The voice of Israeli jazz

Despite Parkinson’s disease and an inability to present his radio shows himself, Danny Carpel’s contribution to jazz evolution here has not gone unnoticed.

Danny Carpel (photo credit: Courtesy)
Danny Carpel
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Over the past decade or two the Israeli jazz scene has really taken off. Although things ebbed at home somewhat in recent years, exemplified by the cancellation of the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, our musicians continue to wow audiences the world over, and they have a sizable presence in New York, the global jazz capital.
Danny Carpel, very much part of the renaissance of our jazz endeavor, was there at the very beginning of the sector’s surge. Carpel has been broadcasting jazz, and some rock and pop, on the army radio station Galei Tzahal for over 27 years now. Sadly, 12 years ago he contracted Parkinson’s disease and is in frail condition today, but he continues to do his bit. He puts together the playlist for the show which he started off almost three decades ago, Kol Hajazz Hazeh (a play on words in Hebrew, meaning both “all that jazz” and “that jazz sound”), broadcast at 9 p.m. on Sundays. He also compiles the content of an oldies pop and rock show with numbers from the Sixties and Seventies.
Eight years ago Carpel’s longstanding radio broadcasting exploits were officially recognized with the Culture and Sport Minister’s award for jazz performers.
Next Friday, at 1:30 p.m., the Enav Center in Tel Aviv will host a tribute show to Carpel. A stellar roster of artists and media professionals have lined up to pay homage, including veteran jazz musicians drummer Areleh Kaminsky and bassist Eli Magen, and Red Sea Jazz Festival joint artistic director and saxophonist Eli Degibri.
Carpel helped to broaden the musical horizons of thirty-something Degibri and his contemporaries – and even those of the generation before him – and introduced him to the names and sounds of some of jazz’s greatest exponents.
“For me Danny Carpel is synonymous with jazz,” says the reed man. “He was an influential figure in my personal development as a jazz musician. As a kid I would eagerly await his radio shows. They were something special in the mainstream jazz scene here.”
Carpel’s exploits on the more commercial side of the music tracks here will be saluted at the show by some of the founding fathers of the local rock and pop scene, including Motti Dichneh and the Sixties band, and Uzi and the Styles. The latter’s inclusion is particularly pertinent as the original lineup of the Styles included Carpel’s older brother Avi on guitar.
Carpel says he was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
“I started a new jazz radio show on Galei Tzahal on February 1, 1987,” he recalls. “It was a good time for jazz.”
It was indeed. Later that year the first Red Sea Jazz Festival took place in Eilat, the 28th edition of which will take place at the end of next month.
Degibri’s collaborator for putting together the current festival’s lineup is veteran radio broadcaster and world music specialist Dubi Lenz.
“Dubi joined Galei Tzahal about six months or so after I started there,” says Carpel. That was in the early Seventies, when Carpel did his army service at the station as a program editor.
In fact, Carpel enjoyed his first taste of radio show presenting when he was still very much wet behind the ears.
“I was a regular listener to Rivka Michaeli’s rock and pop show on Reshet Bet, and she asked listeners if they had records they wanted to play on the program. I was in 11th grade at the time, and I sent in a letter but I didn’t get a reply. So I sent in another one and wrote that I was upset they hadn’t acknowledged my first letter.”
It was second time lucky for Carpel.
“I got a reply with an apology, and I ended up presenting a whole show of rock music myself. I got a lot of responses to the show. That was great.” A year or so later, slap-bang in the middle of his matriculation exams, Carpel was asked to present a couple more shows for Michaeli, and the rest is history.
Carpel grew up with the vibes of Sixties rock and pop, so it was only natural that he should gain his entry into the more improvised sounds of jazz through the rock-oriented sector of the art form.
“I got into jazz through fusion,” he explains. “There were great fusion bands around in the late Sixties and early Seventies, like [pianist-keyboardist] Chick Corea with Return to Forever.”
Serendipitously, Corea and Return to Forever bass player Stanley Clarke will perform here next Thursday, at the Zappa Club in Herzliya, and a few hours after the Carpel tribute they will give another concert at the Zappa Amphitheater at Shuni.
While some get a little snooty about jazz, Carpel definitely takes a street-level approach.
“Some didn’t like the fact that I put fusion out there,” he says. “They thought it was a bit inferior, and too commercial.
But that didn’t bother me.”
Carpel didn’t just play the sounds of the greats on his shows, he also did his utmost to promote local acts and get their music out there. One of the latter was Zaviyot, a left-field quartet comprising British-born bass player Mark Smulian, and Americans guitarist Tommy Balman and drummer Reuven Hoch, and South African-born clarinetist Harold Rubin.
“They sent me a cassette,” Carpel recalls. “I was impressed.”
Indeed, Zaviyot brought a breath of something different to the local jazz scene. They did quite well initially, playing at the Red Sea Jazz festival in the late Eighties and gigging around Europe for a few years, but the band broke up after seven years, following Hoch’s return Stateside. They reunited briefly six years ago, and made a triumphant return to the Eilat festival a couple of years ago, when Rubin celebrated his 80th birthday. Carpel certainly deserves some kudos for helping to make that happen.
Friday’s tribute will, fittingly, be MCed by two of Galei Tzahal’s iconic presenters, Yoav Kutner and Lenz. Kutner joined the station a few months after Carpel.
“I learned so much from Danny about how to compile a music show, and about retaining a constant hunger for new sounds, and delving into music of the past,” says Kutner. Carpel and Lenz jointly presented a highly popular radio show that covered a wide range of sonic streams for many years.
“We did all sorts of things together – specials, marathons and other stuff,” recalls Lenz. “We enjoyed something of a symbiotic professional relationship, and people often called me Danny. I didn’t mind at all.”
Lenz says that Carpel has been an invaluable asset to the Israeli jazz scene over the years.
“When you think of jazz in Israel the first name that comes up is Danny Carpel. He is highly knowledgeable in all sorts of musical areas, but his main love, the love to which he dedicates all his energy, time, heart and feelings, is jazz. Danny also wrote the only book on jazz to come out in Hebrew. He is responsible for educating generations of Israelis to love jazz, and they will keep take that love with them all their lives.”
The tribute show will be broadcast on Galei Tzahal, and all proceeds will go to the Israel Parkinson Association (IPA).
For tickets and more information: (03) 574-5005, (03) 521-7763 and