You ain't seen nothing

Versatile guitarist Uzi Ramirez plays blues, jazz, rock and funk

Joining trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s Big Vicious ensemble at June’s Jerusalem Jazz fest, the musician heads into a busy July

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Avishai Cohen's Big Vicious Ensemble with Uzi Ramirez (second from left) will perform at the Jerusalem Jazz Festival, June 27-29, 2023 (Courtesy Ben Palhov)
Avishai Cohen's Big Vicious Ensemble with Uzi Ramirez (second from left) will perform at the Jerusalem Jazz Festival, June 27-29, 2023 (Courtesy Ben Palhov)

It may have been the part of his childhood he spent in Ames, Iowa, that turned Israeli guitarist Uzi “Ramirez” Feinerman on to Americana music.

These days, Feinerman — or Ramirez, as he prefers to be known — is a member of funk rock band Boom Pam, plays with electronic musician Kutiman, and heads his own band, but it was about 35 years ago that he first heard the music of Dolly Parton, BB King and Bob Dylan.

He was around nine years old when he got his first guitar and an early guitar teacher turned him on to the blues.

“All the Americana, country, folk, came to me from all kinds of directions by chance,” said Ramirez, whose nickname stuck after he was in a band called The Brothers Ramirez.

Now Ramirez is known as one of Israel’s best-known guitarists, and will perform this week with Avishai Cohen’s Big Vicious ensemble at the Jerusalem Jazz Festival, June 27-29 at the Israel Museum.

Composer and trumpeter Cohen founded the ensemble that performs a combination of rock ‘n roll, psychedelia, groove, jazz, electronica and trip-hop. It’s Cohen’s secondary role at the festival, as he also helms and coordinates the event under the umbrella of The Israel Festival.

The ninth Jerusalem Jazz Festival will host visiting performers from Thailand, Morocco, Bulgaria, Italy, the US, Spain, Germany, France and other lands, along with Israel jazz and crossover musicians. The three-night festival has the musicians performing among six stages in the museum’s sculpture garden, as well as in the museum galleries, with both set performances and impromptu jam sessions.

For Ramirez, it’s a different kind of pleasure to play with others, especially when they’re the ones in charge.

“They send me a date and I just have to show up,” he said. “As opposed to when I play alone, it’s a different kind of responsibility — you have to sit and write and worry about rehearsals.”

Ramirez has been a professional musician since his teens, attending Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim and then performing his mandatory military service in the air force band.

He never took just one musical direction with his guitar, instead having a “desire to soak up as much as possible and to mix it all, surf, rock ‘n roll and classic and jazz,” said Ramirez. “I just played and listened a lot. I just wanted to make music, without the limitations of one particular style.”

His own work comes into play on July 15 with a show at Tel Aviv’s Levontin 7, with fellow musicians Tomer Zuk, Matan Caspi, Gilad Levin and  Itamar Weinstein as they perform during a two-night ode to the beatnik generation, adapting texts from authors Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac.

Kerouac’s “On the Road” was a book that changed Ramirez’s trajectory.

“I was literally on the road, doing a puppet show with a friend,” he said. “We would go out with a guitar and the puppets and hitch rides and put on shows wherever we landed.”

Life has changed since then, but what Ramirez, now 43, still looks for is the ability to play and connect with the audience and the people on stage, “to be present in that moment,” he said, “and to be the most professional and present that I can be.”

He’s got ample opportunity to do that this summer, as in July he’ll perform with Kutiman for Tel Aviv’s White Night, head to Krakow with Boom Pam, release his own new album and perform at Levontin 7.

It’s a busy time, and Ramirez attributes it to the aftermath of the coronavirus, when musicians produced albums but couldn’t perform.

“Now it’s a baby boom of albums that came out, and tons of tours and shows,” said Ramirez.

Tickets to the Jerusalem Jazz Festival, June 27-29, are still available.

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