The answer is blowing in the wind

Music is the most resonant metaphor for life.

Amir Gwirtzman bagpipe 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Amir Gwirtzman bagpipe 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Music has long been employed to convey messages of unison, to highlight the common denominators between different cultures, and to bridge cultural, ethnic and political divides. Even so, multi-instrumentalist Amir Gwirtzman has been plying his own unique musical bonding path of late.
Until recently, the 44-yearold Gwirtzman was principally known as the powerfully built wind instrument player in veteran cross-genre music group Esta. His resume also features some impressive slots with celebrated American composer Philip Glass – on the soundtrack for the Atlanta Olympic Games – and with our own local legends Arik Einstein and Shalom Hanoch.
A few months ago he decided to strike out on his own, and he has just spent over four months criss-crossing the southern states of the US, from Alabama to Oklahoma, and from Texas to Arizona, with his physiologically-logically- titled Inhale – Exhale show, playing no less than 25 wind instruments to all kinds of audiences at all manner of venue. The tour was coordinated by the Jackson, Mississippi- based Goldring Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish life, and sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Gwirtzman sees himself as an entertainer, with a message that goes far beyond the boundaries of sonic reach. He also believes his choice of instrument category helps to convey his glad tidings.
“There are lots of things that bond us rather than divide us,” he says. “Every nation and culture has its own pipe.
For me that means that man needs the sound of the pipe in his life. I certainly do.”
The life-music analogy is clear, especially when the music in question is performed with wind instruments.
“Everything in physical life is based on breathing. It’s also a basic principle of yoga. It’s natural and calming, and sometimes difficult,” he explains before alluding to his own show. “The essence of life is in-and-out, like with inhaling and exhaling.”
Gwirtzman also considers himself something of an ambassador, doing his utmost to put out positive vibes and to provide media-nurtured audiences with an alternative, and rosier, view of Israel.
“There are very few Jews living in the South [of the United States] and lots of people there have never seen a Jew before. I give them a different perspective on Israelis – not the one they would readily get from CNN or the BBC.”
WITH SUCH a vast range of instruments in his kit bag Gwirtzman naturally also feeds off the energies of different cultures, including some you wouldn’t normally associate with an Israeli – even one who spent over a decade hiving in New York. Besides blowing away audiences with his powerful saxophone calisthenics, Gwirtzman would often add spice, and not a little color, to Esta gigs by playing the bagpipes. In fact, playing an instrument that, for most people, conjures up images of sturdy-legged Scotsmen in kilts may not be quite as far a cultural departure as it initially seems. “Yes, the pipes are mostly associated with Scottish and Irish music, but I play 25 wind instruments, most from the Middle East, which, as we know, was a crossroads of ancient trade routes,” he proffers. “That meant that there were all sorts of cultural influences in our part of the world. Anyway, I am an Israeli and a Jew and we have something very rich, culturally and musically, which has a bearing on almost the entire world.”
During his US tour Gwirtzman performed in large concert halls, libraries, synagogues and jazz clubs, and at world music and jazz festivals, for all sorts of audiences. “I did a benefit show for the victims of the Haiti disaster at a synagogue in Lake Charles [Louisiana], and there were people there aged 18 to 80, of all origins – not just Jews. And they all get what it is I am talking and playing about.”
Gwirtzman must have left a good impression on the local folk, as he was presented with the key to the city.
The repertoire is also very much a go with the flow affair.
“I sometimes play traditional stuff, say, on a Korean flute or a Vietnamese or Arabic instrument.
Then I use loops to make the instruments talk to each other and bring each unique texture into the mix,” he says. “I often don’t know what I’m going to do when I get out there to perform. I grew up on jazz, the free jazz spirit that involves risk-taking.
The essence of jazz is freedom and improvisation.”
Such an off-the-cuff ethos takes maturity, experience and confidence. Gwirtzman appears to have all of those to hand.

Amir Gwirtzman will perform with various guest artists at the Shablul Club at Tel Aviv Port on June 13 at 9 p.m. Ticket information: (03) 546-1891.