By Giilad Atzmon
As an Israeli boy of a patriotic background, I was destined to become a military man. But then, at seventeen, as I was getting myself ready for my IDF compulsory service, the unexpected happened. On a late night jazz radio programme, I heard Charlie Parker first time.
I was knocked down. The music was more organic, poetic, sentimental and wilder than anything I had ever heard before. Parker’s music was intense but it was as well romantic and even melancholic at times.
It was then and there that I realised, my upbringing, Zion, and the IDF notwithstanding, that NYC was my Mecca and Jazz was my Jihad – a spiritual struggle aiming at beauty.
As I grew older, I realised that America was far from being perfect, and it wasn’t necessarily as brilliant as the music of Bird, Ellington or Coltrane’s. Nevertheless it was clear to me that there was something in America and NYC that brought about jazz, that unique combustible mixture of imaginary freedom confronted with harsh oppressive capitalism, urban complexity, all sparked by a lot of talent.
Yesterday I was listening to the legendary Jimmy Cobb playing at Fat Cat. Jimmy is not young, he played with Miles Davis and John Coltrane back in the 1950’s. But his spirit is still very young. And he was surrounded by young musicians who keep jazz alive against all odds.
This weekend I will record in Manhattan with Ben Meigners on upright bass, and Jason Brown on the drums. I am very excited about it. I rarely record in America, but when I do, it is a special event in my career. The recording sessions are open to the public but the number of seats is obviously limited. This would be the first ever recording of this trio. But you could also be a part of it! To book a place: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/455960
Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born British jazz saxophonist, novelist, political activist and writer.
Atzmon’s album Exile was BBC jazz album of the year in 2003. Playing over 100 dates a year, he has been called “surely the hardest-gigging man in British jazz.” His albums, of which he has recorded nine to date, often explore the music of the Middle East and political themes. He has described himself as a “devoted political artist.” He supports the Palestinian right of return and the one-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His criticisms of Zionism, Jewish identity, and Judaism, as well as his controversial views on The Holocaust and Jewish history have led to allegations of antisemitism from both Zionists and anti-Zionists. A profile in The Guardian in 2009 which described Atzmon as “one of London’s finest saxophonists” stated: “It is Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than his music that has given him an international profile, particularly in the Arab world, where his essays are widely read.”