Welcome to the international jazz embassy

Pianist Leonid Ptashka is bringing his musical compatriots from around the world to perform a six-date tour here.

Leonid Ptashka 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Leonid Ptashka 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Over the years, Leonid Ptashka has brought some quality acts to these shores. A few years ago, the Russian-born pianist was in charge of the artistic program of the now-defunct Rehovot Jazz Festival, which featured such titans of the art form as saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Al Foster - the latter of whom is on tour here with his own quartet this week. And Ptashka has some intriguing crossover musical events in his burgeoning resumé, too. However, it is safe to say that none of his eclectic efforts to date compares with the breadth and vision of the Ambassadors of Jazz project he has put together. Aside from Ptashka on piano, the six-date tour, which will cover the length of the country between December 8 and 13, features 75-year-old American trumpeter Ted Curson, 70-year-old American ex-pat saxophonist Monty Waters, Finnish violinist Vitaly Imerly and compatriot bassist Jyrki Kangas, and Russian powerhouse saxophonist Alexey Kozlov. Even Ptashka finds it hard to sum up the range of artistic orientation and experience these guys offer. "I called the series Ambassadors of Jazz because all the musicians coming over are true leaders and pioneers in their field," he says. Considering the players' CVs, Ptashka certainly could not be accused of overstating their status. Take Curson, for example. His star-studded, half-century-plus career thus far includes synergies with such jazz icons as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus and Cecil Taylor. Waters has shared the bandstand with, among other jazz and blues giants, Miles Davis and B.B. King; while, besides his playing achievements, Kangas has served as artistic director of his country's Pori Jazz Festival for over four decades. There is no shortage of color or character in the venerable Ambassadors of Jazz lineup, especially if you consider 75-year-old Kozlov's work to date. "Kozlov is something else," states Ptashka. "He was a leader of the underground jazz in the Soviet Union. In the Fifties and Sixties, jazz was considered capitalist and was outlawed. But Kozlov never hid the fact that he played jazz. He sat in prison for it but he never gave it up." The only thing he did change, by way of trying to avoid incarceration, was the shape of his instrument. "The saxophone really stuck out as a jazz instrument so, in order to fool the authorities, he made a straight tenor sax and told them it was a clarinet. The clarinet wasn't considered a jazz instrument so he managed to get away with it." Kozlov also fronted the highly popular 1970s jazz-rock group Arsenal. "He was also the first person who brought breakdancing to the USSR," Ptashka continues. "For many people in the Soviet Union, he was like a small peephole to the West, to the United States." But, Ptashka says, all the members of the Ambassadors of Jazz have something special to offer. "We'll be playing our own versions of standards, and freer stuff, and charts we wrote ourselves. We have never all played together at the same time, and we won't be rehearsing before the first gig [in Karmiel]. The beauty of what we all do is that we can easily lock onto each other, and with a lot of heart and soul. It's really going to be something special." The Ambassadors of Jazz will play in Karmiel at Heichal Hatarbut on December 8 at 8:30 p.m.; Tel Aviv Museum on December 9 at 8:30 p.m.; in Nesher at Heichal Hatarbut on December 10 at 8:30 p.m.; in Netanya at Heichal Hatarbut on December 11 at 8:30 p.m.; in Beersheba at the Conservatorium on December 12 at 8:30 p.m.; and at the Pavilion Theater in Jerusalem on December 13 at 8:30 p.m.