Post-corona cre­at­ing

Mu­si­cians im­pro­vise un­der virus lock­down

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By BARRY DAVIS

You know how you keep putting things off for that prover­bial “rainy day.” How you will, surely, get round to plow­ing through those piles of pa­pers, letters, books, boxes of old pho­to­graphs “some time or other.” Well, maybe this coro­n­avirus-en­forced lock­down or slow­down is the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to make the best use we can of the un­ex­pected fur­lough or, even, iso­la­tion and to stop pre­var­i­cat­ing and fi­nally get on with it, and stop step­ping over the pile of what­ever and ac­tu­ally sort through it.

Whether we like it or not, many of us – prob­a­bly, those us who don’t have prog­eny or whose kids have grown up and no longer need our close min­is­tra­tions – now have more time on our hands. The opium-for-the-masses dis­trac­tions are in abeyance. There are no cafés or restau­rants in which to while away an hour or two, or even work on our lap­tops, no cinemas to escape to and lose our­selves in some filmic sto­ry­line for a while, and we can’t even get away from it all by grab­bing some last-minute deal and fly­ing off for a week­end or a few days to some for­eign climes.

Yup, we’ve got to face up to the in­escapable re­al­ity of the pan­demic scare, hope­fully with­out pan­ick­ing too much,

and some­how man­age to keep the wolves at bay. On the plus side, that can offer some price­less added value, es­pe­cially for artists who are nor­mally so en­gaged with keep­ing their cre­ative and fi­nan­cial balls rolling. Now, willy-nilly, mu­si­cians are hav­ing to take a look in­ward – and back­ward. Very few mu­si­cians, if they are not megas­tar rock­ers or pop artists, or even salaried mem­bers of a clas­si­cal orches­tra, are able to live off their live per­for­mances and record­ings alone. The vast ma­jor­ity also teach. And with al­most ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion of ed­u­ca­tion across the country closed down, that source of in­come has gone out of the win­dow.

ANAT FORT is one of our best-known jazz mu­si­cians. The 50-year-old pi­anist has sev­eral al­bums out on the pres­ti­gious Ger­man la­bel ECM – the first Is­raeli jazz mu­si­cian to gain that highly prized berth – and per­forms reg­u­larly here, and at front­line venues and fes­ti­vals around the globe. Last week­end she was due to per­form at the mostly clas­si­cal mu­sic Spring Fes­ti­val at Kfar Blum up north, along with Ethiopian-born sax­o­phon­ist-vo­cal­ist Abate Ber­i­hun. And just yes­ter­day the two were due to team up again, this time as part of the fifth an­nual Bach in Jerusalem fes­ti­val. Fort was also down to present a cou­ple of work­shops.

None of the afore­men­tioned ac­tu­ally took place fol­low­ing the ban of gatherings of more than 100 peo­ple, and then of 10.

“This should have been my most lu­cra­tive month,” says Fort. “For now, I am tak­ing it equani­mously. I’m not sure about my bank bal­ance, but there’s noth­ing I can re­ally do about it right now.”

It still took Fort a mo­ment or two to re­cover her poise. “The ini­tial shock just knocked me over. I thought, ‘How am I go­ing to man­age? And how long will it go on for?’ But I quickly re­al­ized that I can’t do any­thing about it.”

Mu­si­cians, nat­u­rally, need to have a finely honed sense of tim­ing. Fort seems to have her in­ner and outer chronome­ters well set. And it wasn’t just a mat­ter of adopt­ing a philo­soph­i­cal, long-suf­fer­ing take on the evolv­ing predica­ment.

“I thought there are things I can do, even now,” she con­tin­ues. “I have lots of [musical] things here, at home, I need to get to – books, record­ings, things I want to watch and learn.”

And nei­ther she, nor her fel­low pro­fes­sion­als, can found so­lace or fi­nan­cial bal­last in for­eign pas­tures.

“No, there’s nowhere to go,” she notes, adding that it’s at times like this that the artist and per­son meet, if they don’t in the reg­u­lar run of things.

