10,000 groove at Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat

Other than a cymbal blown off Al Foster’s drum kit on the second night of the show when the wind was at its fiercest, the performers played their hearts out.

Alon Olearchick (photo credit: ITAI KADOSH)
Alon Olearchick
(photo credit: ITAI KADOSH)
This year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival was hot – musically and temperature-wise. Whoever thought that holding the summer installment of this jazz lover’s extravaganza during the hottest month of the year in the most sweltering spot in Israel – Eilat – was a good idea should be forced to sit outside for hours, with no escape or air conditioning in sight, like the rest of us. Even at midnight, it was still close to 40 degrees Celsius with a hot wind blowing. Maybe the organizers should rename the event the Red Sea Jazz Sauna.
Wilting audience members aside, more than 10,000 people attended the 33rd annual Red Sea Jazz Festival. The three-day event, which concluded Tuesday night, took place at the Eilat Port in two makeshift performances spaces formed by placing three rows of stacked shipping containers to enclose a sea of plastic chairs and a large stage. But the backdrop made the outdoor setting worthwhile: the deep expanse of the Red Sea framed by the twinkling lights of the posh hotels in Eilat and, a bit further afield, their counterparts in Aqaba, Jordan.
Other than a cymbal blown off Al Foster’s drum kit on the second night of the show when the wind was at its fiercest, the performers played their hearts out. It was a diverse mix featuring top names in the jazz world.
Among the visiting musicians: international saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Donny McCaslin along with Israeli sax star Eli Degibri (also the festival’s artistic director for the past eight years who tooted out an entire set despite a painful broken shoulder); renowned bassists Ron Carter and Avishai Cohen (the latter was joined on stage by fellow Israelis Avi Leibovitz on trombone and Shem Tov Levi on flute); percussionists including veteran drummer Foster and relative newcomer Ari Hoenig; and Buika, an imposing woman from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, dressed in a form-fitting black sequined dress, who belted out all manner of Latin-flavored music, from cool jazz to rock and roll with some reggae thrown in for good measure, accompanied by an all-woman band.
Closing out the first night was the Non-Standard band, a kind of Israeli pop super-group that presented jazz versions of Israeli favorites. The big names in the band included Shlomo Gronich, Alon Olearchick, Rona Kenan, Yoni Rechter and Shlomi Shaban. On the festival’s second night, Shaban was back accompanying Chava Alberstein on jazz versions of some of her songs taken from the performer’s 60 albums over a 55-year career.
The highlight of the festival for many was the Michael Brecker International Saxophone Competition. Brecker, who won 15 Grammy awards before he died in 2007 from complications of leukemia, was a regular in Eilat, appearing at the very first festival in 1987 and many times after that. In his memory, his widow, Susan, established a competition to honor young saxophonists between the ages of 16 and 30 who have yet to produce a commercial release. One hundred and fifty musicians applied, eight were flown to Eilat for the semi-finals, and three performed on stage. The grand prize winner received $12,000.
The festival attracts an out-of-town crowd – not surprising given the high prices of the tickets – but locals and those interested in a night out along the water with a beer in hand (or a baby in a stroller) could chill for free while enjoying the sounds of the three youth ensembles who played continuously on the public stage.
An all-night jam session, also open to the public, started at 12:30 a.m. and continued until 4:00 a.m. While in the past the jam was held outside along the water, this year, it was moved indoors to the Three Monkeys Pub, which is thankfully air conditioned.
Given the unrelenting heat, those were some pretty smart monkeys!