Fort digs deep into home soil

Jazz pianist extraordinaire Anat Fort combines the lyrics of Nathan Alterman and the scores of Sasha Argov to create something both contemporary and respectful.

Anat Fort: I went to Sasha’s [Argov’s] house and I found gems. (photo credit: AVI LEVIN)
Anat Fort: I went to Sasha’s [Argov’s] house and I found gems.
(photo credit: AVI LEVIN)
Anat Fort is well and truly back. That sentiment will come across loud and clear when our preeminent internationally acclaimed jazz pianist takes the stage at Beit Avi Chai on April 23 (9 p.m.). The repertoire for the evening will be based on texts penned by Israel Prize-winning poet and playwright Nathan Alterman, and scores by iconic composer Sasha Argov, who died in 1995 at the age of 80, and was also an Israel Prize recipient.
Forty-something Fort left these shores over 20 years ago, to study and subsequently to work in New York. She initially delved into the classical world, but once stateside she gradually made the transition into jazz and once bitten, immersed herself in the wild and wonderful world of improvised music.
She spent four years studying music and improvisation at William Paterson University in New Jersey before making the geographically short but culturally huge move into New York.
All told, Fort was based in the Big Apple for over 16 years, and by all accounts made the most of living and working in the epicenter of the global jazz community. She made ends meet playing with all kinds of vocalists, and performing cabaret shows, and in 1999 she put out her debut release, Peel, which contained 10 original compositions. Fort had not yet made her mark on the wider jazz scene and she put the album out herself, but it quickly began to send out ripples and attracted enthused responses from critics and jazz fans alike.
A year later she met bassist Gary Wang and drummer Roland Schneider, and a musically and personally harmonious trio was born. The band is still together and has performed all over the world, including in this country.
Fort’s standing on the international jazz ladder moved up several rungs when she recorded her second CD, A Long Story, in 2004.
Her cohorts on the project included maverick reedman Perry Robinson, bassist Ed Schuller and famed drummer Paul Motian. Motian, who died in 2011 at the age of 80, was one of the foremost figures in jazz and was a pioneering force in revolutionizing the role of the drummer in the art form.
Motian, naturally, enjoyed a top-tier standing in the community, and it was Fort’s liaison with him that paved the way to the prestigious ECM jazz record label.
When Fort recorded A Long Story, her intention was to follow the same independent release route as with Peel.
However, Motian was duly impressed with the pianist’s compositional skills and referred the matter to ECM founder and owner Manfred Eicher. A short while later Fort received a phone call from Eicher asking her to send him the recorded material, and a month or so after that he called back to say he wanted to put the album out on his own label.
That was a staggering, life-changing moment for Fort. For various logistical, bureaucratic and scheduling reasons it took a further three years for A Long Story to take on corporeal form, but Fort is now part of the illustrious ECM stable. The German label’s roster also features pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Charlie Haden and saxophonist Charles Lloyd, and having the name of ECM in her resumé opened up doors for Fort across the globe.
Three years after A Long Story came out, Fort finally got around to making a recording with her long-standing threesome, and Wang and Schneider joined her on her sophomore ECM release, And If, which came out in 2010. A third Fort offering with the German label is in the works.
After over a decade and a half of living in New York, Fort decided it was time to return home, to the sights, smells, sounds and energies that inform her as a person and as an artist. In fact, Fort never left Israel behind her in a spiritual or musical sense. There is a palpable sense of her Israeli and Jewish identity in all her work and, along with jazz titans Motian, Jarrett, pianist Bill Evans and saxophonist John Coltrane, Fort cites Argov, Arik Einstein and Shalom Hanoch among her formative influences. Last year another dream came true for Fort, when she collaborated with Hanoch in a concert at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. Talks are currently under way to release a live recording of the concert.
Fort is eagerly looking forward to Wednesday’s Beit Avi Chai performance and says she had a grand old time delving into Argov’s scores. “I went to Sasha’s house and I found gems,” she says, adding that she left the Argov residence with a taste for more. “For me, the concert in Jerusalem is a sort of pilot, and I’d like to do something based on Argov’s music on a grander scale at some stage.”
This is not Fort’s first foray into the mysteries and delights of Argov’s creative output, and songs like “Shir Eres” (“Lullaby”) featured in Fort’s 2006 concert at the Opera House, in which she performed with her trio and a string sextet. “Shir Eres” is also in the Beit Avi Chai lineup, along with such additional Alterman-Argov co-productions as “Zemer Hamapuhit” (“Harmonica Music”) and “The Ballad of Hamoriko.”
The members of Wednesday’s audience will leave the show with a greater knowledge of Alterman’s and Argov’s works, and Fort’s probes into the Argov oeuvre produced some surprising finds. “I think that the audience will probably recognize around half of the program, and the rest will probably be new to them,” she notes.
This will not be a straight-and-narrow rendition of the works. “I was always aware of the fact that I wanted to perform the material in a sort of multidisciplinary way,” Fort explains.
“Dafna Armoni will sing some of the songs, but she will also recite some of the texts as an actress. And there will be video art too. As soon as I started getting into this material it was clear to me that I would present the texts visually as well.”
The pianist also approached the work from an all-embracing standpoint. “The show is a ‘piece.’ It won’t be a matter of just performing the songs, presenting the singer and the members of the band, and we all go home. I see the text as dictating the flow of the show, almost in a theatrical sense,” she says.
Fort and Armoni will be joined on stage by Amos Hoffman on guitar and oud, Yorai Oron on double bass and drummer Shai Zelman. Although Fort has plied her trade on the decidedly improvisational and envelope-pushing side of the musical tracks for some years now, she says her arrangements of Argov’s tunes feed off the composer’s original intent and do not stray too far from the beaten track. “Naturally, I take a jazzy approach to the music but I stick quite close to the sheet music, particularly on the less well-known songs. I have the utmost respect for the work of Alterman and Argov, and at the end of the day, that is what I want to give the audience.”
For tickets and more information: 621-5300 and