“I say that we are a com­mu­nity of im­pro­vis­ing mu­si­cians. If we want to be con­stantly in the mo­ment [of the mu­sic] then let’s be in the mo­ment. I see peo­ple who are anx­ious.

‘There is no tech­nol­ogy avail­able that al­lows you to play to­gether with­out some de­lay. We have to be cre­ative’

I am not crit­i­ciz­ing them. I un­der­stand them. But it is as if we want to be in con­trol all the time, and to know what is go­ing on. But we don’t know what is hap­pen­ing any­way. So let’s go with this. I think there is some­thing very beau­ti­ful about all this.”

As In­dian sarod player Kr­ish­na­murti Srid­har once sagely said to me, sev­eral eons ago, when I called him for a tele­phone in­ter­view way past the ap­pointed hour: “You are not late. It is hap­pen­ing now.” Fort shares that ac­cept­ing stance of the mys­te­ri­ous un­fold­ing of life. She is also not look­ing to try to stay in the pub­lic eye, or at least make sure peo­ple know she is still around, de­spite the paucity of op­er­a­tional means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“If any­one for­gets me, then they for­get me,” she says. That didn’t come across as faux sto­icism.

“I’m not in­ter­ested right now in be­ing in some kind of strug­gle with what is go­ing on. I’m not say­ing we shouldn’t be cre­ative [in find­ing means of mak­ing a liv­ing]. If, at some stage, I feel there is a need to be more proac­tive, I’ll do it. When the time comes.”

GUY MINTUS is an­other of our most pol­ished jazz mu­si­cians, al­though he tends to stray into all kinds of musical do­mains. The 28-year-old pi­anist keeps a busy per­for­mance sched­ule, with plenty of plane hop­ping across the cal­en­dar. He came here for a month or so from his New York pad to per­form at a slew of events, in­clud­ing the an­nual Felicja Blu­men­thal In­ter­na­tional Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, which was due to take place at the Tel Aviv Mu­seum this week. The con­cert was to fea­ture his trio bol­stered by a string quar­tet, at which he planned to roll out an ex­tended ver­sion of the trio’s sopho­more re­lease Con­nect­ing the Dots.

There was talk of uti­liz­ing ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy to try to get the mu­sic to the pub­lic, fes­ti­val can­cel­la­tion not­with­stand­ing, how­ever that novel idea also fell through.

“We were sup­posed to video the trio at the Felicja Blu­men­thal Cen­ter Hall, but they just got a phone call from the mu­nic­i­pal­ity [of Tel Aviv] say­ing they had to close the place. It was all planned, and we were ready to go ahead with it,” Mintus ex­plains, re­fer­ring to the idea of video­ing a ren­di­tion of the show reper­toire and then mak­ing it avail­able on­line. If your phys­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties are off the lim­its, it make sense to head for un­bounded vir­tual realms.

But as one door slammed shut, an­other sprang open. “Straight af­ter the Felicja call I got an­other call, from the Enav Cen­ter [next to city hall in Tel Aviv],” Mintus laughs.

“They sent out a call to mu­si­cians, of­fer­ing the place for artists to come and record, and have it filmed. It wasn’t so much about trans­mit­ting the video, it was about cap­tur­ing the mu­sic.”

At the time of our chat it was un­clear whether, in fact, that was go­ing to work out, al­though it of­fered a glim­mer of pos­i­tive think­ing in th­ese trou­bling times.

“I can trans­mit it live, or en­hance the qual­ity and put out, maybe, a cou­ple of num­bers over the next few days. There is po­ten­tial in that.”

That looked promis­ing al­though, at the time, it still wasn’t en­tirely clear how it would pan out.

“First I have to re­group and, sec­ond, I have to hope that doesn’t fall through, too.”

While Mintus, like Fort, is main­tain­ing an emo­tional even keel, he is not ex­actly sit­ting idly by wait­ing for things to un­fold.

“I will do ev­ery­thing in my power to get the mu­sic out there,” he de­clares.

