A bit of funk and swing

Veteran jazz guitarist Mordy Ferber and pianist Anat Fort take liberties, respectfully, with famous Arik Einstein songs next week in Tel Aviv.

Mordy Ferber 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mordy Ferber 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
At first, it seems a strange marriage – veteran jazz guitarist Mordy Ferber playing tunes made famous by Arik Einstein. Then again, the two do share some important common ground.
Next Friday, Ferber will share the front of the Opera House stage with pianist Anat Fort, in the “Jazz for Arik” concert, the last installment of this year’s Opera House Jazz series.
For almost the last three decades, Ferber has plied his jazz trade from his home base in the States. He moved there in 1981, at the age of 23, to take advantage of a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and has been there ever since.
Ferber first picked up a guitar at the age of 12 and, after a brief dalliance with classical music, quickly got into the rock and pop vibes of the Sixties and early Seventies. He formed a band that played covers of material by the likes of Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Cream, until one day he heard legendary Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt on the radio.
“It was an amazing thing for me to hear,” recalls the 52-year-old. “There was this guitar player who was so unique, with so much humor and incredible technique, with just two fingers.”
When Reinhardt was 16, he suffered serious burns to his left hand and lost the use of two fingers.
For Ferber, the die was cast. Jazz became his life.
But, before moving Stateside, he became one of the most sought-after guitarists on the Israeli pop and rock scene, thanks to a chance encounter with a leading member of the scene when he was still in the IDF.
“I was in an army band and we played for the troops at Sharm e-Sheikh,” he recalls.
“[Acclaimed pop and rock vocalist-guitaristsongwriter] Miki Gabrielov was in the army reserves at the time, and he was next on stage.
He started to play – I think it was [the Einstein hit] ‘Baderech Lagymnasia.’ I plugged my guitar back into the amp and started playing behind him, just for the fun of it. He turned around and smiled.
“At the end, after we finished, we went back to his room and started chatting. Then I played him lots of Django – until five in the morning – after which Miki asked me if I wanted to play with him. So we started a duo, even though I was still in the army.”
Two months later, Ferber completed his army service and things started to take off.
“One day, Miki said to me, ‘We’re going to do a record with Arik.’ Even though I was already into jazz, I was blown away by the idea. It was like offering me the chance to play with Bob Dylan. Arik was, and is, an icon.”
Several months of rehearsing what eventually became the top-selling LP Hamush Bemishkafayim (Armed with Spectacles) at Ferber’s apartment followed, even though Einstein did not always get what his guitarist was trying to do.
“Arik would ask Miki what was going on. He would, for example, sing the lyrics to a song, and then my solo would come and I’d play like [jazz-fusion guitarist] John McLaughlin. I was so much into jazz that, when my solo came, my fingers were flying between Django and McLaughlin, and Arik would say ‘What the hell’s going on with his fingers?’ He couldn’t understand what I was doing.”
Even so, Ferber says that Einstein was a generous boss.
“We did 85 gigs on that tour – the last tour Arik ever did – and he always gave me a solo at each concert.”
In recent years, increasing numbers of Israeli jazz musicians have taken to playing and recording new readings of Israeli songbook staples, with varying degrees of success. However, Ferber insists that the Opera House audience will recognize all the Einstein songs he and Fort will perform, with able support from American bassist Essiet Okon Essiet and drummer Ian Froman. The concert will be split into halves, with one part including the string quartet.
“We’re going to stretch some of the songs a bit, maybe with some funk and swing, and play a bit free. I think it’s going to be interesting.”
Ferber says he will bring all his years of experience and musical exploration to Friday’s concert.
“Today, I don’t play jazz or anything else; I play Mordy Ferber. I have my own voice. When I play with nylon strings, it’s the world of [classical guitarist] Julian Bream, and when I play the electric, it’s a piano – my approach is like piano-playing.”
That, presumably, engenders a closing synergy with Fort.
“When I bend my strings, Anat will say, ‘I can’t do that on the piano,’ but that’s fine.
“My favorite people I have been listening to for the last 15 years are [jazz pianists] Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and McCoy Tyner. Anat and I understand each other. It’s all about trust and respect. It’s like a relationship, you listen to each other, and then you can come up with good things.”
Does Ferber think Einstein would appreciate his and Fort’s efforts next Friday, even though the songs are being reworked through a different artistic vehicle? “I think so. He once said to me that he didn’t like other people singing his songs, because he wasn’t dead. But we’re not singing his songs, we’re treating them and him with respect. We don’t want to do a [easy-listening pianist] Richard Clayderman.
“Anat is very talented, and I have two friends coming from New York to play, and we have the string quartet. The colors will be there, and there will be versatility and, in a way, I feel that it’s also a tribute to [iconic rocker-songwriter] Shalom Hanoch and to Miki [Gabrielov] too. They wrote a lot of the songs we’ll be doing.
“There is only one Arik, and no one can do the songs the way he did them, but I will think of him while I’m playing the songs, and I’ll do it with love.”
Mordy Ferber and Anat Fort will perform at the Opera House in Tel Aviv on May 20 at 9:30 p.m. For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777 and www.israeli-opera.co.il