Roaming with Rava

The winter edition of the Red Sea jazz festival opens next week.

Enrico Rava (photo credit: ANDREA BOCCALINI)
Enrico Rava
(photo credit: ANDREA BOCCALINI)
The headliner at this year’s winter version of the Red Sea Jazz Festival, is Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava. At the age of 75, Rava keeps on churning out quality records, as well as performing in numerous live shows all over the globe.
Typically, he will perform here with a young quartet of compatriots - guitarist Francesco Diodati, bass player Gabriele Evangelista and drummer Enrico Morello.
“I like playing with younger musicians. They keep things fresh,” says Rava. “A lot of older musicians play the same things they did when they were 30.”
That clearly does not apply to the septuagenarian trumpeter, who has been doing his thing around the globe for half a century and maintains a busy recording and gig schedule.
Rava fell in love with jazz at a very young age. “My first hero was [1920s cornettist-pianist] Bix Beiderbecke,” says Rava. “He still is one of my heroes. And, of course, there’s Louis Armstrong. I think Armstrong is the greatest jazz musician ever. And Bix influenced so many people. He is a strong influence aug, Rava threw himself wholeheartedly into mastering the instrument and honing his jazz chops. At the time, the West Coast jazz style ruled the roost in Italy, but Rava eventually broke free of the constraints of straightahead jazz and headed for far wilder and woollier sonic climes. By the mid- 1960s he was engaged in a sterling envelope-pushing endeavor with pioneering saxophonist Steve Lacy.
That not only opened the door to previously uncharted musical domains but it also helped him get across to the other side of the world and to the global epicenter of the jazz scene, New York.
“We went to play in Buenos Aires. We were supposed to stay there for two weeks but ended up staying in Argentina for a year,” says Rava. After that, he and Lacy relocated to the Big Apple.
Lacy was already a highly respected member of the jazz fraternity, and tagging along with him helped to pave Rava’s way into the inner circle of where things were really happening.
“Being with Steve opened up a lot of doors for me,” Rava explains. “I met everybody, and I started playing with all kinds of great people, so I decided to stay in New York.”
After playing a series of wellreceived gigs in London, Rava, Stacy and a couple of African musicians took the show to Italy, but it appeared that the trumpeter’s compatriots were not yet cued in to less structured music. “We played at a big festival in Italy, and people started booing us,” Rava recalls with a chuckle. “Most of the rest of the tour in Italy was canceled.”
However, he found plenty of like-minded musicians to play with in New York and audiences who appreciated what avantgarde jazz artists had to offer. “It was a great time to be in New York,” says Rava. “Many of the older guys from the early days of jazz were still around, and there were plenty of great younger players, too.”
Towards the end of the 1970s he began to become disillusioned with the direction jazz was taking in America. “I didn’t like the jazzrock fusion thing,” he explains. “I had already started recording for ECM, and I toured Europe two or three or times a year. So I came back here,” he says.
The Italy to which Rava returned in 1978 was very different from the one he’d left.
Avant-garde jazz was now regularly performed and greatly appreciated.
Rava may have a penchant for the less fettered side of the jazz tracks, but he is largely a melodybased player. After working with Lacy, which included contributing to the groundbreaking 1967 album The Forest and the Zoo, Rava felt it was time to get back to basics.
He says that even working without a safety net can eventually become much of a muchness.
“We played total radical improvisation. There was no head [main theme] or chord progression. Our rule was that we could not talk about what we were going to play before a gig.
Some of us would just start playing, and the others would jump in,” he says.
But after some time, Rava began to miss having more musical terra firma under his feet.
“For a while I really loved it because it was like a new world was opening for me. But after two or three years of playing that way, it became routine. It lost its freshness,” he says.
Fifty years after that first foreign foray with Lacy, Rava appears to have maintained a fresh approach to his art as will be apparent in Eilat later this month.
February 19 to 21, For tickets and more information: