Shoshan's moves

Israeli pianist Shimrit Shoshan learned from music greats, whose influence is audible on her first recording.

Shimrit Shoshan 311 (photo credit: Devin DeHaven)
Shimrit Shoshan 311
(photo credit: Devin DeHaven)
Shimrit Shoshan’s debut CD, Keep It Movin’, tells it as it is, which is nothing more, or less, than you’d expect of the 28-year-old New York-based Israeli jazz pianist. There is an overriding sense of straight shooting in her music, and in the way she talks about her work and herself.
“I want to sing, I am learning singing and acting but it all comes from the same place,” states Shoshan. “It doesn’t come from a desire to put on a show. It is all part of how I can best put across what I have inside.”
For Shoshan, it is all part of conveying who and what she is, not just as an artist but as a person.
“Singing can help me express what I have inside which hasn’t come out yet,” she adds. Sounds like the kind of thing some go to a shrink for.
“You think I didn’t do that too? I went to one twice a week for five years. There is a lot of struggling involved in, not only being an artist and performing your art to the best of your abilities, but also just surviving and paying the bills.”
Shoshan does not appear to be the type that shirks from a challenge, and that comes across in Keep It Movin’. All eight tracks are self-penned, and she enjoyed the invaluable support and sideman services of saxophonist Abraham Burton and drummer Eric McPherson for the project, with added contributions by bassists John Herbert and Luques Curtis.
It was a long hard road for Shoshan until she got to the recording studio. Besides studying at City College, before moving to the New School, she did practically every kind of odd job to keep body and soul on terra firma while endeavoring to keep her personal and professional credos in her sights.
“I sold diamonds, I worked in real estate – everything Jews do there to survive. I actually made decent money out of selling apartments, but it wasn’t for me.
I have to stick to my own truth, whatever the price.”
That means navigating what Shoshan considers to be all sorts of non-creative minefields. There is a tendency among quite a few contemporary jazz artists to veer in the direction of crowd-pleasing melodic departures, instead of exploring previously untested musical waters.
Increasingly, Israeli jazz artists have begun delving into our own musical material, to rework what have become Israeli standards written by some of our iconic songsmiths the likes of Sasha Argov, Mordehai Ze’ira and Naomi Shemer.
WHILE SHE admits that it is not the material you take but the way you address it, Shoshan prefers to forge her own course, with her own charts and inner truth.
“I am not in favor of delving into the Israeli Songbook,” she states. “It’s true that you can take any melody and do something with it, but it depends how you go about it. Also, if you want to take something Israeli, why not take something from inside, from your own Israeliness?”
Shoshan’s jazz road began at the Thelma Yallin High School of the Arts, where she studied in the same class as guitarist Gilad Hekselman, who has been making waves in the Big Apple and beyond for some years now. Hekselman recently released his third album, Hearts Wide Open.
“I learned a lot at Thelma Yellin, especially from [late pianist-teacher] Amit Golan,” says Shoshan. “He gave me the basics – different chord shapes and all the formal stuff I hadn’t learned before. That also really instilled in me a love of the music.”
She also received high praise from one of jazz’s legendary figures while she was in 11th grade. “[Thenoctogenarian drummer] Max Roach did a master class when he was in Israel and lots of students played for him. He said: ‘You’re all great but the pianist is really great.’ That was fantastic and it gave me a lot of encouragement.”
In fact Shoshan didn’t really expect to be accepted by Thelma Yallin in the first place.
“All I had done until then was play around on a small electronic keyboard, an organit, so I didn’t think I had much to offer at the audition for the high school. But I’ve got a really good ear.”
The latter attribute, says Shoshan, is an invaluable asset for everything she does.
“I can pick up on, say, the sound of a taxi driving by and take that sound somewhere musically. I really feed off the sounds of the street, the sounds of life.” She also gets a lot from the musicians around her.
“I play a lot in a duo setup with [drummer] Eric [McPherson] and I experiment with him on ‘Skippy’ [track 7 on Keep It Movin’]. Sometimes we play, just to the two of us, without bass, like I do with [saxophonist] Abraham [Burton] so that the way the number evolves is not dictated by sort of ‘walking bass’ lines,” Shoshan explains. “That leaves more room for interpretation, harmonically and rhythmically.”
One gets the idea that, no matter where she is or who she is with, Shoshan will always find that room for maneuver, that freedom to tell the world exactly the way it is for her.