Kfar Yona Jazz Festival to air online for free

The festival honchos have placed their trust in some of the most seasoned stalwarts of the Israeli jazz community to get the ball rolling.

EDNA GOREN, a grand dame of the Israeli jazz scene. (photo credit: PETER VIT)
EDNA GOREN, a grand dame of the Israeli jazz scene.
(photo credit: PETER VIT)
 Ever heard of the Kfar Yona Jazz Festival? If the name does not immediately ring a bell that is probably because it’s a newcomer to the local cultural scene, the first edition of which is due to take place – online and gratis – February 14-18. The undertaking is being supported by the Kfar Yona Municipality in collaboration with the Culture and Sport Ministry, the local community center and municipal conservatory, and offers a wide range of acts and takes on the titular discipline.
The organizers have set out a broad-ranging stall from the off, taking in the likes of irrepressible veteran media personality, songwriter and sometime vocalist Dori Ben Zeev; an intimate slot with long serving jazz-leaning pop and rock bassist-vocalist Alon Olearchick; a Latin jazz show with flutist Matan Klein and versatile Brazilian-born percussionist Joca Perpignan; and the intriguing Hagiga Sextet led by saxophonist Alon Farber.
But the festival honchos have placed their trust in some of the most seasoned stalwarts of the Israeli jazz community to get the ball rolling. The festival opener features a roll call of the sector’s old-timers, with 79-year-old Arele Kaminsky on drums, fellow septuagenarian Avraham Felder on trumpet, and 75-year-old Riga-born pianist Nahum Perfekovitch in the mix, with thirty-something bassist Ram Erez getting in a shout for the younger crowd. The quartet will be joined by 77-year-old vocalist Edna Goren betwixt and between the instrumental fare.
Goren is a grand dame of the Israeli jazz scene, with numerous forays into other sonic styles such as folk and classic Israeli songs. Her heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s when she joined forces with Kobi Recht in a highly successful duo that toured the country. They also put out a record called From the Songs of Sasha Argov, referencing a celebrated member of the country’s songwriting pantheon. 
She maintained her lofty profile through the ‘70s, appearing at festivals and releasing a well-received album based on numbers scored by preeminent Jewish American songwriter Burt Bacharach. Over the years she has not been averse to performing material in English. In fact, that is largely where it started for the young Goren. 
“I used to listen to the radio, the BBC and the Voice of America, and also Mel Keller and his big band” Goren recalls, referencing the US-born saxophonist and educator who immigrated to Israel in the 1950s and kick-started the entire jazz scene here. “I loved listening to jazz and, in particular, musicals.”
All that was a far cry from her familial roots. Her parents made aliyah from Yemen in the early part of the 20th century, and Goren grew up, as Edna Bedichi in Kerem Hateimanim, the Yemenite quarter of Tel Aviv off the sea end of Allenby Street. Her childhood memories are not entirely happy. 
“Kids would make fun of me at the kindergarten, and call me Bedichi Bedichi,” she says. “I’d go home crying.”
It is that rejection by her social milieu which, possibly, pushed Goren into foreign cultural climes. 
“I think that may have been the trigger for me to look for something different, something different from the stuff I knew from home and my surroundings there.”
It was one of the biggest stars of the silver screen who turned Goren onto the vast oeuvre of English-language popular song. 
“I loved [actor-singer] Doris Day. I’d melt when I heard her voice. I used to watch her movies, and see her sing. She was really special.” Other leading figures of the American jazz and commercial music scene soon came into Goren’s orbit. “I really loved Ella Fitzgerald, of course, and as a musician I really admire [multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, arranger and producer] Quincy Jones. He is so versatile.”
GOREN’S PATHWAY to Jones’s immense body of work was paved by an important collaborator and friend, and one of her bandmates in the forthcoming jazz festival date. 
“I worked with Arele [Kaminsky] with [legendary Israeli jazz group] Platina. He gave me a record by Quincy Jones, and I performed some of the numbers from that – “What’s Going On” and his arrangement for [the Simon and Garfunkel hit] “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” I sang them in English. I feel very comfortable singing in English.”
Singing, in general, came naturally to Goren. 
“I never did voice training,” she notes. “I just started singing.” Mind you, she did have a bit of a genetic start on most. “Maybe I got something musical from my family. My aunt was Esther Gamlielit and my parents sang at home a lot. I think they passed that onto me.” Egyptian-born Gamlielit was one of the most popular singers in pre-state Israel, particularly in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
Goren enhanced her feeling for jazz on periodic trips to New York, where she caught some of the titans of the field, like trumpeter Clark Terry, doing their thing at such venerated jazz venues in the Big Apple as the Village Vanguard and Blue Note. 
“It was a great thrill for me to actually see these great artists performing right in front of me, and to meet them face to face,” she says.
Listening to Goren you’d never guess she hadn’t paid her educational dues. She maintains a rich deep timbre and there is a beguiling warmth and sense of laissez faire in her delivery. A few years back she received a definitive pat on the back for her auto-didactic approach. 
“I once met Lola Schanzer at the opening of an exhibition of [legendary Yemenite-born diva] Shoshana Damari. Lola was the most important voice training teacher in the country. She said to me, ‘Edna Goren, I know you and your singing. You sing wonderfully, even though you never took voice training,’” Goren laughs, doing a creditable impression of a Russian accent. “It’s a shame I didn’t tape what she said. That was a fantastic compliment for me.”
In truth, Goren got herself plenty of on-the-job training, working with the likes of pianist Zigi Skarbnik – the driving force behind the trailblazing 1960s High Windows pop trio that included Arik Einstein – and cutting her professional teeth in the Israeli Air Force Band and at important Tel Aviv clubs of the day, such as Omar Khayyam and the Bar Barrim jazz joint. Her contributions to Israeli movie soundtracks, such as Shnei Kuni Lemel starring American-Israeli actor and singer Mike Burstyn, helped to cement her place in the local showbiz sector.
Goren even briefly co-managed a cozy jazz spot alongside famed singer Benny Amdursky who, incidentally, produced the aforesaid High Windows record. Sadly, Amdursky became ill and the place closed after a brief, but very successful, run.
Her live and recording work tailed off after the 1970s, although she has performed with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and makes periodic, and much-heralded, appearances to this day. Her most recent album, Stav (Autumn), came out in 2010.
Goren says she is excited about the Kfar Yona date, and is just happy to be able to still do her thing. 
“At my grand old age I am still able to perform. That is amazing for me. This is going to be a lot of fun.”
All festival shows will be available free on the Kfar Yona Municipality YouTube channel and at facebook.com/jazz.kfar.yona.