Blowing his own shofarik

Jazz-based reedman Arik Livnat is ready to demonstrate the lyrical wonders of his invention – a hybrid of a sax and a shofar.

Sax 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
Sax 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
Arik Livnat has been fusing styles and genres for most of his professional life so, in retrospect, it comes as no surprise to discover he has produced a commensurately crafted instrument – a hybrid of a saxophone and a shofar.
“Friends and other musicians started to call it the ‘shofarik’,” says the 43 year old jazz-based reedman who frequently joins forces with guitarist brother Aviv on a wide range of Jewish-oriented musical projects.
“I sort of liked the name, and it stuck. So, you can call it the shofarik.” Livnat is about to demonstrate the lyrical wonders of his invention, in addition to a selection of other wind instruments, in his forthcoming Saxophone from the Movies April 28 (8:30 p.m.) concert at Jerusalem’s Beit Shmuel.
Livnat, who will play in Jerusalem with his longstanding trio of keyboardist-vocalist Arnon Freedman and percussionist-vocalist Tal Livni, has allowed himself generous room for maneuver in basing next week’s program on movie melodies. After all, every film – with the notable exception of Hitchcock’s The Birds – has some music in it, whether they are soundtracks, numbers commissioned by the director, or incidental background music, such as the tunes heard on Robert De Niro’s car radio in Taxi Driver.
“We’ll play original materials, and all kinds of numbers that the audience will be familiar with,” says Livnat, “although, of course, we will improvise on them. We’ll add Jewish and jazzy colors.”
One song with pride of place in the trio’s Jerusalem program is “Somewhere over the Rainbow” which, for Livnat, has some glittering ceremony connotations.
“When President Clinton came to Jerusalem in 1998 Sarah Netanyahu called me to ask if I could play at a gathering in his honor, at the King David Hotel,” Livnat recalls.
“Apparently ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ is one his favorite songs, so I played that for him.”
Mrs. Netanyahu didn’t just pick Livnat’s name out of a hat. A prior high profile gig, to which the saxophonist had contributed, had caught her attention.
“She’d heard I played with Stevie Wonder.” As befitting Livnat’s improvisational bent The Wizard of Oz number got some special treatment which, the saxophonist says, fed off a suitable cultural source.
“I played it in a Jewish style, like a niggun from the shtetl. Don’t forget there are a lot of parallels between the Land of Oz and the biblical Book of Job.”
Staying with the biblical context, Livnat has been incorporating shofars in addressing educational themes for some time now. The instrument with the religious connotations is a staple of his highly successful Lev Ohev children’s show which was launched at last year’s Haifa International Festival for Children’s Theater.
“I have 30 shofars with me when I do the Lev Ohev show,” explains Livnat.
“I get kids to come on stage and we have a sort of shofar jam session. They are small shofars, which can be used by children from the age of 5 and it’s great fun.”
Livnat says he is keen to ensure that the younger generations get as much wholesome musical nutrition as possible. Besides Lev OheV, he has been involved in Education TV children’s musical program Zeh Mizeh for some years. “We look at some philosophical issue and I write a new song for each show. It’s really about songs and stories. A musician must be a storyteller, the only difference is that I use the language of musical instruments.”
Meanwhile, Lev Ohev has a regular slot at the Shablul music club in Tel Aviv, and has a faithful junior and adult following there.
“Parents and children come from all over the country. The show comes from love and, I believe, is the complete opposite of the kind of instant shows they dish up for kids, when they get the kids screaming and making a lot of noise. That’s totally superfluous. Kids should be treated seriously and be instilled with a love of music. It’s important to connect them to the roots.”
Livnat certainly has a strong bond with his family and cultural roots. Together with Aviv, in 2000, he recorded a highly evocative album called Jewish Jazz Live in Poland. The brothers have a direct link with the Jewish community of Poland, and with the Polish artistic world.
“Our grandfather, Arieh Merzer, came from Warsaw.
He worked in hand-hammered copper and, after he made aliyah, he helped to establish the artist colony in Tzefat,” explains Livnat.
“I don’t come from a religious background but, for me, the shofar connects me with my Jewish roots.”
Perhaps the refreshments at the Saxophone from the Movies show should include chicken soup, chopped liver and some schnapps to wash them down.
The Arik Livnat Trio will perform Saxophone from the Movies at Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem on April 28 at 8:30 p.m. For more info: 02-6203463, 02-6237000 or