Strike a note

Jazz festival returns to Israel Museum with all-Israeli lineup

Artists from abroad unable to participate due to COVID-19 travel restrictions; performances to take place outside, in museum’s sculpture garden

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Trumpeter Avishai Cohen, artistic director of the Jerusalem Jazz Festival (Courtesy Johan Jacobs)
Trumpeter Avishai Cohen, artistic director of the Jerusalem Jazz Festival (Courtesy Johan Jacobs)

This year’s Jerusalem Jazz Festival, taking place in the capital at the Israel Museum on June 24-26, will feature only Israeli artists due to COVID-19 travel restrictions that have prevented international musicians from taking part in the annual event.

“Of course it’s different if you bring artists from all over the world,” said trumpeter Avishai Cohen, the festival’s artistic director. “But people from here [Israel] have something to offer that no one else has.”

Last year, the festival was moved to September, along with its parent event, the Israel Festival, for a rescheduled series of performances that were held in-person as well as online.

This year’s festival is aiming for inspiration from other artistic sources, including some surprises from the Israel Festival, which will be held at the same time.

Each day will open with a musician’s performance inspired by a book, and each day will end with a work of video art inspired by the museum, creating a three-way conversation between the musicians, artwork and the museum, said Cohen.

Performances include the duo of cellist Maya Belsitzman and drummer Matan Ephrat, in an original show inspired by the beloved children’s story “A Tale of Five Balloons,” as well as the Shai Maestro duo working off of Meir Shalev’s “Two She-Bears.”

Director Billy Levy-Nobleman and the Shotnez ensemble, with Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan of Balkan Beat Box, Itamar Ziegler on bass and Uri Brauner Kinrot on guitars, will combine some musical madness and a video inspired by the work of Anish Kapoor and items from the African and Oceania Art Gallery at the museum.

“When I’m thinking about our artistic options, I don’t worry about what the audience will like or not like, but what’s the most creative thing we can do, since we’re a small festival,” said Cohen.

He said he’s looking forward to hosting the festival in the museum’s sculpture garden, after five years inside its galleries, and following last year’s rescheduled festival that was held under strict coronavirus rules.

Although he usually spends a third of the year abroad performing, Cohen, like other artists, has been at home in Israel the last year and a half.

“It’s been unbelievable, what an opportunity to be home and to just be and rethink everything,” Cohen said.

The creativity of the upcoming festival lineup is vital given that the budget for the festival is small, he added.

“It’s one of the cheapest festivals to attend, which I’m proud of,” he said. “For the entire evening, you pay what you would normally pay for one ticket. Whoever likes good music will find something to listen to.”

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