Swinging in the castle

The annual Caesarea festival devoted to early jazz starts Thursday

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
If tradition is anything to go by, then the Caesarea Jazz Festival is the genre's premiere gathering in this country. Then again, there are quite a few jazz fans who believe that the more modern form of the music, which started with the bebop era of the mid-1940s with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, is a far "truer" jazz route to follow. Intellectual debate apart, the three-day jazz bash (this year's takes place June 7-9) among the magnificent ruins of the Crusader castle, with the sea lapping gently in the nearby ancient port, is a celebration of the joyous sounds and energies of the early jazz styles of swing, Dixieland and the marching bands that once graced the streets of New Orleans. Thirty-seven-year-old clarinetist Evan Christopher (cover photo) will certainly imbue the Caesarea proceedings with some of the latter spirit. As a longtime California-born resident of New Orleans, Christopher exudes undisguised love for the music that emanated from the cradle of jazz around 100 years ago. In some ways, it's surprising that a young man born over three decades after the heyday of jazz dance should make a career out of playing one of the idiom's earliest forms. But, in musical terms Christopher grew up in something of a time warp. "I didn't listen to the pop and rock stuff on the radio when I was a kid," he says. "I was drawn to the clarinet, and I could hear the instrument clearly in swing music, primarily with players like Artie Shaw and Johnny Dodds, who played clarinet with Louis Armstrong. There wasn't a lot of classical music lying around the house that featured clarinet, and I couldn't hear it so much in more modern jazz, like bebop. I didn't get into guys like [bebop clarinetists] Tony Scott and Buddy De Franco until much later." More than anything it was the merry insouciance of the early jazz format that Christopher found so enchanting. "It [traditional jazz] is a set of freedoms with which I have a bit more affinity," he explained, "so it came more easily to me than, say, the classical music which I studied at university. Luckily there was a great jazz radio station at the university." While Christopher's preferred form of musical expression may come from an era which he didn't experience first hand, he says he feels he came into the profession at the right time. "Many years ago, considering the dance-hall roots of jazz, it was maybe difficult to relate to it as America's classical music. But since then, people like [iconic contemporary trumpeter] Wynton Marsalis have gentrified the field. These days, I don't have to try to convince people that jazz is a serious art form; everyone knows that by now." But it won't get too serious at Caesarea next week. While one can certainly expect top-class artists there - including a sextet lead by vocalist Terry Blaine, and swing outfit Statesmen of Jazz - to perform professionally, the atmosphere will be suitably convivial. Besides the main stage slots, early arrivals at the festival site can groove and sway to beguiling rhythms of the Caesarea Ellingtonia octet while sipping a glass of cabernet sauvignon as the sun sets over the Mediterranean. If it's chill fun you're looking for, at one of the most professionally-run jazz festivals in the country, Caesarea is the place to be at the end of next week. For more information about the Caesarea Jazz festival go to: www.caesarea.org.il