Pushing the envelope

British jazz musician Courtney Pine will be a headliner at the White City Music Festival in May.

Jazz musician (photo credit: gary wallis)
Jazz musician
(photo credit: gary wallis)
With the rumblings of negative vibes currently surrounding the Israeli jazz scene, it’s very encouraging to see artists of the caliber of Courtney Pine on the roster of the forthcoming White City Music Festival. The festival will take place at the Tel Aviv Port between May 1 and May 10, and the organizers have lined up a rich and varied list of top acts, including the likes of master vocalist Bobby McFerrin, long-standing US jazz band Yellowjackets, Balkan musicianbandleader Goran Bregovic, veteran jazz drummer Al Foster and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. On the local artists’ side, festival patrons can look forward to shows by veteran pianist-vocalist Shlomo Gronich, young fellow singer-ivory tickler Shlomi Shaban and bass player Avishai Cohen.
This will not be Pine’s first visit here, having graced the Red Sea Jazz Festival stage in Eilat three times since 1989, and he has appeared at other major musical events around the country over the years. But one thing’s for certain, Israeli audiences always get something new from Pine.
“I am always learning and always looking for the next thing,” says the 48-year-old British multiinstrumentalist.
Pine’s discography certainly bears out that envelope-pushing ethos.
Since his debut album Journey to the Urge Within came out in 1987, he has taken umpteen artistic twists and turns. The latest offering from his ever-evolving discography, Europa, reflects Pine’s ability to surprise and will form the kernel of his Tel Aviv concerts on May 5 and 6.
Europa is built on Pine’s bass clarinet playing and traverses a very wide swath of genres, textures, cultural roots and colors. There are all manner of musical footprints in there, from mainstream jazz to klezmer and Celtic sounds to lines that sound like they were plucked straight out of the Middle East. With 13 albums under his belt to date that cut through bebop to reggae to hip hop and much betwixt, and another very different one just starting to emerge from the ephemeral stage, Pine says that, in fact, he always had a good idea of what he’d be doing all these years down the road.
“I’ve had something like a template [of future musical projects] for a long time,” he says. “When I was in school, I wrote down album contents. If you look at the back of my school books you’ll see album ideas. So I always had these things in mind. When I did my first album for Island Records, I had three or four lined up. It was just a matter of when can I record this one or that.”
Not all of Pine’s youthful plans have materialized as yet for one reason or another. “It was just the logistics of being a human being, really, that got in the way,” he continues, adding that he had dreams of jamming with some of the biggest icons in the music business. ”I couldn’t get Stevie Wonder to play on one of my records. If you look on the back of my biology book, it says ‘Stevie Wonder harmonica solo on track three.’ But my lack of technical expertise eventually defined what I could hope to achieve with these records.”
Since he started out in the business more than a quarter of a century ago, Pine has ridden an incredible wave of success. Journey to the Urge Within was the first serious jazz album ever to make the British Top 40, notching up sales to qualify for a silver record. It was a remarkable achievement in British jazz history and established Courtney Pine as the leading figure on the British jazz scene and an inspiration to many young musicians. The follow-up to this, in 1988, was the album Destiny’s Song, produced by acclaimed American jazz artist Delfeayo Marsalis.
That, too, made the British Top 40 and also broke into the American jazz charts and set Pine on the road to international stardom. That same year he also performed at Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday concert at Wembley Stadium in London.
Possibly even more telling, in addition to all the record sales and sold-out concerts around the globe, is the acknowledgement of his artistic endeavor from the epicenter of the British establishment. In 2000, Pine was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2009, Pine’s royal recognition was upgraded to CBE (Commander of the British Empire). It was Pine’s turn to be surprised.
“That was never in my game plan, going to Buckingham Palace to get an award,” he declares. “I just wanted, and want, to create and play music.”
But Pine is not letting all the kudos and commendations go to his head.
“I just want to keep doing new things and learning,” he says. “You’re only as good as your next gig. I never forget that.”
For more information about the Courtney Pine concerts and the White City Festival: (03) 602-0888 and www.tlv-music.com.