Kehati’s muse

Enamored of improvisation, jazz guitarist Assaf Kehati is forging his own path – which, on March 3, will take him to Petah Tikva.

Assaf kehati 311 (photo credit: Dubi Roman)
Assaf kehati 311
(photo credit: Dubi Roman)
Assaf Kehati has come a long way in the last three or four years, even though there was a generous gestation period before he got his debut CD out. That first offering was A View from My Window, which came out in 2009 when Kehati was 28 years old. But the Boston-based Rehovot-born jazz guitarist seems to have got the idea now, as his second album Flowers and Other Stories came out at the end of last year, and he’s already considering his third release.
“Actually, A View from My Window was finished in 2007 but took another 18 months to finally come out,” says Kehati, who has just finished a run of six concerts here as part of the Hot Jazz series alongside Canadian saxophonist Seamus Blake, US drummer Rodney Green and US-based Israeli bassist Noam Weisenberg. “And Flowers and Other Stories was ready in 2009 and took over a year after that before it was released.”
While there are those who believe that young jazz artists should not rush into their debut release and should wait until they have accumulated plenty of performing experience before they hit the studio, Kehati does not share that view. “I tell young jazz musicians they should get that first album out, and it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. They’ve got their whole life to do another 30 CDs,” he says.
Kehati is living proof of that mindset – not that his first effort was at all bad. However, the two-year hiatus between releases evidently did the guitarist a power of good, and Flowers and Other Stories is a far more mature effort.
“I think maybe I was trying to do too much with the first CD,” he admits. “I like it a lot, but I tried to encompass lots of styles and directions in it. I think I had a clearer a picture of what I wanted to do with the second album.”
In fact, A View from My Window wasn’t initially meant for public consumption. “I just wanted to get a few things recorded, like a demo CD to send out to jazz festivals,” Kehati explains. “But when we listened to the end result, I thought ‘Hey, this sounds good enough to be an album,’ so I put it out.”
Both albums were recorded with Israeli sidemen – saxophonist Alon Farber, bassist Daniel Sapir and drummer Udi Shlomo – who will all be on hand for Kehati’s March 3 concert at Shapira House in Petah Tikva (9 p.m.).
After growing up on an eclectic musical diet of rock, classical music, opera and Israeli pop and playing in a number of rock bands as a teenager, Kehati began to look for a new direction. “I got bored with rock music and all the solos I was doing, and I even gave up guitar altogether for a year.” Not contemplating becoming a professional musician at the time, he obtained a BA in business studies.
Then he discovered jazz and the improvisational possibilities it offered, and the rest is history.
Although Kehati got a solid formal education in jazz, he says he has always followed his own path. “I went to the Rimon School of Music for three years, and in the first year I made it to the final of the jazz musicians’ category, and the judges said something like I lacked swing and didn’t have the language of bebop, but I still placed third. I carried on doing my own thing, and the next year the same judges said it was nice to find a musician who tries to find his own language. I have always followed my own direction,” he says.
The next stage in Kehati’s musical education was the prestigious New England Conservatory (NEC) in Boston, which has produced a long list of luminaries on the more adventurous side of the classical music and jazz tracks for well over a century. Considering Kehati’s independent ethos, it seems a natural choice of educational institution. Kehati completed his master’s degree there and secured an assistant professor berth for a while, and then set out to develop his performing career from his Boston base.
Given that most of the American jazz scene is based in New York, Boston seems a strange choice of address, but Kehati says there are advantages and disadvantages to living outside the Big Apple. “If I lived in New York, I’m sure I would have had plenty of opportunities to play with people like Seamus [Blake] and Rodney [Green] without waiting to come to Israel for a few gigs. But I am pretty busy anyway in Boston, and it’s more relaxed than in New York. I have the space and time I need to organize my life the way I want to.”
For a young jazz musician who cites such musicians as 19th-century romantic composer Hector Berlioz, jazz megastar guitarist Pat Metheny, country singer Kenny Rogers, pop icon Sting and 20thcentury Jewish American classical and popular music composer George Gershwin as influences, Kehati certainly seems to be determined to follow his own muse, wherever that takes him.

Assaf Kehati will perform at Shapira House in Petah Tikva on March 3 at 9 p.m. For tickets and information: (03) 905-2349 or 054-770-5412.