Playing his own tune

"Free Improvision" is a touching portrait of one year in the life of French Jerusalemite Jean Claude Jones, an avant-garde musician with MS.

Free Improvisation 311 (photo credit: Dima Brickman)
Free Improvisation 311
(photo credit: Dima Brickman)
The annual DocAviv Festival generally offers us a rare opportunity to access walks of life, and avenues of endeavor, which we would not generally encounter. The documentary Free Improvisation uncovers a world of intense and ceaseless creativity which, unfortunately, exists and thrives unbeknownst to most Israelis.
The subject of Free Improvisation is 61-yearold Tunisian-born French Jerusalemite bass player electronics musician and record producer Jean Claude Jones, aka JC. Jones made aliya in 1983, after studying jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and quickly became a leading member of the jazz community here. He joined the Jazz Department of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance in 1987, and later served as department chairman from 1996 to 2000.
Over the years, he switched from bass guitar to double bass and, far more importantly, moved from mainstream jazz into the more ethereal domain of free improvisation.
As he ventured further and further into uncharted artistic territory, he also established his own production and marketing vehicle, founding the Kadima Collective label and recording facility, putting out CDs, DVDs and books featuring the work of top improvisational musicians, both from Israel and around the world.
Recently he produced a book about French bassist Joelle Leandre, who will perform and discuss her work at the Romain Gary French cultural center in Jerusalem this Wednesday (8 p.m.).
For Adin Weiner, who initiated the project and produced the film, Free Improvisation is very much a labor of love, both for Jones’s work and for Jones himself.
Weiner’s interest in making the film was sparked by an article by Ben Shalev in Haaretz, in 2008, in which he learned that Jones was sick with multiple sclerosis, and how the disease was affecting him and influencing his work. “I was amazed by the way JC dealt with his illness through music.”
Weiner also says Jones’s condition also helped to focus Jones’s work.
“It’s like an asthma sufferer, for whom every breath is precious. I feel that every project and every student JC has is like a breath of air for an asthma sufferer. In the past he worked with dance and electronic music, puppet theater and painters, all sorts. Suddenly, the disease forced him to decide which area of art is most important to him. That’s quite a lesson to learn.”
ONE OF Jones’s students, who features prominently in Free Improvisation, is 13- year-old child prodigy, pianist Ariel Lanyi.
Jones has been nurturing Lanyi’s musical evolution for over three years, even enduring the difficult logistics, for an MS sufferer, of flying to Italy to perform with Lanyi at a jazz concert there. The bond between Jones and Lanyi goes far beyond that of a normal teacher-disciple relationship, and that comes across clearly and emotively in the documentary.
It is difficult to sum up Jones’ work to date, let alone all the projects he is currently working on. He has put out CDs with many of the country’s leading proponents of improvisational music, such as septuagenarian South African-born clarinetist Harold Rubin, saxophonists Ariel Shibolet and Yoni Kretzmer, drummer Hagai Fershtman and multi-instrumentalist and composer Stephen Horenstein.
A few years ago, he dreamed up a highly ambitious idea of bringing to Israel some of the world’s top bass players, from a variety of musical fields, to play a peace concert in Jerusalem. Even the most experienced of concert producers would have found the logistics, and financial issues, of mounting such a project forbidding. In his typically single-minded manner Jones persevered until Deep Tones for Peace (DT4P) became a reality, and a concert took place at Jerusalem’s The Lab venue in 2009.
Jones played alongside such artistic luminaries as Americans Barre Phillips and Bert Turetzky, Thierry Barbe from the Paris Opera Orchestra, Michael Klinghoffer from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, and US-based free improvisation bassist Mark Dresser.
Not satisfied with “merely” getting the Jerusalem concert off the ground, Jones arranged for a telematics connection to be set up, which enabled the players in Jerusalem to perform together, in real time, with an ensemble of top jazz and improvisational bassists in New York.
Increasing physical disability notwithstanding, there seems to be no stopping Jones.
Unlike Weiner, Free Improvisation director Doron Djerassi did not have any previous knowledge of the world of avant garde music.
“Doron was drawn into it by the passion of the music,” says Weiner. Djerassi corroborates that take.
“I hope it is a positive film even though there is sadness in it too. JC says he will keep on working and being creative until his last breath. I think that is a wonderful approach, and I wish that for myself too, to do the things that I love until I depart this life.”
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