Swing & shoot

A collection of black-and-white jazz prints will enliven Jaffa’s Beit Mandel

Kioshy Kitagawa (photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
Kioshy Kitagawa
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
Anyone with even a smidgen of romantic sensibilities draped around his heartstrings, and an eye for striking aesthetics, must surely appreciate monochrome photography.
Uncluttered by the shades and tints of the full palette of colors, blackand- white photography is eminently capable of conveying the drama, the tension and, yes, the sheer emotion inherent in a moment of a jazz gig lovingly captured by the photographer’s lens.
All of that, and more, comes across in the collection of jazz prints which will be displayed by Yossi Zwecker at Beit Mandel in Jaffa on October 8-10.
This is not just a standalone exhibition, which goes by the catchy and rhythmically pleasing title of Swing & Shoot – “it’s a play on ‘Twist and Shout,’” Zwecker notes, referring to the early Beatles hit.
The Mandel Cultural Center is the venue of the inaugural Jaffa Jazz Festival, which will take place on the aforementioned three days, founded and artistically directed by veteran jazz musician and educator Amikam Kimmelman.
Zwecker is the ideal person for the job in hand and is thoroughly conversant with both disciplines. The question is, which takes precedence – playing the music or documenting it? “For me, jazz is first and foremost about the music, and after that it is about photographing it,” says the 49-year-old, who is a dab hand at the old ivories and fronts his own quintet.
“I have been living music since the age of five.”
Luckily for the infant Zwecker, he was sent to a kindergarten where he got the best possible musical education.
“My kindergarten teachers were the parents of [iconic rock and pop musician] Shlomo Gronich, in Hadera,” he recalls. Gronich’s dad, Otto, was an accomplished clarinet player, a music teacher and the founding conductor of the IDF Orchestra.
“Otto would play clarinet for us and, on Fridays, after baking a halla, each child would be given an instrument and we’d make up a sort of ensemble, together with Otto.”
Zwecker quickly discovered he had some natural ability, which also fueled a strong sense of frustration.
“I was given the triangle and I couldn’t understand why other kids were given the cymbals to play. They had absolutely no sense of time and it drove me crazy. If you don’t have a sense of time on the triangle, no one make a lot of noise.”
Zwecker pleaded with Gronich Sr.
to give him a try-out on the cymbals, but to no avail. “You could say I started out in music on the wrong foot,” Zwecker notes.
The youngster, it seems, was made of sterner stuff, and when he stuck to his guns with his own parents, his stubbornness eventually bore fruit.
“When I was around six years old I discovered we had an accordion in the storage cupboard. I wanted to play it, but my parents said I was too small.”
Once again, Zwecker was unwavering in his determination to get his hands on the object of his musical desire, although he needed a little adult help, and brawn, to help him along the way.
“I must have nagged my parents a lot, because my dad did take the accordion down,” says the photographer.
“I remember sitting on the sofa with my dad. He worked the bellows and I played the keyboard.”
That was not just a vindication of the boy’s single-mindedness, it was also a musical epiphany.
“That’s when I realized that if I played the key in one direction, the notes got lower, and they got higher when I played in the opposite direction. That’s when my parents understood that I didn’t just take a fancy to the accordion, and that I had a natural gift.”
Zwecker was duly provided with a piano teacher, although he didn’t quite make the grade when he attempted to get into an IDF band. The army did, however, take him in as a photographer, and Zwecker’s three years of snapping military topics and events paved the way to his career. Today, he works as the official photographer for the Israeli Opera and also works with the Cameri Theater and Beersheba Theater.
In his off-duty hours Zwecker goes to as many jazz shows as he can reasonably manage, and he has become a fixture in the local jazz community.
His familiarity with the musicians, he says, helps him achieve photographic results which often convey a sense of intimacy, and helps to offer the spectator some insight into what makes the musician tick.
That comes across clearly in the prints that will be on display at the Jaffa Jazz Festival next week. The works include, for example, a delightful behind- the-scenes shot of guitarist-oud player Amos Hoffman, bassist Asaf Hakimi and ever-smiling drummer Shai Zelman. You get the same fly-onthe- wall feeling from another offstage snap of pianist Avi Adrian and bass player Arie Volinez, and from an enchanting off-moment shot of veteran jazz drummer Bill Cobham.
There are plenty of photographs of artists doing their bit on stage. Internationally renowned bass player Avishai Cohen is the most animated of performers, and Zwecker duly caught Cohen giving his all for the jazz cause.
Saxophonist and Red Sea Jazz Festival artistic director Eli Degibri is also presented with an enthused demeanor.
American drummer Kendrick Scott was clearly “in the zone” when Zwecker caught him pounding the skins, while American singer Lizz Wright appears to have been wrapped up in her own magical mystery world.
Zwecker is delighted to be involved in documenting jazz music, and it shows.
“It is a fusion of the two artistic disciplines that I love the most,” he states. “It is completely natural for me.
It comes from a place where I don’t have to make an effort. It is just there.”
He believes that you have to feel the music inside if you are going to try to put the external aesthetics out there.
“You can take a photograph or write about something without really feeling the emotion of it, but that will come through in the end product,” he says.
Zwecker also observes that the subject matter is immaterial. It is the documenter’s take on it, and the emotion he or she brings to the work that matters.
“You can take photographs of musicians, or of medical and scientific themes, and as long as you love what you are doing, that will come out in a positive way in the photographs you produce.
“I am fortunate enough to be working now at a time when Israeli jazz is flourishing. We have so many fantastic artists, and it is a pleasure to meet them, hear them play and to take their pictures.”
Admission to Swing & Shoot is free. After the Jaffa Jazz Festival the exhibition will move on to the Herzliya Performing Arts Center for a month-long run, from October 14.