The Israeli jazz scene has been on buzz since the influx of Israeli’s into the New York scene in the 1990s. It raises the question: what are they putting in the humus? There are a number of American musical institutions that have established relationships with Israeli musical institutions. In the way that UMass, Smith, Amherst are all sister schools, The Jerusalem Academy of Music is tied with The New School (NYC) and The Rimon School of Music is tied with Berklee (Boston). Bother Berklee and New School carry an aura that is both authoritative and versatile. The students coming out of these American programs, generally speaking, are as well versed in jazz as much as jazz musics worldly trajectories.
In the next two posts, Hardbop will provide a special report on the Israeli jazz scene. The first will feature a performance featuring The Lab Orchestra from The Jerusalem Academy of Music. It is led by American saxophonist Stephen Horenstein. Horenstein relocated to Israel in 1980 and began teaching at The Jerusalem Academy of Music. Here is a brief video on his background and his goals as educator.
The Yellow Submarine is a medium-sized venue for New York standards, comparable to the Blue Note or The Jazz Standard minus the obnoxious pillars. The audience was mixed in age proving a wide gap between the mid 20-somethings and 50 year olds. Many of the students at The Jerusalem Academy of Music were in support of their peers and I’m assuming the parents were among the “adults”. The 11-piece band, mostly freshman, took the stage tackling music from Charles Mingus’s songbook and two originals from Horenstein. The instrumentation included electric guitar, electric bass, drums, piano, bari sax, tenor sax, alto sax (3), soprano sax, flute, and Horenstein on tenor sax. Waving his arms around in frantic, spastic energy, the director prides himself in being able to control the sound pallet of his orchestra. At one moment, he invited a 20-something up to the stage, instructing him on the basics of “kinetic composition”. Throwing his hands to ground then swooshing them around, the young kid was able to stir up the band, cuing them in a swirling mish-mash of sounds. Horenstein quickly corrected him showing him that intention is what counts: in order to make the group staccato the index-finger-jabs must be firm and crisp. This comical portion of the show was fun for the crowd but it was the intimacy that Horenstein conveyed with his own playing that made the ensemble shine. After all, these students are students and as talented as they are, Horenstein’s background cuts through, especially on the Mingus.
The Lab Orchestra is a challenging conquest for young jazz students. It is a chance to explore freedom in their improvisation but it may be that in doing so at such a young age, some of the essentials to the tradition of jazz are being lost. These include sense of swing and the blues. Horenstein’s values as an educator to the think forward towards new forms and push the boundary fit within his own career as a musician in the 60s. Bill Dixon, Horenteisns mentor, wasnt known for his bebop language or his sense of swing but rather his electronic delay and use of reverb. Young Israeli musicians can explore this jazz divide (progress vs. tradition) on their on watch but while studying at The Jerusalem Academy of Music, they get a hodge-podge of knowledge. Where Horenstein may lack in pushing hard bop , he is instilling confidence and encouragement towards taking improvisatory risks on the band stand.