Going Dutch

Judging BY his debut album, jazz saxophonist Itai Weissman’s decision to opt for Amsterdam rather than New York was an inspired move.

itai weissman 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
itai weissman 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For over 20 years many of our budding jazz musicians have been relocating to New York as soon as they can. Considering the Big Apple has been the epicenter of the jazz world for over 70 years that makes perfect sense.Then again there are a few who prefer to further their academic explorations and hone their musicianship in different pastures. Pianist Yaron Herman, for example, has become a staple of the jazz scene in France and pianist Omer Klein is comfortably ensconced in Germany. However, little has been known about young Israeli jazz artists in Holland.
Some of that information filtered through when 26- year-old saxophonist Itai Weissman made a brief foray back here recently, playing gigs in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and his native Beersheba, and guesting on one of Lea Lior’s jazz shows on the Voice of Music.
Judging by his innovative and wide-ranging debut album, From Father to Son, which came out in 2010, Weissman decision to opt for Amsterdam rather than New York appears to have been an inspired move.
“I’ve always been a bit of a rebel,” said Weissman when we met at a downtown Jerusalem café, “so I thought, everyone goes to the States, to New York or Berklee [College of Music in Boston], so I’ll check out other places.”
There were some practical considerations to the destination equation too.
“I checked out the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and I saw that they teach in English, because they want to attract top students from all over the world – and they do – and the tuition fees are subsidized. Also, the jazz scene in Europe is where it’s happening. In New York you meet the top jazz guys, join their band and go to Europe to play. I decided to take a short cut and study and work in Europe.”
When Weissman got there he discovered a compatriot who had been there for some time.
“[Saxophonist] Yaniv Nachum studied at the conservatory and he has been a teacher there now for a few years. He runs a big band there.”
Nachum also features on From Father to Son, on a delightful reworking of “Le David Yafe Eynaim” which, the CD blurb notes, was arranged by a certain Anatoli Weissman.
“My dad is a viola player – and my mother is a classical pianist - but he taught himself to play jazz, on piano and keyboards, when he lived in the Soviet Union,” Weissman Jr. explains.
“He was always a source of inspiration for me. The arrangement of “Le David Yafe Eynaim” on the CD is his, and I have been playing it since I was 12. It was a nice sort of closure for me to include it in the album.”
Dad Anatoli gave his three children a solid musical education.
“We all played instruments but I am the only one who made a profession out of music,” says Weissman. The saxophonist’s first exposure to jazz was through his dad’s fusion records, taking on board the grooveoriented efforts of pianist-keyboard players like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul, as well as saxophonists Michael Brecker and Wayhe Shorter.
“For me Shorter is the greatest composer ever,” Weissman declares.
BUT THERE were other areas of the jazz idiom to be explored too.
“A few days ago I played a concert at the Beersheba Conservatory of Music with a couple of childhood friends – Omer Rigi who plays keyboards and Itai Ibscher who’s a drummer. We played all sorts of things, including some quite way out stuff, like sort of future jazz. I played saxophone and worked with effects and a computer, and the audience liked it all. As kids, we used to jam a lot together. Back then, Beersheba really was out in the periphery but there were some good things happening there musically too. It’s very important to know the people you play with well.”
That could be said for Weissman’s cohorts on From Father to Son, double bass player Charly Roussel and drummer Eddie Jensen, and there is a strong sense of ease throughout the album.
“We worked on the record for about 3 years, on and off,” says Weissman.
Despite his preference for Europe, much of the material and the idea behind From Father to Son came to fruition while Weissman was on an exchange program at Temple University in Philadelphia, USA where he came under the influence of teacher-saxophonist Ben Schachter.
“I got my inspiration for the album from Ben. He really was my guiding spirit on the project.”
For now, Weissman has the rest of his Master’s degree to take care of while he progresses towards his next album. He also hopes to come back here to tour in the summer.
“I love electronic music. I have always been fascinated by the EWI [electronic wind instrument - something of a cross between a flute, saxophone and synthesizer] and I want to see if I can develop it. It was ahead of its time when it was invented. I am sure there will be electronics in my second CD,” he says, “but I won’t go too far with that. I am first and foremost a jazz musician. For me, jazz always comes first.”