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‘Israeli jazz dares’ — Jerusalem festival adapts to pandemic

With musicians from abroad unable to come, annual event showcases local talent; concerts moved outdoors, with date pushed forward from mid-winter to summer

Avishai Cohen, the co-founder and artistic director of the event, performs on stage during the Jerusalem Jazz Festival in Jerusalem on September 8, 2020. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)
Avishai Cohen, the co-founder and artistic director of the event, performs on stage during the Jerusalem Jazz Festival in Jerusalem on September 8, 2020. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

The Jerusalem Jazz Festival opened Tuesday but, as the pandemic has stopped most flights and barred large indoor gatherings, its organizers had to do what jazz musicians do best — improvise.

“A lot of things are different this year,” said Avishai Cohen, the co-founder and artistic director of the event now in its sixth year.

“First of all, there are no players coming from abroad,” the tattooed and bearded trumpeter told AFP.

So Cohen put together a program of 20 performances showcasing local jazz talent but also other styles, including the 2018 Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai.

With large indoor gatherings banned because of COVID-19, he moved the event out of the halls of the Israel Museum and into its sculpture garden, where seats were spaced to adhere to social distancing rules.

He also pushed forward the date to take advantage of Jerusalem’s lush evening weather before the winter chills of December, when the event is usually held.

“It’s different from usual, but the place is magical,” said Orly and Moshe Romianek, jazz fans who traveled from the north of the country to attend.

A band performs a tribute to Amit Golan, an Israeli pianist who passed away in 2010, during the Jerusalem Jazz Festival in Jerusalem on September 8, 2020. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

The opening concert was full with a crowd of 500.

“This is the first time that I’ve attended a musical event since the start of the coronavirus,” said 23-year-old Yael Lazarovitch, from Ramat-Gan in the center of Israel, her eyes sparkling above her face mask.

“It has been a long time, but it feels good — everyone follows the instructions to queue, to sit, because everyone wants to be there.”

From Tuesday, 40 cities and neighborhoods across Israel will return to partial lockdown due to surging coronavirus infections in the country, with one of the highest case rates in the world.

Tickets sold out in advance, although jazz fans who missed out were able to watch the festival on a live broadcast.

Avishai Cohen, the co-founder and artistic director of the event, performs on stage during the Jerusalem Jazz Festival in Jerusalem on September 8, 2020. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Cohen himself — not to be confused with the top jazz bassist of the same name — was also to perform this year in a duet with drummer Dan Mayo.

While Cohen would have loved to bring in international musicians again, he said there is no shortage of local talent in Israel, including many who spent years honing their skills abroad before returning home, as he did.

Pandemic or not, Cohen said, the show must go on, declaring proudly that “Israeli jazz dares.”

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