Inaugural icon tribute event

The Jaffa Jazz Festival pays homage to several music legends

Jazz band (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Jazz band (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
It is not every day that you find a new jazz festival cropping up on the country’s culture calendar, but Amikam Kimmelman has managed to produce the inaugural advent of the Jaffa Jazz Festival, which will take place October 8 to 10. The veteran saxophonist and educator ran a Headstart crowdfunding operation that aimed to raise NIS 120,000 to make the festival happen. The goal was exceeded by 24 percent, and the dream is now a reality.
The program takes in 10 concerts, with acclaimed jazz musicians performing in tribute shows that celebrate the music of iconic figures such as trumpeter Chet Baker, guitarist Wes Montgomery, saxophonist Joe Henderson and pianist Bill Evans. On the first two days, the final performance slot will be followed by jam sessions that may well continue into the wee hours. All told, eight artists from countries such as the US, Austria, Spain and The Netherlands will join forces with 37 of their Israeli counterparts.
Kimmelman says he wanted to have his professional colleagues fully on board from the outset and to let them have their say about the musical layout of the evolving project.
“I consulted each artist and asked them which musician was a role model for them and which they’d like to acknowledge. That’s how it all panned out. Each chose the icon for which they wanted to perform a tribute,” he says.
Dutch drummer and vibraphonist Jan De Haas is first up, on Thursday, with a show dedicated to the craft of legendary drummer Philly Joe Jones. Jones was an integral part of the first so-called Great Miles Davis Quintet, which did highly successful business in the latter half of the 1950s. Kimmelman is keen to point out that the festival ethos is not just a matter of doffing a hat in the direction of the jazz master in question; there has to be some artistic meeting ground, too.
“You have to see that there is some kind of direct influence, something in the sound. Or, at least, the artist at the Jaffa festival feels that he has taken something from the tribute musician.”
Kimmelman himself is, naturally, on board the stage action too. He will front a tribute to legendary hard bop alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, who memorably played on Miles Davis’s 1959 Kind of Blue, which remains one of the most popular albums of all time, right across the music industry board.
“I don’t sound like Cannonball Adderley, but I know and feel how much I took from him,” says the festival honcho. “You may not hear it in my playing, but I know how important he is to me and how much I am moved by his playing.”
For Kimmelman, when you are starting up a new jazz venture, the tribute format is a good place to start and helps to set a cohesive tone for the endeavor.
“Everyone agrees that they owe a debt of gratitude to some icon or other. It might be [pianist] Bill Evans or [saxophonist] Joe Henderson. The original idea for the festival was to bond Israeli musicians with players from abroad, but you have to have a common platform to do that. The tribute approach was a sort of trigger that uncovered a repertoire and determined a stylistic framework. If, for example, you are going to do a tribute based on the work of [trumpeter] Chet Baker, the musicians are not going to play avant-garde or fusion. They will play something that fits what Baker did, and that already offers a common musical language,” he explains.
The Baker tribute will be led by Romanian trumpeter Emil Bizga, who has worked with the likes of 86-year-old drummer Jimmy Cobb; celebrated Cuban-born saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito de Rivera; and soul, r&b, blues and gospel legend Ray Charles. Bizga’s sidemen for the occasion include drummer Araleh Kaminsky, one of the mainstays of the Israeli jazz scene for the past half century.
“When I told Areleh about the Chet Baker tribute, he immediately knew what I was talking about,” notes Kimmelman. “He knew what drums he would bring and that he would be using brushes.”
The three-day lineup also features a tribute to Jack Bruce, the late Scottish bass guitar player and vocalist who is best known for his stint with 1960s super group Cream. The show will be fronted by American bass player Jeff Berlin, whose bio includes shifts with a wide range of artists from all sorts of musical climes, such as irascible multidisciplinary musician and composer Frank Zappa; jazz guitarist Larry Coryell; drummer Billy Cobham; guitarist John McLaughlin; 93-year-old harmonica player Toots Thielemans; late jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker; and 1960s British rock outfit Yes.
That appears to be a somewhat extraneous choice, although it transpires that Bruce was more jazz-oriented than is generally known.
“Bruce wasn’t really a member of the mainstream jazz scene, but I discovered that he was part of the free jazz community in Britain,” says Kimmelman. “He played double bass and he was also classically trained. Anyway, it was Jeff’s choice, and I think it was an excellent one.”
Other tributes in the festival program include shows led by Hungarian guitarist Gyárfás István, who will offer his salute to Wes Montgomery; a show based on the work of Bill Evans, with Spanish pianist Iñaki Sandoval at the helm, along with fellow pianist Avi Adrian, veteran bassist Eli Magen and Slovenian drummer Gasper Bertoncelj; and Austrian saxophonist-flutist Heinrich von Kalnein will proffer his take on the work of late great saxophonist Joe Henderson.
The late slot on the second day of the festival will be filled by the deftly entitled Jazz Connects People Connecting Jazz international musical cometogether, with eight artists from six countries spreading the jazz word across a wide range of styles. For jazz lovers with the requisite stamina, there will be free jam sessions well into the wee hours each day.
Several of the shows are already sold out. For tickets and more information: (03) 573-3001.