Why Are So Many Jazz Musicians From Israel These Days? : A Blog Supreme For a Middle Eastern country of some 7.5 million, Israel has a surprisingly large musical footprint. More and more internationally acclaimed jazz musicians happen to have come from the country. Hear from four with new records.
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Why Are So Many Jazz Musicians From Israel These Days?

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(Soundbite of song, "October 25th")

GUY RAZ, host:

This is music from the jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen. He lives in New York now, but he's originally from Israel. And Israel is actually a country with a surprisingly large jazz footprint. A growing number of acclaimed jazz musicians happen to be from the country. NPR Music's jazz producer and blogger Patrick Jarenwattananon has been looking into the Israeli jazz boom. Patrick is with me now.

Welcome to the program.


RAZ: So what's going on? I mean, why is so much jazz coming out of Israel, and why now?

JARENWATTANANON: Well, international musicians have been into jazz practically since the beginning of jazz.

RAZ: Think Scandinavia, for example.

JARENWATTANANON: Sure. But I think there's an interesting story here in why any country halfway around the world is producing so many U.S.-based jazz musicians.

So, 20 years ago, jazz wasn't huge in Israel. There were players. But then, enough Americans moved there or Israelis who were trained abroad moved back, and so they could start teaching.

There's long been an infrastructure of classical music in Israel, and...

RAZ: Right.

JARENWATTANANON: ...the related jazz musicians sort of latched onto that infrastructure and established a certain critical mass. And U.S. schools have also established relations with those Israeli conservatories.

RAZ: You know, I noticed that when I because I was a correspondent there for two and a half years, and I remember there are tons of jazz clubs in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv. There's a famous jazz festival in Eilat on the Red Sea every year, and I always wondered about this, you know.

JARENWATTANANON: The scene is definitely growing in Israel. But, you know, observers wouldn't be paying attention to it unless it was really good too.

You mentioned we're listening to Avishai Cohen right now. There are actually two Israeli jazz musicians named Avishai Cohen.

RAZ: That's confusing.

JARENWATTANANON: Yeah. So one is this virtuoso bassist. He also sings. He has a new record out this year too. This Avishai Cohen comes from a musical family. He's a trumpeter, and he's got this round, fat, rich tone. And he's got a lot of ideas too.

(Soundbite of song, "October 25th")

RAZ: Love it, love it. I can imagine being in sitting in a club listening to these guys. And you hear the hey in the background. Awesome.


RAZ: So - I mean, are all the guys in this band Israeli too?

JARENWATTANANON: Well, the bassist is. This is Avishai's band, Triveni. It's a fairly new band. The album is called "Introducing Triveni." And Nasheet Waits is on drums here. He's an American. He's one of the busiest guys out there.

On bass is a fellow named Omer Avital. He was actually one of the first Israeli musicians to distinguish himself in the United States.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: And this is the band is Triveni, Patrick, right?


RAZ: It's led by the trumpeter Avishai Cohen. Their album is called "Introducing Triveni." Patrick, what have you got next?

JARENWATTANANON: We've got music from Rafi Malkiel. This album is called "Water." He's a trombonist, but on this track, he's playing something entirely different.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: That is different. It sounds a little bit like, you know, remember the Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown's teacher? (Makes sounds.)

JARENWATTANANON: Yeah, exactly. It's pretty much pretty much all the songs on this record use water noises or are themed by water. This is definitely the most experimental track by far. It features his aguaphonium.

RAZ: What's an aguaphonium? I haven't heard of that instrument.

JARENWATTANANON: It's his own invention.

RAZ: His own invention?

JARENWATTANANON: It's his name for a brass mouthpiece attached to a garden hose, then attached to a funnel, and that's dipped in a big carton full of water, so...

RAZ: Let me get this again. So, brass mouthpiece attached to a garden hose, attached to a funnel dipped in water.

JARENWATTANANON: And so he sort of burbles noise through it. But more often on this album, Rafi Malkiel is using water as a percussion element. You can hear it on this track, for example.

