Young jazz at Shablul

A four-day jazz ensemble marathon starts tonight in Tel Aviv.

Jazz festival 311 (photo credit: Alaev Singel)
Jazz festival 311
(photo credit: Alaev Singel)
In case anyone out there is wondering about the future of the jazz community in this country, it appears that there is no cause for alarm and, indeed, plenty of reasons to be upbeat.
This evening, a four-day jazz ensemble marathon will kick off at the Shablul Club in Tel Aviv. The purveyors of the live music comprise several dozen students of the Center for Jazz Studies of The Israel Conservatory of Music Tel Aviv, their teachers, plus a number of budding youngsters from the jazz school’s youth program. The program operates in tandem with New York’s prestigious New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and increasing numbers of graduates of the Tel Aviv program end up studying in the Big Apple.
While the students are still quite unknown, there are plenty of familiar names among the teachers/band leaders.
“We try to get the best people to teach at the school,” says jazz program director, saxophonist Erez Bar Noy, “and I think the students get the benefit of their skills and experience.”
The list of teachers at the jazz school makes for impressive reading. Trombonistband leader Avi Lebovich, a former student at The New School, is on the staff, while pianist Anat Fort – the first Israeli artist to release an album on preeminent German record label ECM – will be around for the marathon, as will guitaristoud player Amos Hoffman, pianist Omri Mor, drummer Shai Zelman and reedman Daniel Zamir.
There is certainly something to be said for the experience the students gain by accruing some stage time at Shablul. “This happens once a semester,” says Bar Noy.
“Some of them already play in all kinds of combos, but the Shablul marathon is an important event in the study program. The relationship between the performer and the audience is crucial and, naturally, that is something you have to learn in real time.”
Bar Noy says there is some stellar talent in there. “There are so many good musicians at the school now. Some of the better ones include a guitarist named Tal Yahalom, a wonderful drummer named Yehonatan Gittelman, and a couple of vocalists called Dana Hertz and Gaia Feldheim Shor. But we really have a lot of very promising musicians on the program.”
The marathon will present a wide range of styles and genres, incorporating straight-ahead jazz from different periods, music with ethnic touches and even a big band, the latter orchestrated by veteran saxophonist Yuval Cohen. The more ethnically inclined side of the marathon program features Hoffman’s Cross Border combo, which includes nine instrumentalists plus Hertz on vocals.
“The students brought music from all kinds of cultures for this,” explains Bar Noy. “They arranged a song from [acclaimed Bulgarian female vocal ensemble] The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices and a Turkish number and one original score. There are some really exciting things going on there.”
Hoffman trained as a mainstream jazz guitarist but later added oud to his instrumental arsenal and, naturally, brings more than just a whiff of the Middle East to his teaching work.
Bar Noy admits to not being completely au fait with everything going on at the school and is looking forward to being surprised himself during the marathon. “There are 14 ensembles that play at the school every week, so I really can’t keep up with everything that’s going on. It’s a nice problem to have.”
Despite the broad spectrum of genres and subgenres on the Shablul concert program, Bar Noy says he doesn’t want things to become too extensive. “Yes, the idea is to delve into different areas of music, but we don’t want to go too far,” he says.
“We aim to work in two main areas in which we believe we are very good – jazz and what we call artistic world music. We don’t want to slip into areas like rock and pop and fusion. Our teachers are all topnotch in jazz, but we are also good at jazz with local influences, with people like Amos Hoffman and Daniel Zamir.” The latter has made a name for himself on the Jewish music-inflected jazz field. “We like to give our teachers free rein on the musical territory they cover.
We don’t want them to adopt a sort of robot-like approach and just teach traditional jazz.”
Fort, one of our top jazz ambassadors around the world, also brings some star quality to the educational fray. She will oversee the efforts of Music of the Fringe septet at the marathon. It is an apt name for the band, as it alludes to Fort’s own take on jazz.
“There is a lot of attention devoted to the quality of the sound the students produce,” says Bar Noy. “It is a more free approach. There is no obligation to specific chord progressions or a regular beat. The music is more open but also more based on pre-planning and being open to ideas that spring up during the performance.”
The ability to go with the flow demands a degree of self-confidence and being grounded, both musically and personally. “We make sure our students are well versed in the roots of jazz, so that isn’t a problem,” says the jazz program director.
Bar Noy expects the young musicians and their audiences to enjoy the experience over the four days. “It is a golden opportunity to hear the jazz stars of tomorrow,” he declares. “We’ve got some amazing talents in jazz in this country.” Watch this space.
Jazz ensemble marathon at the Shablul Club in Tel Aviv, January 27-30. For tickets: (03) 546-1891