Bearing up

The Betty Bears crew of Israeli 20-year-olds will play early jazz sounds from New Orleans at the Indie City Festival.

Betty Bears. The bands appearing at Indie City all feature in video clips shot a couple of months ago at various locations around Jerusalem.  (photo credit: GAYA’S MUSIC PHOTOS)
Betty Bears. The bands appearing at Indie City all feature in video clips shot a couple of months ago at various locations around Jerusalem.
(photo credit: GAYA’S MUSIC PHOTOS)
The Betty Bears gang are not trying to take their merry coals to Newcastle, and they are aware that they have not exactly reinvented the wheel either. The eight-piece band is one of the acts in the forthcoming Jerusalem Municipality-supported Indie City Festival that is scheduled to take place in the Russian Compound on July 24-25, for the second year.
The lineup includes 15 top acts, culled from a wide range of genres, from rock to traditional jazz, and from blues-infused material to high energy cross-cultural ethnic music, courtesy of the likes of Amir Lev, Yemen Blues, Shai Tsabari and Sun Tailor. Musical discrepancies notwithstanding, the common denominator between the bands is that they all feature in video clips shot a couple of months ago at various locations around Jerusalem.
Now the public will get to see them do their thing live.
With two stages, and performances running in sequence over the two evenings, the event promises to be a lot of fun. While Lev and Yemen Blues will surely keep their audiences well entertained, and even enthralled, the Betty Bears should push the smiling-faces-ante up another notch or two.
The group’s repertoire feeds off the happy-go-lucky vibes of some of the earliest jazz sounds of New Orleans, from Dixieland to swing, with some slightly extraneous seasoning thrown in for good measure. It is not every day you come across a bunch of 20-year-olds from Israel who are deeply immersed in the earliest forms of jazz.
“There are enough acts out there who play modern jazz, and we wanted to do something we feel strongly connected to,” explains Evyatar “Boofer” Hermesh, who plays double bass and bass guitar.
While Hermesh et al do a pretty good job with material that was created half a century or more before they were born, they also add something from their individual musical baggage to the communal fray.
“I grew up in the ’90s with some really bad music, you know like Spice Girls,” says vocalist Ella “Black Betty” Daniel, “but, thankfully, I have moved on from that.”
Hermesh comes from a very different sonic backdrop.
“I actually got a good musical education at home,” he remarks. “I heard blues rock from the ’60s – bands like the Beatles, Blood Sweat and Tears, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker. All the good stuff. I still listen to them.”
The aforementioned Hermesh favorites may have the blues coursing through their veins, but the Betty Bears proffer very different musical fare. It is hard to equate, for example, hits like early Beatles number “All You Need Is Love” with the Jerusalem band’s highly creditable reading of “Cake Walking Babies From Home,” which was first recorded in 1925 by the Clarence Williams’ Blue Five featuring Louis Armstrong on cornet. When the Betty Bears do their thing you can almost imagine them marching down the streets of New Orleans of yesteryear playing their instruments and swinging hard.
That was certainly evident at the band’s first foreign gig, when they played in Prague last month to wildly enthused crowds.
“The audience was pretty responsive, but when Ella asked them if they wanted to hear more, at the end of the set, they went wild,” says Hermesh.
Daniel’s penchant for theatrics helps to get the band’s audiences going.
“I got into cabaret music when I was in Germany a few years ago,” she says. “I also got into blues and jazz when I was there. That has stayed with me.”
In fact, the various members of the Betty Bears bring all sorts of artistic approaches and musical orientations to the act. Trombonist Ron Silberstein, for example, is also an opera singer.
Hermesh started getting into the New Orleans side of the jazz tracks around three years ago.
“I really went mad about early jazz, and especially people like [73-yearold American multi-instrumentalist blues, rock ’n’ roll, pop and early jazz performer] Dr. John,” says the bassist.
“That led me on to all sorts of black musicians from New Orleans, and the culture from there. I love, for example, the tradition of playing music for funerals. The band would play mournful things, like spirituals, on the way to the cemetery, and on the way back they would play more up-tempo happy stuff, you know, like they were getting back to life after burying the dead.”
The bassist feels, like the funereal repertoire, the earliest forms of jazz emanated from an oxymoronic mix of joy and sadness.
“I think what really grabbed me was the joie de vivre of the music and the musicians. Think about it – 20 years before the music came into being all the blacks were basically slaves, and they brought the memory of their suffering into music, but also their joy. It is very infectious. That really gets me.”
New Orleans in the early days was a cultural melting pot, and jazz has several cultural strands at its core, with Irish, Jewish, French and other communities living in the city in the early 20th century.
“There are musicians from there who are a quarter Native American, a quarter French, and half Spanish,” says Hermesh.
“You can put all sorts of things in Dixie music,” adds Daniel. “There’s the clarinet that brings the European-Jewish klezmer side.”
“And there are the African chants, and European harmonies, and the Creole chants,” continues Hermesh. “That’s what makes this music so magical.”
The Indie City fun starts at 7 p.m.
on July 24, with the stage shows being followed by an electronic music freefor- all and a headphone party that will continue on deep into the night. The Betty Bears will perform on the second evening. All shows are free.
Away from the stage action there will be secondhand goods on sale and street art activities, food stalls, LPs and various music accessories.
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