Judg­ing by his man­i­fold cre­ative ac­tiv­ity and ever-ex­pand­ing oeu­vre, you can trust him to do just that.

“Af­ter ev­ery­thing went pear-shaped on Thurs­day and ev­ery­one still wanted to meet to play to­gether, we had a re­hearsal. Jackie [the cel­list] lives in Mitzpe Ra­mon, which is far away, and she couldn’t come to Tel Aviv. So we played to­gether via Skype.”

That was fun, but it doesn’t make up for his coro­n­avirus-en­forced loss of earn­ings. Not by a long shot.

“I had two con­certs in Uzbek­istan can­celed, two in Kaza­khstan, a week of work­shops in Ger­many, and three shows there, two more gigs in the United States, and then an ap­pear­ance at a fes­ti­val and a show at [pres­ti­gious Paris jazz club] Duc des Lom­bards, and more gigs in Washington, New York, Cleve­land – count­less shows. All gone.”

That could pro­duce a pretty hefty downer, but Mintus says he is soldier­ing on, and try­ing – as a cer­tain Brian would have put it – to look on the bright side life, and is de­ter­mined to make up for lost time, and work, when the pan­demic even­tu­ally ends.

“I am try­ing to keep my spir­its up. I see this as an op­por­tu­nity, too. We [mu­si­cians] are still here, and we won’t dis­ap­point.”

HA­GAI BIL­ITZKY, a lead­ing bass player at the eastern end of the eth­nic mu­sic cat­e­gory, and an ed­u­ca­tor, at least for now is keep­ing his head above wa­ter. Bil­itzky teaches at the Academy of Mu­sic of the He­brew Univer­sity in Jerusalem, and says some classes are still go­ing on.

“Stu­dents get one-on-one tu­ition,” he ex­plains. “All ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing five or more stu­dents have been sus­pended. Those are the in­struc­tions we’ve been given.”

He says he and his col­leagues are look­ing for cre­ative ways to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the assem­bly con­straints.

“We’ll have to find al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tions like, maybe, giv­ing on­line classes. We have to get all the stu­dents to download the same ap­pli­ca­tion at the same time.” Still, it can’t all be done re­motely.

“I can’t do ear train­ing via the In­ter­net,” he notes. “I can’t record a lec­ture and then put it out on video. We have to or­ga­nize our­selves some­how.”

The in­sti­tu­tion’s re­stric­tions on con­ven­ing in groups of five or more com­pletely erad­i­cates any chance of play­ing mu­sic to­gether, even via vir­tual means.

“There is no tech­nol­ogy avail­able that al­lows you to play to­gether with­out some de­lay,” Bil­itzky says. “We have to be cre­ative and make the most of the avail­able tech­nol­ogy.”

Bil­itzky also has fam­ily-re­lated lo­gis­tics to con­tend with. While his psy­chol­o­gist wife has to turn up for work daily, he can spend some time at home with his young children while school is out, al­though that eats into his own cre­ative pur­suits.

“It is dif­fi­cult to find the time to work from home, be­cause my kids can need me at any given mo­ment,” he says. “I don’t feel as if I have more down­time be­cause of this sit­u­a­tion.”

IT AIN’T easy, across the board. Some have got it tougher than oth­ers. Fort’s some­time spar­ring part­ner Abateh Ber­i­hun may be an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed sax­o­phon­ist and vo­cal­ist who brings an en­chant­ing touch of Ethiopian Jewish litur­gi­cal blues to the fray, but he is not ex­actly rak­ing it in. The clampdown on the en­ter­tain­ment sec­tor caught him com­pletely un­awares.

“This is scary,” he says. “Sud­denly ev­ery­thing goes.” Not quite ev­ery­thing, but the tal­ented reed­man hasn’t got much on offer at the mo­ment.

”I teach at the School for Mu­sic and Si­lence [in

Jerusalem], but that is closed for now. There is talk of giv­ing video classes. We’ll see if that works out.”

Ber­i­hun is try­ing to put a brave face on things, but that is eas­ier said than done.

