of the Avinu Malkeinu prayer, and a delectable reading of Mizrahi staple Haperach Begani, with Mintus drawing on his Moroccan roots to produce a highly convincing turn on vocals.
Then there’s longtime Paris-based Israeli pianist Yaron Herman’s various versions of such venerated Israeli nuggets as Layla Layla and Ein Gedi, and even a stirring take on Hatikva.

JAZZ MUSICIAN educator and writer Greg Thomas will deliver the keynote address about legendary American jazz drummer and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s King David Suite. NICHOLAS CARTER

And it hasn’t all been one-way traffic. Some of the greats from the big wide jazz world have also taken on board some of the sounds and sentiments from this neck of the woods. One of the most striking examples of outgoing influence is The King David Suite written by Lionel Hampton. The legendary American drummer and vibraphonist, who became interested in Judaism after World War Two, met then-Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, and subsequently came here to perform the work in a mammoth stint of almost 50 concerts.

That momentous event in the jazz annals of the infant state will be marked by a couple of slots at the conference, including the keynote address, titled “Musical Relationships: Lionel Hampton’s King David Suite,” to be delivered by American jazz writer Greg Thomas. It won’t all be talk over the course of the two days. The first day will close with a concert at Ben-Gurion University, featuring an arrangement of the Hampton composition by internationally renowned New York-based Israeli trumpeter Itamar Borochov. The Borochov rendition will be performed by a jazz foursome and string quartet. The trumpeter says he invested heavily in the venture. “I had many sleepless nights over this,” he says. “It was a lot of grafting. I have the original copy of the score.”

That is no mere aside. The sheet music was thought to have been lost in a fire that decimated Hampton’s Manhattan apartment in 1997. Hampton was particularly devastated by the loss of the score. He died in 2002 and was not to know that six years later, the original manuscript would be unearthed in the collection of Frank Como, who orchestrated the work for a 100-piece ensemble. Four years ago, the sheet music was donated to Ben-Gurion University, and is now in Borochov’s capable hands.

The trumpeter says Hampton did a good job and got the Israeli vibe down pat. “I think he really got the Israeli sound. He’s got some quotes from hassidic melodies in there, and in the first movement there is a sort of lamentation that sounds like Hatikva.” Borochov feels the American vibist married his own musical and cultural references with Jewish Middle Eastern culture. “What is really great is that he managed combine that with the sound of the blues. It’s a masterpiece.”

The conference will also pay tribute to Arnie Lawrence. The late American jazz saxophonist and educator made aliyah in the late 1990s, and literally transformed the Israeli jazz scenes. Generations of jazz artists from here – including Borochov, who was Lawrence’s last student; Avital; pianist Omri Mor, who today combines jazz with Andalusian music; Paris-based saxophonist Shauli Einav; and bassist Hagai Belizki, who now channels a highly creative path through Arabic musical pastures – all owe much to Lawrence. Borochov is happy to spread that word.

“I am always asked, in interviews around the world, why there are so many great Israeli [jazz] musicians, and my answer is always because of Arnie. You can’t overstate his role in the growth of Israeli jazz.”

The King David Suite concert is free with advance registration. To register, or for more information about the Israeli Jazz and Hebrew Culture conference: https://in.bgu.ac.il


Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>

Related Content

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
May 27, 2019
Japan's Mitsubishi to open innovation center in Israel

By REUTERS