Argov takes the A Train

Italian clarinetist Nico Gori returns to Israel this week to perform a program combining the jazz workings of Sasha Argov with the sounds of Duke Ellingon and Billy Strayhorn.

Gori 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gori 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
At first glance it seems a bit of a stretch to equate the music of one of our iconic Russian-born songsmiths with the work of two of the foremost African American figures of the jazz world but Nitzan Kramer evidently believes there is a strong connection between the work of Sasha Argov and the jazz standards of legendary pianist-composer-bandleader Duke Ellington and his longtime sidekick pianist-composer-arranger Billy Strayhorn.
Kramer is the artistic director of the three-show jazz series taking place at Tel Aviv’s Reading 3 venue this summer.
First up, on July 13, is 36-year-old Italian clarinetist Nico Gori who performed here a couple of years ago, at the Opera House, together with compatriot pianist Stefano Bollani with – surprise, surprise – a program of jazz workings of Argov tunes. Gori obviously enjoyed the experience and, like Kramer, sees expansive common ground between Argov, Ellington and Strayhorn.
In fact, Gori confesses that the latter were not his first choice avenue of attack for his July 13 here.
“I first thought of mixing Argov’s tunes with the music of [Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos] Jobim, but then I realized that the connection between Argov and Strayhorn and Ellington is even stronger, that they are closer in spirit. I recognized something in the music of Sasha Argov that is similar to the music of Ellington and Strayhorn, although there are many differences too.”
The concert program includes a Gori blend of Strayhorn’s ballad “Lotus Blossom” with the Argov song “The Purple Dress,” which, incidentally, Gori performed here with Bollani although with a different approach.
“I also take Argov pop songs and change them into jazz but, I stress, with the greatest respect for the original material,” Gori explains.
“If you have a sad song talking about sad things you cannot change it into jazz and play it in a happy way. My arrangements do not change the basic original song.”
Even so, Gori is completely cognizant of the fact that he does not share much cultural baggage with Argov.
“His music is not of my generation and I do not come from Israel or Israeli culture,” he notes.
“I will just try to put across my point of view.” The clarinetist is bringing a heavyweight Italian band with him for the occasion, including longtime collaborator pianist Dado Moroni, bass player Marco Panascia and drummer Enzo Zirilli.
If, however, we bear in mind that jazz evolved in the multicultural melting pot of New Orleans the Argov-Ellington- Strayhorn crossover does not seem too far-fetched.
“I think about the melodies,” Gori continues.
“If you think of the great melodies of Ellington and Strayhorn, they have a lot in common with lots of other melodies, like the ones Argov wrote. I changed the tempo of [Strayhorn composition] ‘Take the A Train’ so that the atmosphere is different but the song is the same.”
DESPITE, AS Gori says, belonging to a very different generation and epoch than those of his featured composers Gori got a good early grounding in the music and its roots.
“I started playing the clarinet when I was 6 years old, and I played in my town’s marching band,” he recalls.
That was followed by some solid classical training at the music conservatory in Florence, with Gori graduating at the tender age of 16. He also spread his wings instrumentally, learning piano and saxophone and joining an orchestra which performed in Italy and Switzerland.
Gori’s hands on interest in jazz began when he was 14, and he also earned a crust playing more commercial music.
“I played with pop bands, and also mazurkas and tangos. I played a lot with Italian pop singers but my first love was jazz.”
The latter was sparked by Gori’s father.
“He was an amateur clarinetist and he loved [iconic jazz clarinet player] Benny Goodman. When I was 7 or 8 my father gave me a Benny Goodman record. I had never heard anything like that. From that moment I thought I had to become a very good clarinet player, and I think I have done that.”
Gori’s jazz trajectory was further enhanced when he got into the music of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane.
“For me, that was a revolution in the way I approached the music,” he says. “I learned a lot from that.”
In fact, Gori found his own way through the discipline in his first years as a professional jazz musician, although he eventually resorted to more conventional educational means.
“I taught myself, and I only took some formal lessons in jazz when I was 27. I felt I needed to know more so I took a threeyear diploma in jazz, and I have never stopped studying since then.”
That has been borne out by Gori’s studio and concert work which includes synergies with the likes of trumpeter Tom Harrell and pianist Fred Hersch, as well as four albums as leader in the past decade.
“I like lots of different kinds of jazz, and I enjoy Argov’s music very much,” says the clarinet player.
“I hope the audience in Tel Aviv enjoys what I do with it.”
For tickets: 03-7624000 and