The difference with music

Jazz pianist Guy Mintus, set to perform at next week’s Eilat Chamber Music Festival, discusses his evolving oeuvre.

Jazz pianist Guy Mintus (photo credit: ALEX LERNER)
Jazz pianist Guy Mintus
(photo credit: ALEX LERNER)
There is a generally held view that art, basically, makes the world a better place in which to live. Guy Mintus would certainly go along with that, and is doing his bit to improve things here on terra firma, both off and on the stage.
The 25-year-old New York-based Israeli jazz pianist is on the bill of the Eilat Chamber Music Festival, which is due to take place February 1 to 4.
Over the years, the festival has gained a reputation for proffering an eclectic range of material, and the 12th edition is following variegated suit. The four-day program features such headliner acts as stellar Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova, who will join forces with the Geneva Camerata, under the aegis of young Israeli conductor David Greilsammer, on the second day of the festival. The concert repertoire takes in works by Haydn, English Baroque composer Matthew Locke, Mozart and young Swiss composer and cellist Martin Jaggi. The latter’s composition, “Uruk,” was commissioned by the Geneva Camerata and will receive its first Israeli airing in Eilat.
Other big draws include local pianist Amir Katz, with an adventurous program of works by Liszt, internationally acclaimed 28-year-old Italian pianist Federico Colli, the Van Kuijk Quartet from France, which has gained a reputation for its sparkling renditions of works by Beethoven and Haydn, and wunderkind 15-year-old Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev. The latter has already won the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians and has performed with leading orchestras all over Russia. His wide-ranging concert will features works by Chopin, Ravel, Medtner, Rachmaninoff and Polish- American virtuoso pianist and composer Leopold Godowsky.
The festival organizers also have plenty to crow about on the nonclassical and cross-genre side of the Eilat agenda, with Alon Olearchik teaming up with a string trio – the veteran crooner will also play piano and guitar – and French jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson, who played at the winter version of the Red Sea Jazz Festival, in Eilat, a couple or so years ago.
Meanwhile, Mintus will join forces with Canadian-based German-born Jens Lindemann, who has been a regular in Eilat in recent years.
Tenderness of years notwithstanding, Mintus has accumulated a pretty impressive spread of projects to date. His evolving oeuvre includes globe-trotting with his own Big Apple-situated trio, which also incorporates Israeli bassist Tamir Shmerling and Dutch drummer Philippe Lemm, as well as an inventive duo with Turkey-resident Israeli percussionist Yinon Muallem called Offlines, which embraces ethnic as well jazzy sentiments.
Mintus and Muallem were one of the star turns at last winter’s Red Sea Jazz Festival. The pianist feeds off more Middle Eastern vibes with his Mediterranean Piano project which marries folkloric music from Greece, Turkey, Israel and other parts of the region.
Mintus is clearly an inquisitive chap and is always looking to get his capable fingers into some new artistic pie.
I caught up with him the day after he unveiled a delightful ongoing work to a local audience. The occasion was the screening of a video called “Can You Tell the Difference? Our Journey Together at Beit Hayotzer” at Tel Aviv Port.
The film opens by informing the viewer that, for the project, Mintus and his cohorts – Shmerling and Lemm – “traveled through desert and mountain to play the song at five different locations that embody the idea of coexistence and peace.”
The landscape description sounds a bit overly expansive, but, indeed, the threesome filmed and played at schools from different ethnic communities, in locations such as Beersheba, Ramle and Abu Ghosh. The video makes for heartwarming and smile-inducing viewing, and was overseen by Czech filmmaker Jakub Cermak.
“I was working on a different project, and the melody [for the schoolchildren video] just came out,” says Mintus happily.
“The melody just came out of the [trying Middle Eastern] situation. It was a sort of therapy for me.”
One can, of course, get caught up in a situation whereby emotions run high and it’s difficult to see the balanced wood for the poignant trees. In such circumstances it can help to take a step back, to try to get a more objective looksee.
Mintus managed that when he was on the other side of the Aegean Sea.
“I was in Israel most of last summer, and I was in Greece to play at a festival,” he recalls. “It was there that I got a different perspective on things here.
People kept asking me about things in Israel, and it was there that this melody came to me. ‘Our Journey Together’ came out of a line of thinking that we are all going through all this crazy situation together.”
Once the melody took hold of Mintus’s mind and heart, he began airing it wherever he went.
“I played it on quite a few occasions, in different places around the world,” he notes. It was his way of sharing his feelings about his mother country with people of all cultural, religious and – possibly – political stripes.
“I didn’t use to talk about the melody and how it came to be,” he says, “but, somehow, it touched the hearts of many people at my gigs. Lots of people would come up to me after a show, and they’d talk to me specifically about this song. They told me it brought tears to their eyes. I suppose the music comes from a very sincere place.”
Then Cermak entered the equation.
“I wanted to do a music video, and I met Jakub in Israel,” Mintus explains.
“We thought of various things, but, in the end, we both went for ‘Our Journey Together,’ even though it’s over seven minutes long, which is pretty long for video music. We both felt that the music connects with the [physical and emotional] place the music comes from. We agreed that we should do something with children.”
The visual result is very moving and encouraging. All told, over 100 schoolkids feature in the video, and the camera work is aesthetically and emotively enhanced by some fun animation.
“In two days Jakub and I went to Safed, Beersheba, Kafr Kari [near Wadi Ara, not far from Pardess Hanna], Ramle and Abu Ghosh,” he says. “We did all sorts of music activities with the children, too. It was great fun, and the kids really responded well. They also drew pictures as they listened to the music, and some of the pictures appear in the video.”
Mintus says he is also looking forward to doing artistic business with Lindemann. “He’s a wonderful musician, and I really enjoy teaming up with different musicians, and seeing where it all takes us.”
The trumpeter and the ivory tickler will roam across all kinds of stylistic domains, taking in different areas of jazz endeavor, ethnic material and classical music. Sounds like another definitive “Our Journey Together” escapade.

The Eilat Chamber Music Festival will be hosted by the Dan Eilat Hotel. For tickets and more information: (08) 637-7036, (08) 644-4816, *9066, www.eilatfest.com and eventim.co.il/eilat