“There is some old stuff, like the Ras Deshen 2 record­ing I did with [ac­claimed pi­anist-com­poser] Yitzhak Ye­did in Aus­tralia about two-and-a-half years ago,” he notes. “I hope that will come out some time soon. And I am due to record with Anat [Fort] soon. But I had shows with Ehud Banai which were all can­celed two weeks ago, and with the Afro Bagh­dad band, with [pro­ducer-bassist] Yossi Fine, [per­cus­sion­ist-vo­cal­ist] Ben Ay­lon and [glob­ally renowned vi­o­lin­ist-oud player] Yair Dalal. There’s noth­ing hap­pen­ing at all right now. It is fright­en­ing.”

Even so, Ber­i­hun hopes there will be some artistic ben­e­fits to reap af­ter, hope­fully, the virus cri­sis passes.

“We all have a lot of time on our own now. I think a lot about my­self, and search within my­self. I think that will come out in the mu­sic later. I hope so.”

SAX­O­PHON­IST-COM­POSER Alon Far­ber has been in the jazz pub­lic’s eye and ear, for some time now. He is a mem­ber of the pop­u­lar Is­rael Jazz Orches­tra, and is the prin­ci­ple com­poser for the well-thought-of Hagiga sex­tet, with bassist As­saf Hakimi and trom­bon­ist Oded Meir also con­tribut­ing scores of late. The group, which gen­er­ally per­forms only ev­ery two or three months, had a gig can­celed just last Fri­day.

“That was a dis­ap­point­ment,” Far­ber ob­serves, with more than a touch of un­der­state­ment.

Still, Far­ber pri­mar­ily earns a crust by im­part­ing some of his ac­crued knowl­edge to stu­dents.

“I think I will prob­a­bly start giv­ing classes on­line,” he says, al­though not­ing some tech­no­log­i­cal ob­sta­cles, due to time lapses, to that route. “The main problem with that is that I like to ac­com­pany my stu­dents on pi­ano, and I like to play duets with them, both of us on sax­o­phone. I don’t see how I’ll be able to man­age that.”

That refers to his Ra­mat Hasharon Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic stu­dents, but his other reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tional work, at the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Gi­vatayim, and the Mu­nic­i­pal Aleph High School in Tel Aviv, is cur­rently on hold. Still, like Fort and oth­ers, Far­ber hopes the en­forced hia­tus will offer a long sought-af­ter op­por­tu­nity to dig into some back-burner projects.

“I did, for ex­am­ple, a duo show with Eden Giat, Hagiga’s pi­anist, about a month ago, which we recorded and videoed. I haven’t had time to go over the ma­te­rial. I might be able to do some­thing with that. And Hagiga with worked with [New York-based Is­raeli flutist] Itai Criss. That ma­te­rial also needs work.”

As Fort notes, the mu­si­cian is, first and fore­most, a hu­man be­ing who lives in, and re­sponds to, the world in which they live. As such, Far­ber be­lieves the coro­n­avirus cru­cible ex­pe­ri­ence will prob­a­bly leave its mark on his fu­ture work.

“I be­lieve that ev­ery­thing we ex­pe­ri­ence comes out in the mu­sic. Yes, the corona ex­pe­ri­ence will prob­a­bly come through some­time.”

Let’s hope that does hap­pen – and sooner rather than later. ■

(Marc Is­rael Sellem)

WITH EN­TER­TAIN­MENT venues shut­tered, how can mu­si­cians keep the wolves at bay?

(Ro­nen Ak­er­man)

ANAT FORT: Ac­cept­ing stance.

(Frank Jerke)

SEEK­ING AL­TER­NA­TIVE so­lu­tions: Ha­gai Bil­itzky.

(Yossi Zwecker)

THE HAGIGA band, with Alon Far­ber at front mid­dle.

(Kira Kuznetsova)

GUY MINTUS: Soldier­ing on.

(Marc Is­rael Sellem)

‘IT’S AT times like this that the artist and per­son meet.’

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