The wonderful world of Oz

Israeli-born, NY-based guitarist Oz Noy follows the yellow brick road home to perform for Guitar Day in TA.

Oz Noy 370 (photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Oz Noy 370
(photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Most Monday nights, Oz Noy can be found onstage at the venerable New York City nightclub The Bitter End, offering what he calls a “live rehearsal” to an always appreciative audience.
Appreciative, because they get a chance to listen to a virtuoso guitarist who blends rock, jazz blues and funk into his own unique style that has established him as one of the premier players in the Big Apple – not bad for a boy from Rishon Lezion.
“The fact that I get to play there every week is unbelievable. I use it as kind of a laboratory for my records,” said the 40- year-old Noy, who has released five well-received albums since moving to New York in 1996. “I get to experiment and keep my chops up. With the kind of improvisational music I do, if you don’t play all the time, you get rusty. You have to constantly play in order to maintain that inspiration.”
Noy apparently is very inspired. In addition to his own albums and shows, which feature a broad cross section of New York’s best musical talent like drummers Keith Carlock and Anton Vig and bassists Will Lee and Reggie Washington, Noy is a prolific gun for hire – with recording and touring credits for a who’s who of contemporary music including Harry Belafonte, Cyndi Lauper, Clay Aiken, Toni Braxton, The Gil Evan Orchestra, Warren Hayes and Gov’t Mule, Allen Toussaint, Don Was, Nelly Furtado and Natasha Bedingfield.
“I’d say at this point, it’s about 50/50 between doing my own stuff and playing with other people,” said Noy, speaking last week from his home in New York.
“I don’t turn down gigs. There’s so little work for musicians – and even if there was a lot of work – if somebody asks me to record with them, I’ll do it as long I get paid what I need. For live performances, I’m a little more picky – if it was music I really didn’t like, I wouldn’t do it. But for me, it’s all work. There are very few musicians in the world who are in a place that they can say no to work.”
Noy developed that philosophy back when he was a teenage phenomenon in Israel, performing with some of the top artists of the day by the time he was 16.
Always interested in music, he wanted to pursue drumming. But at age 10, after accompanying a friend to a guitar lesson, his ambitions were derailed. “One look at the guitar and that was it,” he said.
By age 13, Noy had become so proficient on the instrument that he was performing in a band with players in their late teens. It was the last youth band he was in, because his talents soon became apparent to the local music industry.
“I never had that phase of being in lots of bands during high school, because by that time I was already semi-professional,” he said. Recording credits for artists like Ariel Zilber and Meir Banai piled up, while on the side, Noy wrote and performed his own jazz-inflected material.
By his early 20s, he was leading the house band on the late Dudu Topaz’s mega-popular TV show Rishon B’Bidur (First in Entertainment). But despite the heady success at such a young stage, the ambitious Noy at age 24 decided to test the musical waters in New York.
“I had friends who had gone to New York and returned to Israel and kept telling me to try it there. And some other friends went there at 18 or 19 and established pretty successful careers. I was beginning to feel left behind,” he said. “I knew that it was a matter of time, but it took me a couple years before I had the courage to actually go.”
Noy experienced a couple difficult years in New York, but word of his amazing guitar skills began to spread, and eventually the requests for recording sessions began coming in. However, even 15 years later, he admits that being a working musician is still a challenge.
“It was hard to find my place, and it’s even hard now,” he said. “It’s part of being a musician, no matter if you live in New York, Paris or Tel Aviv. You have to find your own way, and everyone has a different road to travel.”
“There’s a good community of musicians in New York, and like anywhere, there are cliques or people who play together. But the funny thing I found is that for a place that’s supposedly so big, when you get into the circles, it’s generally the same people that keep cropping up.
I found New York to be smaller than it looks.”
Noy’s traveled road has been a superhighway, dotted with his inventive albums, beginning with 2003’ Oz Live, recorded at the Bitter End. The next year he signed with Magna Carta Records and has been releasing new material up through last year’s acclaimed Twisted Blues. Along the way he’s been lauded for his skills, being named by Guitar Player’s readers poll in 2008 as “best new talent.”
A frequent return visitor to Israel, Noy will be joining two other guitar masters – Andy Timmons and Preston Reed – for Guitar Day, a special three-set performance on December 12 at Reading 3 in Tel Aviv. The 49-year-old Timmons has done everything from playing heavy metal with Steve Vai to leading Olivia Newton- John’s touring bands. Reed, 57, is a finger- style guitarist patterned after the blueprints of Leo Kottke and John Fahey, and together with Noy and Timmons, will present just about every sound that a guitar can make.
“I’ve never met either of them, but I certainly know of them, and they’re great,” said Noy, adding that he always enjoys returning to perform in Israel. “It’s not really a homecoming, because I’m back quite frequently. But having family and friends come to the show makes it special.”
According to him, the phenomenon of Israeli musicians populating the New York landscape is no longer a novelty, but is now an everyday experience made commonplace by the opportunities opened up by online music options.
“The fact is that there are lots of musicians from Israel doing well in New York, but there are a lot of musicians from other countries too,” he said. “And these days, when everything is so available and open online, it doesn’t really matter where you’re based.”
Not, at least, as long as you can play like Oz Noy.