Strickly jazz

While jazz has been making great strides here over the last 20 or so years, New York is still the genre's undisputed epicenter.

While jazz has been making great strides hereover the last 20 or so years, New York is still the genre's undisputedepicenter. So collaborating with a venerable musical academicinstitution from the Big Apple isn't a bad idea. The Center for JazzStudies, Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv - aka Stricker - runs afour-year bachelor's degree in jazz in collaboration with The NewSchool for Jazz and Contemporary Music, NYC. Students spend the firsttwo years in Tel Aviv and complete their degree in New York.

Andit isn't a bad idea to periodically import some big names from overthere to offer the students - and the general public here - a taste ofwhat's going down on the Stateside jazz scene either. This will beamply taken care of in the forthcoming New York Jazz Masters series,which kicks off on January 23 at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv withguitarist Peter Bernstein, with subsequent slots occupied by69-year-old trumpeter Eddie Henderson and octogenarian drummer JimmyCobb.

The ages of the incoming stars suggests that pianist-teacherAmit Golan, who is co-director of the series along with drummer-teacherShai Zelman, was aiming for a representative generational spread.

"Yes, that was part of the idea," says Golan, who also teachesat Stricker, as well as at the Thelma Yellin Arts High School's JazzDepartment in Givatayim. "But they are also all rooted in thetraditions of the art form."

That has always been of paramount importance to Golan.

"You have to constantly feed off the roots, and use them as abase for your musical explorations," he continues. "Bernstein comesfrom a younger generation, but you can hear he is steeped in thehistory of jazz, he is conversant with everything that preceded him."

Golanshould know. He and Bernstein not only share the same profession, theyalso shared a classroom at the New School back in the mid-Eighties.

"It's like bringing a friend over to do some concerts," saysGolan. "Peter and I know each other well, and he's a fabulousguitarist. He's very melodic, with lots of tradition, and has a uniquesound. We all look for that. [Veteran jazz guitarist] Jim Hall rateshim very highly, and that's good enough for me."

Hall was, indeed, effusive in his praise for Bernstein, saying:"He has paid attention to the past as well as the future. He is themost impressive young guitarist I've heard. He plays the best of themall for swing, logic, feel and taste."

Golan says he has fond memories of the New School and has tried to replicate some of the ambience from there at Stricker.

"I was at the New School from the start, when Arnie Lawrence was there," he recalls.

Saxophonist Lawrence founded the jazz department of the NewSchool, along with drummer Chico Hamilton, and moved to Jerusalem inthe late Nineties. Lawrence established a music school in Ein Kerem inJerusalem and nurtured a generation or two of budding jazz artists,some of whom will play with the Stricker series frontmen over the nextfew months.

STRICKER STARTED life in 2001 as a small jazzdepartment for ninth- to twelfth-grade high-school students, cateringfor teenagers from around the country.

"We taught, and still teach, kids from Jerusalem, Afula,Nazareth and the Golan Heights - all over," says Golan. "And I alwayswanted to have that sort of family atmosphere that I had at the NewSchool. That's something that Arnie was very much in favor of. Arniewas also a great advocate of experiencing live music, and getting theflavor of music in the making."

The New School-Stricker academic collaboration began lastNovember and, although it takes in some other musical strands, the coreis jazz-oriented.

"We have [pianist] Alon Yavnai teaching Brazilian jazz at theschool but, as I always say, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got thatswing. So the basis is very much jazz," Golan says.

Golan is naturally delighted to have secured Cobb's services,and to finally bring him to Israel. Cobb was due to play in the jazzseries at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv a few years ago, buthe eventually canceled and his place was taken by Ben Riley.

"It is wonderful to bring Jimmy Cobb here for the first time,"says Golan. "The man is a legend. He, of course, played on [MilesDavis' landmark 1959 jazz album] Kind of Blue, and he has justfinished a year-long world tour to mark the 50th anniversary of therelease of the record. That says something of Cobb's energy and hisability to still do the business at his age."

The Cobb-Stricker synergy closes the series at the end of Maywith the veteran drummer due to do three gigs here with an Israelithreesome, including forty-something guitarist Ofer Ganor, NewYork-based young bassist Yonatan Levy and highly talented Jerusalemitepianist Omri Mor.

Mor - who will also support Bernstein along with anotherLawrence protégée, New York-based bassist Tal Ronen, with Zelman behindthe drum set - took his initial steps in jazz under Lawrence's aegis inJerusalem.

"Bringing Jimmy here is the realization of a dream, and alsofor Omri," says Golan. "Jimmy's been around for a long, long time, andhas seen jazz go through a lot of changes, but he has always stayedtrue to the roots."

Golan is no less enthusiastic about the forthcoming visit of the evergreen Henderson, which will take place at the end of April.

"He's 69 years old but very young in spirit, and he's been very active in jazz for many years," Golan says.

Henderson straddles a range of jazz genres, including some more contemporary styles.

"He played with [drummer Art Blakey's long-serving, fabled hardbop-based group] the Jazz Messengers, but he also worked with [pianist]Herbie Hancock when he was doing his fusion stuff in the Seventies,"Golan says. "I wanted to bring a trumpeter with all the tradition, butwith a more modern and open view."

Golan also has a somewhat "ulterior" motive for bringing Henderson over.

"I am going to record my second CD with him when he is in Israel," he says.

Golan will also share the bandstand withHenderson, on the trumpeter's three gigs here, along with NewYork-based Israelis tenor saxophonist Assaf Yuria and trombonistYonatan Vulchuk, and locals drummer Yonatan Rosen and in-demand bassistGilad Abro.

Bernstein,Henderson and Cobb are not exactly coming over here for a vacation.Besides three concerts - at Tel Aviv's Einav Center, at the Lab inJerusalem and a fundraiser gig - all three will present no less than 10hours of master classes.

"We have five groups at Stricker," Golan explains. "Each of theartists will devote two hours to each group. It will be an invaluableexperience for the students."

Mind you, the stars may also learn a thing or two while theyare here. New School executive director Martin Mueller was veryimpressed with what he saw, and heard, on a recent visit to Tel Aviv.

"To come here and to see these young people - 14, 15, 16, 17year olds - playing on this kind of a level, in the exact spirit andstyle, it's a remarkable thing," said Mueller.

For more information about the series: