Degibri’s kids

Fans will hear results of 6 months of hard work and practice by internationally renowned sax player Eli Degibri and his 7 teenage jazz students as they perform a special concert in Tel Aviv.

art museum 311 R (photo credit: BLMI)
art museum 311 R
(photo credit: BLMI)
It is only natural that Eli Degibri should spearhead a project to help push budding jazz artists out there. After all, he was still in his teens when he attended the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at New England Conservatory in Boston, USA and he is now trying to pass on some of the top drawer education he enjoyed back then.
For the past six months, internationally acclaimed jazz saxophonist Degibri has been working with a select team of seven grade 9-12 jazz students, from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem under the auspices of the Hebrew University’s Academy of Music and Dance. The result of those 13 tuition sessions will be in evidence when students and teacher join forces at a concert at the Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv (8 p.m.), in a program of numbers written or arranged by Degibri.
The seven were chosen out of 30 talented youngsters who applied for the program, following an exacting audition process. Degibri says he is suitably impressed with his disciples and got rid of any barriers to the smooth learning process from the start.
“I have learned a lot from them too – as much as they have learned from me. They were a bit starry eyed to begin with because, you know, I played with [legendary jazz pianist] Herbie Hancock. But I made sure they got over that by the second session. I told them that we are going to be friends, and I didn’t want any teacher-student distance between us.”
After many years of studying and working in the States, Degibri is also in a perfect position to make comparisons between the quality of talent on this side of the Pond and in the genre’s birthplace.
“I went to the Thelonious Monk Institute when I was 18, 19 and we studied with people like [iconic bass player] Ron Carter and every few weeks one of the great artists would come to teach us. I am trying to do the same thing with these students, only they are younger than I was then. The level of these youngsters here is like the level of adult players in the States. They are on an international level.”
Things have changed a lot on the local jazz scene since Degibri started exploring the genre as a student at Thelma Yallin High School for the Arts in Givatayim around 18 years ago.
“The whole scene has expanded. Today, young kids see and hear a lot of older established players and they can aspire to be like them,” says Degibri.
“I think in jazz, in particular, both in musical terms and in terms of developing a career, there is a lot of room to want to be like someone else. They will see that someone has done something in a particular way and they can try to do that too, and can aim to succeed in that way. Children will always want to imitate the master.”
In this case “the master” is Degibri, although the saxophonist balks at any inference of greatness.
“I am no master but I certainly have something to give to these kids,” he admits.
“That’s not because they don’t have enough knowledge but because I have been fortunate enough to play with some of the real greats of world jazz, and I have experiences which few get to enjoy. I want to pass some of that on to these youngsters, just like my teachers passed some of their wonderful experiences on to me.
Degibri is hoping the project will take place every year – suitably encouraged.
“These kids came to the program to learn and I knew they would be on a high level.”
But there’s more to playing jazz than just mastering your instrument.
“It is the ability to tell a story through your playing that is really important. I wasn’t expecting such a high standard of storytelling from these kids. They tell their story from the start to the finish, with maturity, drama and fun. I see these kids as future colleagues of mine, and I am looking forward to it.”
The young ensemble includes: Hillel Salem – trumpet, Neria Tzidon – alto saxophone, Uri Michaeli – tenor saxophone, Gadi Lehavi – piano, David Michaeli – bass and Ofri Nehemia – drums.
Eli Degibri will perform with his students at Levontin 7 Club on June 16 at 8 p.m. For tickets: (03) 560-5084.