The Esther Ofarim tribute

Guitarist Nadav Remez is slated to participate in the annual Hebrew Jazz series at Beit Avi Chai.

As the guitarist works on arranging Esther Ofarim’s songs, he finds his own expression. (photo credit: Courtesy)
As the guitarist works on arranging Esther Ofarim’s songs, he finds his own expression.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nadav Remez’s forthcoming tribute to iconic songstress Esther Ofarim is happening almost as a matter of default.
The 29-year-old Boston-based Israeli guitarist, who will front a tribute concert based on Ofarim’s expansive oeuvre at Beit Avi Chai on February 26 (9 p.m.), says he did not knowingly imbibe the veteran singer’s hits as a youngster.
“When I began researching her music, for the Beit Avi Chai show, I suddenly discovered that I knew a lot of the songs. I didn’t know, at the time, that they were her songs because her name didn’t appear on the cassettes but, in retrospect, I now see I did grow up with some of her songs.”
Conscious of his childhood Ofarim admiration or not, Remez is certainly making up for lost time. “For the past month I have swimming in a sea of Esther Ofarim,” he says. “I have been listening to her music and researching her and learning as much as I can about her and her work.”
Remez’s show is part of this year’s Hebrew Jazz series at the venerable Jerusalem cultural center, which marries straightforward jazz with various items from the Israeli songbook. There have been concerts devoted to the work of Matti Caspi, and even a slot based on biblical texts from the Song of Songs. Increasingly, Israeli jazz musicians appear to becoming ever more emboldened to delve into their own cultural backyard, as well as to go the regular American jazz standard route.
“I remember I sat down with Barak [Weiss, the artistic director of the Beit Avi Chai series] and we looked at all sorts of Israeli artists, and as soon as Esther Ofarim’s name came up, Barak said ‘Go for it’ – and I really did,” recalls Remez.
Indeed, it proved to be an inspired choice, and Remez has already put a clip on YouTube with a captivating rendition of Sheharhoret (Morenica). If that is a taste of what we can expect to get on Wednesday, the audience is in for a treat.
Remez says there is an element to Ofarim and her work that he found particularly appealing, and drew him ever deeper into the project at hand. “You know, it’s not like Arik Einstein or say, Ofra Haza. As soon as you say their name you have an image of them, as a person and as a singer. But, with Esther, there’s something a bit mystical about her. She is a bit elusive, and even mysterious.”
THAT CONCEPT may be enhanced by the fact that Ofarim has lived much of her life outside this country – mostly in Germany. But when she comes here to perform, generally in large venues such as the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, she performs to sold-out houses and is hailed as something akin to “the queen of Hebrew song.”
Remez says that he felt an instant musical and performance bond with Ofarim, even though they don’t exactly share the same source platform. “Esther has a sort of storytelling approach to singing – a bit like Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. When I write songs I like to base them on a very simple format, with a beginning, middle and end, but Esther broke that line for me. When I really get into the songs, I find a way to tie in the way I write and arrange music with her music. While I work on arranging Esther’s songs, I discover that I find a way to express myself in her songs.”
It might be fair to say that, when he and Weiss sat down to plan the forthcoming gig, Remez had no idea what he was letting himself in for. “I have spent the past month or so working on this and getting more and more into Esther’s music,” he says, adding that there may very well be more where that came from. “As far as I am concerned I am ready to run with this, as my own project with my own quintet. There is my sound with Esther’s songs, and I am very excited by this project.”
Remez will perform at Beit Avi Chai with four other instrumentalists – Matan Chapnitzky on saxophone, Nitai Hershkovitz on piano, Avri Borochov on bass and Aviv Cohen on drums – and with New York-based vocalist Mika Hary contributing to some of the numbers. Borochov also played on Remez’s debut album, So Far, which came out in 2011.
In addition to “Morenica,” the song list for next week’s show includes quite a few of Ofarim’s best-loved numbers, such as “Hayu Leilot,” “Ve’ulai” and “Shnei Shoshanim,” as well as English-language pop standard “A Taste of Honey” and, possibly, perennial favorite “Pizmon Layakinton.”
After having invested so much in preparing for the show, Remez says he is looking forward to spreading his jazz renditions of Ofarim’s material far and wide. “I am inviting the public to join me in enjoying Esther’s work, but there is my voice and my original arrangements in there, too. This is something new, which could not have happened without Esther’s music,” he says. “I want to take this music on the road with my quintet, and I may end up recording some of the numbers, or even making a whole album out of it. There is certainly plenty of material ready for it.”
Remez would dearly love to meet Ofarim in person and to work with her.
“I contacted Esther’s manager in Germany to tell her about the show in Jerusalem, and Esther conveyed her blessing. It would be a dream come true if I could perform with her sometime. We’ll have to wait and see if that works out.”
For tickets and more information about the Avi Chai House concert, 621-5300 and