ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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Lover of nature

Saxophonist Tivon Pennicott visits Israel for week of jazz gigs

Musician whose work appeared on 3 Grammy-winning albums says he wants to observe Israeli work ethic and culture

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

Tivon Pennicott, saxophonist, will perform in Israel on August 14, 15, 16 and 18, 2023 (Courtesy OGATA)
Tivon Pennicott, saxophonist, will perform in Israel on August 14, 15, 16 and 18, 2023 (Courtesy OGATA)

It’s not every day that jazz musician Tivon Pennicott joins his Israeli jazz colleagues in their neck of the woods.

The American composer, orchestrator and tenor saxophonist is in Israel this week for several performances arranged by musical colleagues from the Rimon School of Music, including August 14 at Beit Haamudim, August 15 at Rimon, and August 16 and 18 at Tel Aviv jazz club Shablul.

It’s quite thrilling because “Tivon is a very prominent voice in jazz today,” said Ronen Shmueli, who directs the Rimon Jazz Institute.

Arranging performances during Rimon’s summer recess is a big deal, said Shmueli, but for Pennicott, a saxophonist who contributed work on three Grammy-winning albums, they wanted to create a lot of buzz, “a mini festival,” he added.

Shmueli, a jazz pianist, will host Pennicott along with trombonist Yonatan Voltzok, bassist Yoav Ganor and drummer Roni Kaspi, on August 15 at a jazz evening at Rimon.

It’s a unique opportunity, said Shmueli, calling Voltzok one of the greatest trombonists in the world and delighting in the opportunity to create a cross-generational concert with Pennicott, along with Ganor, a gifted bassist heading to Berklee College of Music next year, and Kaspi, a young percussionist who moved from rock to jazz.

“We wanted to have him share his wisdom and personal perspective regarding improvisation,” added Shmueli. “He’s his generation’s Sonny Rollins,” the 92-year-old American jazz tenor saxophonist.

Pennicott started out as a drummer, first beating on cups with pens and pencils during his family’s morning devotions before church on Sundays. Born and raised in Georgia to devout Jamaican parents, Pennicott’s parents were very religious, and prayer coupled with song and instruments was part of their regular worship.

After learning how to play the drums, Pennicott was urged by his father to learn to play the saxophone at age 12 when he joined the school band. Pennicott said the combination of drums and saxophone built a foundation of rhythm with Jamaican ska and reggae in his musical education.

“It led me to odd rhythms and phrasing,” said Pennicott, and then to Cuban drumming as well, when he landed in Florida to study music at the University of Miami.

Those rhythms eventually led Pennicott to drummer Ari Hoenig, who works with many Israeli jazz musicians.

“It’s a full circle thing because my name is a Hebrew name,” said Pennicott, referring to the name Tivon, which means “nature lover” in Hebrew. “They call me ‘Tee-von,’ it’s a Hebrew name and who am I to say that it’s something else?”

Pennicott said he’s looking forward to his full schedule in Israel, including his August 14 performance at Beit Haamudim, playing with Rimon bass student Yoav Ganor and Roni Kaspi on drums.

He discovered Yoav Ganor on Instagram, and was pleased to connect with him, as Ganor will be in the US to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston in the fall.

Ditto for Caspi, said Pennicott.

“She’s just killing it,” he said. “I’m going to be playing with some hotshot young musicians.”

Pennicott and his Israeli colleagues are equally thrilled at the opportunity.

“There must be something in the water over there,” said Pennicott of the Israeli musicians he’s met and heard over the years. “Israeli musicians are all amazing, high, top level, so I’m curious about that. Why are they so advanced?”

Besides doing some touring and visiting, Pennicott said he wants to observe the Israeli work ethic and culture.

“They’re all just super ready, overprepared,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from them and their natural musical vibe.”

Having Pennicott in town can only help strengthen local jazz circles, said Rimon’s Shmueli.

“Jazz isn’t the most popular music out there,” said Shmueli, “and if this kind of performance lights the fire for some young kid who will go home and listen to jazz, then I rest my case.”

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