(Soundbite of song, "Aguanile Mai")

RAZ: That's cool. It's got kind of like a Latin jazz thing going on there, like a little bit of a dance beat there, some Afro-Caribbean things happening.

JARENWATTANANON: Yeah, definitely. Like many trombonists, Rafi Malkiel got to New York City and then fell in with a lot of Latin jazz musicians because Latin jazz bands tend to have positions for trombonists that modern jazz groups and combos wouldn't. So there's often work for them.

And he and the flutist here, another Israeli musician named Itai Kriss, they both specialize somewhat in Latin music.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Patrick, I'm beginning to think that the Israeli jazz musicians are taking over New York. Man, this is music from Rafi Malkiel. The album is "Water."

I'm here with NPR Music's jazz producer and blogger Patrick Jarenwattananon. And he's brought us some new jazz today from Israeli musicians. Patrick, I'm curious, what about women? I mean, jazz obviously is a male-dominated world. What about coming out of Israel? Are there any women doing interesting stuff?

JARENWATTANANON: Sure. There are a number of women from Israel making jazz, both vocalists and instrumentalists. Here's music from Anat Fort. She's a pianist. She's written a tune dedicated to Lanesboro, Minnesota. This tune is called "Lanesboro."

(Soundbite of song, "Lanesboro")

RAZ: This must be the first song in the history of songmaking to be about Lanesboro, Minnesota.

JARENWATTANANON: I think there's an arts residency there that she participated in.

RAZ: Oh, I got you. It's not like Memphis. You don't write about people write about Memphis or San Francisco.

JARENWATTANANON: Well, when Anat Fort came to the U.S., she studied with some serious, straight-ahead jazz musicians, right. And so she arrived a little before a lot of Israelis came, the whole a boom in the 1990s arrived. So she's sort of had to develop her own thing in the last 20 years.

I think it's a got a strong European classical element. She's classically trained. She also explores free improvising and likes to use a lot of dissonances in her music. And, of course, she's clearly comfortable with a slower, developing rhapsody.

(Soundbite of song, "Lanesboro")

RAZ: The artist is Anat Fort, and the album is called "And If." Patrick, we have time for just one more. What have you got for us?

JARENWATTANANON: Here's music from the saxophonist Eli Degibri.

(Soundbite of music)

JARENWATTANANON: This is Dizzy Gillespie's tune be-bop. Degibri is playing it in a duet with the drummer Al Foster. Al Foster is one of those master musicians from back in the day who's still around.

It's interesting, if you go through Eli's biography, you learn that he sort of exemplifies the trend of the Israeli jazz musician today who comes to the U.S. to study, inasmuch as there is a standard route to success anymore in jazz.

You know, he went to the same arts magnet high school that a lot of Israeli musicians did. He then went to the Rimon School, which is this other conservatory dedicated to jazz and contemporary music.

There are other affiliated programs and back and forth sort of connections between Israel and the U.S., which allow musicians to pursue a course of study like that.

RAZ: Right. You mentioned all these schools. Is that pretty common for jazz musicians? I mean - like, I mean, I was always under the assumption that it's just something that you, you know, you learn on the job.

JARENWATTANANON: I think for a lot of its history, it was. For better or for worse, now higher education is where a lot of musicians end up meeting each other.

RAZ: Right.

JARENWATTANANON: Eli Degibri even spent time in a prestigious master's program called the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz. That's actually where he met the bassist on this album, Ron Carter, like Miles Davis. And, you know, musicians all over the world come to the U.S. and specifically to New York to study, and that's where he ended up meeting Brad Mehldau. And they're dueting on this title track.

(Soundbite of song, "Israeli Song")

RAZ: Brad Mehldau on the piano, the artist is Eli Degibri, and the song we're listening to and the album are called "Israeli Song." That's amazing. Who knew? Patrick, who knew about the Israeli jazz boom? We now do.

That's Patrick Jarenwattananon, jazz producer for NPR Music. He writes at A Blog Supreme. That's npr.org/blogsupreme. Patrick, thanks again.

JARENWATTANANON: It's my pleasure, Guy.

RAZ: Shalom.

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