Young and not restless

Pianist Gad Lehavi Joins stellar US saxophonist Ravi Coltrane takes part in the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival

US saxophonist Ravi Coltrane takes part in the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival (photo credit: Courtesy)
US saxophonist Ravi Coltrane takes part in the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Gadi Lehavi may be tender of age, but he has a wise head on his shoulders. He has a wealth of performing experience behind him right across the globe and has mixed it with some of the biggest names in the field. For an innovative jazz pianist, that should be a given, unless you factor in Lehavi’s age. He is all of 21 years old.
Levahi is on the roster of next week’s Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, where he will do his thing with stellar US saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, along with Israeli sidemen bassist Barak Mori and drummer Ziv Ravitz in support.
Youthfulness notwithstanding, Lehavi’s gigging agenda has included dates with sumptuous synergies with the likes of pianist Chick Corea, reedman Dave Liebman, vocalist Bobby McFerrin and bassist Eddie Gomez.
Lehavi says he has been exploring the ivories since he was still in diapers.
“There are no professional musicians in my family, but my father is a keen amateur pianist and loves music. When I came home from hospital, there was always plenty of music at home – records, CDs and the rest, classical, Israeli music, like Yoni Rechter, [Shlomo Gronich and Matti Caspi’s] Beyond the Sounds and Yehudit Ravitz – and I heard lots of it,” he says.
Came home from hospital? Lehavi may have started out as something of a wunderkind but surely he can’t remember his homecoming after his birth, can he?
“I don’t remember it in a concrete way, but that’s what I was told. My dad played records for me all the time. He didn’t force it on me, it’s just that it was always there. And the piano was always at the heart of the home,” he recounts.
Lehavi Sr. also helped his infant son access his eventual instrument of choice, literally and tangibly.
“There was no coercion,” says the pianist. “My father would pick me up and put me on his lap so I could reach the keys, and I’d sort of improvise,” he explains.
If anyone else had described what presumably was just the result of a tiny tot plonking around with his little fists as extemporization, it would probably have produced a guffaw or two. But not coming from Lehavi. To attain such a high level of proficiency in such a challenging art form from such a young age, he had to have had a good head start. Natural talent was subsequently nurtured at the Rimon School of Jazz & Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon, under the tutelage of pianist, composer and arranger Rami Levin and pianist-composer Avi Adrian. He also gained a good handle on classical musicianship piano at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music of the University of Tel Aviv, with Michal Tal and Prof. Jonathan Zack.
The youngster made his mark on the scene, playing with Liebman and, pivotally, with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane when he was 13. The latter confluence was the result of serendipity and good old Israeli stubbornness and, possibly, blissful insouciance. He’d been invited to catch a gig at the Jazz Standard venue in New York. After the show was over, he chatted with the manager, who told him that the club’s piano was a recent addition. Lehavi was suitably enthused and, despite having his entreaties for a tinkle on the new keys repeatedly rejected, the manager eventually relented. While Lehavi merrily jammed away, Coltrane was at the bar supping.
Suitably impressed by the young Israeli’s abilities, he went over to the stage to get a better earful. The two struck up a conversation and, later, a friendship and professional collaboration that is still very much extant. In the intervening eight years, Lehavi and Coltrane have played together on some of the jazz world’s most glittering stages, such as the Village Vanguard in New York.
With such a weighty gigging backdrop and after getting such an early and meteoric start to his career, one might expect Lehavi to have unfurled a string of albums. In fact, his debut recording is with the GTO trio, with bassist Tal Mashiach and drummer Ofri Nehemya, both of whom are also in their 20s. The new record is due for release in January, prior to the band’s gigs in Japan the following month.
As gifted and experienced as Lehavi is, he is clearly in no hurry to strut his own stuff.
“Releasing a record under my own name is a bit daunting,” he notes. “I want to make sure I’m ready.”
For tickets and more information about the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival: *9080 and