The best of both worlds

Veteran piano man Danny Gottfried continues to take the Israeli jazz scene to new heights.

Classical jazz (photo credit: Courtesy)
Classical jazz
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Danny Gottfried has been pushing the jazz boat out there, in this country, for over half a century. Now 72, he started out as a classical pianist and even started developing a promising career as a soloist. However, he soon switched to jazz and became one of the pioneers of the field in this country.
His jazz resumé covers practically every area of endeavor in the art form, from founding and overseeing our biggest jazz event for two decades, to presenting annual series and laying the bedrock of several generations of jazz artists with his pioneering work in education.
But, it seems, old habits die hard and old loves never really go away.
Between April 21 and May 5 Gottfried will team up with his classical conductor son Yaron in a classical-jazz music synergy across the country. The series features The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra, with Gottfried Jr.
conducting, and bass player Yurai Oron and drummer Ronny Holan supporting the pianist’s efforts.
The concerts will each have two parts, with the first half featuring Gottfried and the trio, backed by the orchestra, performing a program of jazz standards, including Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight, based on an arrangement by Gottfried’s other son, composer Aviram; Every Time We Say Goodbye written by Cole Porter and based on an arrangement by Amikam Kimmelman, another veteran of the local jazz scene and head of the Rimon School of Music; and Sweet Georgia Brown, composed in 1925 by Ben Bernie and Maceo Pinkard, and arranged for the series by Yaron.
Gottfried makes no apologies for the familial confluences. “You have to work with people with whom you feel comfortable,” he says, “and my sons know a thing or two about music.”
The other part of the concert program comprises Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony.
In 1981 he opened the jazz department at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Four years later, he laid the groundwork for the jazz department of the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, and in 1987 he initiated the Red Sea Jazz festival in Eilat.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s he kept the jazz lamp burning as brightly as possible as he joined forces with other members of the country’s first wave of jazz artists, including the likes of reed-man Albert Piamente and drummer Areleh Kaminsky. In 1971 Gottfried and Piamente put together the Sadnat Hajazz (Jazz Workshop) band and recorded the country’s first instrumental jazz record.
“I have always done my best to educate people about jazz and draw them closer to it, in formal and in informal situations,” declares Gottfried. “I taught jazz at the [Hebrew University] Student Union, and at Hillel House and at all sorts of workshops I set up.”
With credentials of such magnitude, Gottfried is also in an ideal position to pass judgment on the health of jazz in Israel right now. It is, he says, a mixed bag. “I have heard rumors that things are not going too well with the Red Sea Jazz Festival, and that the artistic directors [Dubi Lenz and Eli Degibri] have threatened to resign if the budgets are cut. And there’s the business of the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, which the Tel Aviv Municipality first thought about cancelling and then decided to hold it every two years instead. I’m not sure about that,” says Gottfried. “They say, for now, it will take place every two years and then they may say it won’t happen at all. In Israel, the temporary often becomes permanent. It’s all very disappointing.”
On the other hand, he says our institutions of jazz education, which have proliferated over the years, keep on churning out talented young artists. “It’s a problem when all the students graduate and they don’t have good opportunities to play. I think it is awful that some play for no money, and some don’t even break even on their gigs,” Gottfried continues, adding that it is not all doom and gloom. “I am proud to have started up all sorts of jazz series and events here which, in some guise or other are still around today. I just hope they keep on going.”
Gottfried feels that it is also up to the individual artists to do their bit to keep audiences on their side. “You can’t go into a concert with the attitude of ‘I’ll play what I like and blow the audience.’ You also have to entertain people. Entertainment isn’t a dirty word, even in jazz,” he says.
The pianist says he’ll certainly be doing his best to keep his patrons happy in the coming series. “I’ll play standards that people recognize.
These are subscription holders for classical concerts who are happy to hear some jazz too, rather than hardcore jazz fans. When I perform at a jazz club I’ll play what I want, the way I want, but not in this series. A lot of jazz musicians have forgotten that it’s all about playing for the public. It’s not just about the artists having a good time. I have no problems with entertaining people.”
The Classical-Jazz series concerts will take place at the Tel Aviv Museum (April 21, 8:30 p.m.), Kibbutz Dorot (April 22, 8:30 p.m.), Kibbutz Brener Auditorium (April 28, 8:30 p.m.), Naharya Hechal Hatarbut (April 29, 8:30 p.m.), Kibbutz Ein Hashofet Auditorium (April 30, 8:30 p.m.), Netanya Hechal Hatarbut (May 3, 8:30 p.m.) and Givatayim Theater (May 5, 8:30 p.m.).