Bags of Mags

Joe Magnarelli (a.k.a. Mags) seems to be a pretty single-minded sort of guy. While the jazz trumpeter says he is open to a variety of influences, he basically just sticks to the job at hand.

joe magnarelli jazz trumpet 248.88 (photo credit: courtesy)
joe magnarelli jazz trumpet 248.88
(photo credit: courtesy)
Joe Magnarelli (a.k.a. Mags) seems to be a pretty single-minded sort of guy. While the 48-year-old Syracuse, New York-born jazz trumpeter says he is open to a variety of influences, he basically just sticks to the job at hand. "If I'm playing somewhere outside the States I might hear different music and get different energies from the place, but I don't really change the way I play to suit the audience," he says. "I reckon that would be sort of selling out." Magnarelli, who will play four gigs between January 19 and January 24 along with New York-based Israeli guitarist Yotam Silberstein, and local stalwarts bassist Assaf Hakimi and drummer Shai Zelman, is no stranger to these shores. The impending tour will be his fourth here in as many years. "I played at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat in 2005. That was great. I like coming to Israel and, to tell you the truth, I could do with some sunshine." Yeah, and we could do with some precipitation from over there. In fact, Mags feeds off a wide range of genres and musical disciplines. When he was 19 he regularly played the piano at his local Baptist church and there is something of a gospel undercurrent in much of his output. Then again, he was also exposed to the energies of the commercial music of the late sixties and seventies. "I was really into the stuff on the radio as a kid," he recalls. "There was disco, and I was very much into the soul music of the time. I liked acts like Earth Wind and Fire, James Brown and the more soul-oriented music on Motown. Music was more real back then. People played with real instruments and bands recorded live, without all the dubbing they do these days. There was some high quality music around back then." It was around 1982 that Mags well and truly caught the jazz bug. "I heard [trumpeter] Kenny Dorham's [1960 record] Showboat, and also the [drummer] Max Roach Quartet with Dorham and that was it for me. I'd heard some big band stuff while I was in college, but I guess it was hearing Dorham that really got me into jazz." Once bitten, Mags threw himself into the jazz idiom with gusto. He moved to New York and began jamming and performing with some of the icons of the jazz world, including vibraphonist-pianist-percussionist Lionel Hampton, organist Brother Jack McDuff and Latin jazz supreme percussionist Ray Barretto, with whom Mags performed in Tel Aviv a couple of years ago. Trumpeter-bandleader Tom Harrell was another early influence who offered Mags a spot in his big band. "Tom's a great musician, and really good composer," says Magnarelli. "Tom writes music everyday and I try to do that too, although I don't always manage it." As he spends around 40 percent of his working time on the road, much of it outside the States, Magnarelli has a learned handle on audience appreciation of jazz in different places. "I don't think jazz is rated as highly as it should in America these days. The Europeans and Japanese are certainly more appreciative of the music. I think non-Americans tend to see jazz as an American art form, while a lot of Americans just don't get it. That's a pity." That's not to say Magnarelli sits around twiddling his thumbs when he's Stateside. "I'm on the road a lot in America too, and I have two regular berths in New York. I play in the big band at the Village Vanguard and also a lot at Smalls. Playing at Smalls allows me to experiment with my music, which is always good. They have quite a few Israelis who play there too." Israeli bassist Omar Avital has long been one of the mainstays of Smalls, and you can often catch the likes of guitarist Gilad Hekselman and trumpeter Avishai Cohen strutting their stuff there too. Magnarelli's repertoire for his Israeli gigs will cover suitably expansive territory, ranging from material off his latest album, Persistence, to some Dizzy Gillespie and Cole Porter numbers. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun in Israel," he says. "Good music and, hopefully, some sun. That's a great combination." Joe Magnarelli plays at Tel Aviv's Levontin 7 (NIS 70/80/90, (03) 560-5084) on Jan. 19 at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. At The Pitriah Pub at Kibbutz Dan (050) 730-5398) on Jan. 22 at 9 p.m. and at Jerusalem's Yellow Submarine (NIS 70/85/90, (02) 679-4040) on January 24 at 9:30 p.m.