The Jerusalem Post
Kaminsky’s drum roll still rumbles with fire
Araleh Kaminsky has been around the block and back a few times over the years. As he nears his 80th birthday, the veteran jazz drummer is still doing his thing – with no visible dip in enthusiasm, zest or performance levels.
The man I met in a swanky apartment tower block in north Tel Aviv had, admittedly, changed somewhat in appearance since I first caught him in polished percussive action. Considering that was a full 40 years ago, that is hardly surprising. I got my first eyeful, and earful, of Kaminsky in a basement joint on Dizengoff Street called Teatron Hamadregot (The Stairs Theater) when I saw him do his thing alongside some of the other veterans of the Israeli jazz scene, including pianist Danny Gottfried, saxman-flutist Roman Kunzman, saxophonist Peter Wertheimer and bassist Eli Magen.
“We are not the pioneers of jazz here, but we are the first generation of Israeli-born jazz musicians,” Kaminsky notes, with a touch of pride. In fact, out of that early 1980s lineup, now 82-year-old Gottfried is the only other surviving bona fide member of the homegrown pioneering bunch. Sadly, both Kunzman and Wertheimer have passed away.
The long locks may have gone, but the trademark droopy mustache – albeit now grey – is still very much in evidence.
“Everything that can drop off has gone,” says the drummer with a twinkle in his eye.
Kaminsky is still very much in the game, and is currently doing a turn with the Eli and The Chocolate Factory trad jazz gang. The next gig in the tour is scheduled for Hechal Hatarbut in Kfar Saba on July 23, with another date set for the Sculpture Garden at the Tel Aviv Museum on August 25, as part of the new Summertime Festival.
DRUMMERS ARE a strange breed. I put it to the soon-tobe octogenarian that he and his co-professionals must have a personality split or two. After all, they can play a different rhythm with each hand and foot, while most of us would probably have trouble keeping time with even one appendage.
“You can keep four rhythms going at the same time,” I say.
“Actually it’s five,” comes the rapid-fire rejoinder. “You can also sing or blow a whistle, or some other instrument,” Kaminsky laughs. “When people ask me how I manage with all that coordination, I tell them I connect with my female side. Women are much better at dividing their attention than men.”
That may be so, and we are not going to get into politically charged gender issues here, but Kaminsky has proven to be a stalwart not only of the jazz scene here, he has – and continues to do so – provided solid rhythmic support for a wide range of live acts and recording sessions, taking in pop, rock, eastern music, Latin and other styles
Kaminsky has been
enthralled with rhythmic sounds from a young age, and that despite the almost total absence of music in his earliest formative years.
“I was born into a baby-clothes-manufacturing factory,” he chuckles. “My father had a factory, but there wasn’t really any music at home to begin with. Later my father bought a record player, and there were mostly Yiddish songs.”
The youngster’s musical epiphany came during his time on Kibbutz Hanita, on the Lebanese border, where he boarded for several years, as a teenager, following his parents’ divorce.
“My first encounter with jazz was when I was sent to
get one of the cowshed workers who was late for his shift,” Kaminsky recalls. “I knocked on the door but there was no answer. So I opened the door and I saw him with his ear glued to the radio, and he was grooving to something. I asked him what that was, and he just said, ‘Jazz.’ Today I know it was [early jazz style] Dixieland.”
The lad was well and truly bitten, and jazz became a beacon in his pathway through life as he searched for ways to develop his rhythmic skills whenever the opportunity arose. In his later teens he returned to Tel Aviv, where he attended Balfour School, contributing to the grassroots entertainment fare on offer at the time.
“It was toward the end of period of austerity [in the late 1950s]. We didn’t have a record player or sound system at school, and they would hand out cookies in a big tin. I took the empty tin and I’d drum on it. That was my first musical instrument,” he laughs.
Kaminsky was not only driven, he was, clearly, gifted. Despite never having taken a formal class, he made artistic strides and on his time off as a new IDF recruit, he landed his first gig playing drums for weekly religious singles gatherings.
“I got 40 [Israeli] liras for each show. Back then a soldier made 14 liras a month. That was a fortune!”
When he was accepted to the prestigious Nahal army band, his professional die was cast.
HIS MILITARY musical exploits were cut short when he was 20 years old. His father died and he was released from the IDF so he could take over management of the family factory. He quickly got into the nascent jazz scene in Tel Aviv and began gigging with gifted pianist Zigi Scarbnik at Ilka and Aviva’s The Club venue.
“Zigi was my first real teacher,” Kaminsky says. “I learned a lot from playing with him. His stint with American-born saxophonist Mel Keller, who made aliyah in the 1950s and became one of the founding fathers of the Israeli jazz scene, also helped him grow into the job.
The Friday jam sessions at The Club eventually petered out, and Kaminsky subsequently took his drum kit to other leading music spots of the day, such as Tzabra, Hamafteach, Omer Kayam and Tzavta.
He managed to stay abreast of, at least, some of the action going on around the world by listening to BBC jazz programs, and began encountering like-minded youngsters here, including Gottfried and reedman Albert Piamenta. By the early 1970s Kaminsky had set up one of the country’s first bona fide jazz bands, The Platina, which, in its various lineups, also included Kunzman, electric guitarist Yitzhak Klepter, who was to become a mainstay of the local pop and rock scenes, and keyboardist Ilana Turel. Kaminsky became something of a fixture on the rock scene when preeminent vocalist Arik Einstein asked The Platina to record and tour with him.
That followed an eightmonth globetrotting sojourn after Kaminsky quit the family factory and took his wife and then-three-year-old daughter on the road to check out the drumming and percussion scene around the world.
“That was great,” he recalls. “I spent a lot of time in South America, mainly Brazil, and the United States. I met so many great musicians, and learned so much.”
The severance pay eventually ran out and he returned to Israel to share some of his newfound tricks with his local co-professionals. Over the years, Kaminsky also mixed in with some of the icons of the global jazz community, including the likes of saxman Stan Getz, keyboardist Chick Corea, trumpeter Clark Terry and reedman Dave Liebman.
And the journey goes on unabated.
“Today I play with much younger musicians and they are wonderful,” he joyfully exclaims.
It is very much a two-way street.
“Yes, of course, I have all this experience but, back then, sometimes our timing was a little off, and we managed. But these kids are spot on. I have to keep up with them. They keep me on my toes.”
Long may it continue.