Jazz journey of international artists at Jerusalem festival
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Jazz journey of international artists at Jerusalem festival

Visiting musicians include Rickie Lee Jones at Israel Museum event directed by trumpeter Avishai Cohen

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

Trumpeter and artistic director Avishai Cohen at the Jerusalem Jazz Festival in 2015 (Courtesy Yossi Zwecker)
Trumpeter and artistic director Avishai Cohen at the Jerusalem Jazz Festival in 2015 (Courtesy Yossi Zwecker)

Mid-December brings The Second Jerusalem Jazz Festival, held December 14-16 in the galleries and open spaces of the Israel Museum. It’s directed by jazz musician Avishai Cohen, the now expat trumpeter who loves nothing more than to come “home” to Israel.

It’s a smart move having Cohen, with his global network of jazz artists, direct the festival, which is part of the Israel Festival annual program. This year, Cohen arranged an eclectic list of musicians, not all of them jazz artists, as part of his penchant for “bringing music that is more than just cool jazz,” he said, speaking from an airport lounge in Mumbai.

“I want it to be to be interesting and moving,” said Cohen. “What I love about music is when it’s honest and coming from the heart. It’s definitely an emotional journey for the listener, and that’s my goal when I play and write and when I curate a festival as well. I instinctively pick the people that can deliver that experience — not just a famous name, I don’t care about that. They should want to come for the right reasons. It should be a journey, an experience for the listeners and for the musicians.”

The event, which is part of the city’s annual Israel Festival, also partners with local music institution Yellow Submarine, the Jerusalem Foundation and the Israel Museum.

This year’s three-night jazz show includes five pieces curated specifically for the festival, as well as some unexpected treats and jams as musicians gather and wander around the halls and galleries of the museum. The visiting musicians include American vocalist Rickie Lee Jones and the Non-Standards Project, Jeff Ballard, Jason Lindner, Mark Turner, Too Many Zooz, Anat Fort, Ilan Salem, and the Avishai Cohen Quartet.

Jones is the biggest name of the visiting artists, a two-time Grammy winner who first won for her 1980 song “Chuck E.’s in Love.”

She’s a folk rocker, from a different place,” said Cohen. “But she’s doing a very specific project and it was very courageous of her to come. I was very surprised she said yes because you need to be bold to do this, and to take a young arranger to mess around with her music. To me, this is jazz, to throw yourself out there and see what happens.”

Cohen and Turner, a well-known saxophonist, are part of a quartet that plays together often, including this week in Europe.

For Cohen, finding the right people to perform is like putting a puzzle together. His goal, he said, is more than just “cool jazz.”

“I need people who I know could gain from the experience of playing in the museum,” he said. “It’s about being intimate with the audience right in front of you, and this is how I play and make music. It has to be alive and current.”

The Israel Museum, said Cohen, is part of the overall experience.

“I’m a touring musician,” he said. “I come every night to a club, a hall, a festival, and then suddenly you reach this place and you know it’s going to be different.”

Last year, said Cohen, they were playing in the museum and one of the musicians asked if it was a real Picasso hanging on the wall.

It was.

“If you’re an artist, art excites you, it provokes,” he said. “The museum is an amazing tool and a challenge for the musicians and I’m curious to see it for my own show and with Mark.”

And despite the time he’s spent away from Israel over the past 20 years, there’s nothing quite like coming home.

“It’s one of my preferred places to play,” said Cohen. “The audience is amazing, always warm and no bullshit. If you give, you receive, but it’s not an automatic thing. You have to want to give.”

The Second Jerusalem Jazz Festival, Wednesday through Friday, December 12-14, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10:30 a.m. Friday. See the Jerusalem Jazz Festival website for details about the tickets available to the gallery and auditorium performances.

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