October 24, 2011
Ohad Talmor was here for several days in the last week of October of 2011 for a master class at the Hochschule Luzern Musik Jazz Abteilung and also for rehearsals and a performance with the Lucerne Jazz Orchestra of his compositions and arrangements.
Possessing 4 passports (France, Switzerland, Israel and the US) Ohad currently resides in Brooklyn, NY .
Die Gespräche werden geführt von Gerry Hemingway, Dozent für Schlagzeug, Ensemble und Kompostion
We began by discussing Ohad's Israeli heritage, which was elaborate to say the least with both grandparents surviving different ghetto & war experiences and each of his parents (as children) having emigrated to Israel in their early life. Then later, during his parent's studies, they began living in France where Ohad was born, and shortly after that the family returned briefly to Israel again. With Ohad still very young, his father continued his doctorate studies in physics in Geneve where the majority of Ohad's childhood and early years were spent. As he put it, his existence in Geneve was characterized by what he termed as the leftover “ghetto mentality” of his parents, whose social milieu was an enclave of Jewish/Israeli immigrants living in Geneve, and so Ohad did not really encounter the local Swiss culture, and speak French until years later when he was thoroughly entrenched in primary school.
Ohad also described his parents as intellectuals, who valued art very highly and culture in general and who insisted that he and his siblings study classical piano. This lead to Ohad eventually finishing his classical piano studies at the conservatory, which in addition to earning him a very strong musical and technical foundation also engendered a deep love and reverence for the classical world. His parents as well as the Jewish culture he was growing up exacted a very narrow view of virtuosity and success in music and so the models he was expected to rise to were Horowitz and Rubenstein, anything less would be deemed a failure. Then shortly before departing to the US to further his studies, Ohad encountered Jazz which as he put it, “set a firework off” in his curiosity and interest to pursue this music. Watching Memphis Slim at around age fifteen was his entrance into the mystery of improvisation, having never heard or seen anything in this musical direction until this point. Shortly after this he heard Sonny Rollins and that “brought the house down” and he knew then what he wanted to do in music.
His time in the US began in what in the States is referred to as High School (Secondary education or more or less the equivalent to Gymnasium) in a program that included jazz big band at his High School in Plantation, Florida (note the vestige of Old Southern history in the name of the town). At this time he started to play saxophone in addition to piano but did not reach a level where he could continue his education at the University of Miami, and so returned to Switzerland for the next chapter of his education. He completed his conservatory studies and then entered the University of Geneva with a major in Philosophy, and a minor in Musicology. Though these were areas of intellectual interest, his musical passion and the development of his playing as a saxophonist happened less visibly but no less passionately with continued listening to a steady stream of inspirational recordings including Saxophone Colossus, Oscar Peterson with Stan Getz, and in particular Monk at the Five Spot with Johnny Griffin. One thing he recognized as a listener and in his nature as a musician was that he wanted to understand the inner workings of each piece he studied. This, he discovered, was his way of developing his own way with music which would later be wedded to his cultivation of the more intuitive ways of thinking that underlie improvisation.
I asked Ohad whether his understanding of the virtuosity of classical technique and repertoire had any useful relation to the dexterity and speed of jazz improvisation to which he replied that it had not for him only because his girlfriend at the time was a very advanced classical pianist and so in his thinking he made a segregation of the content of jazz as a place where his passion and interest could develop individuated from that of classical piano which, given the talent he was surrounded by, left him feeling lesser than and incapable of reaching the level of his friends and colleagues.
Still the classical element would continue to provide possibilities for Ohad. Another important connection for him happened when he returned to Geneve after High School in Florida in 1990. He was invited (thanks to his reading ability) to play in a Geneva based “West Coast” style big band, which included the soloist, Lee Konitz. Thanks as well to his capacity with English he also served as the translator to this project and this offered a possibility for Ohad to get to know Lee Konitz more personally. He understood Konitz's importance historically partly from having heard recordings but also from the Penguin guide of jazz musicians, which was a useful tool in introducing himself to many of the personalities in the field of jazz he was gradually beginning to encounter. Lee also introduced to him to many practical techniques and fundamentals particularly regarding how one's capacity to be expressive within form depends on one's capacity to keep their place in form.
The conduit for a series of encounters with Lee Konitz as well as a number of other distinguished jazz artists was the organization in Geneve called AMR - Sud des Alpes, which functions both as a school for a large variety of jazz and improvised music as well as a presenter of an equally diverse array of artists in it's concert space. Ohad was involved at one point during his time at AMR with the organization of concerts and some of the administrative work of this organization.
Between his development of work possibilities within Geneve and Switzerland that allowed him to develop projects that involved Lee Konitz, he was simultaneously commuting to NY where eventually in 1993-4 an opportunity arose for him to compose a large ensemble work featuring Lee, for an ensemble that included strings as well as more conventional jazz orchestration. Such a prodigious output is not a mystery to Ohad, it was simply hard, dedicated and focused work that accelerated his development as a musician. When NYC finally became his home later in the decade, he continued his studies in composition at the Manhattan School of Music. In three semesters he got his degree, and eventually his marriage to an American woman would resolve any remaining immigration issues, allowing him to finally call NYC home.
Ohad says of NY that one of the most important facets of a musical life there is the fact that you become part of a larger musical community of like-minded musicians. “You don't go to NY for the quality of life, you go for all the other reasons”. He went on to say NY embraces such a diversity of cultures and people, which is also reflected in the music, yielding a less definable and therefore more open ended musical culture.
Then our discussion took a turn towards looking in more detail at the musical methodologies of linear improvisation related to Lee Konitz and his associates to better understand Ohad's relationship to this rich area of music making. He began by addressing that Konitz's music contains many contradictions, that it is not “pure improvisation” as it is sometimes referred too. It's rules are quite clear regarding linear (rather than vertical) invention on existing song forms, and that the manner of line development for most of the players associated with Lennie Tristano, who Ohad referred to as “the church”, stayed close to the approach Lennie created. Lee slowly broke away from Tristano's specific linear methodologies as he sought his own voice, but on the other hand he did not reject all together some of the basic tenets of song form improvisation. Ohad himself, whose own music was clearly affected by his association with Lee, also endured a fallout in his friendship and association with Lee due primarily to Ohad's curiosity for other music which jibed with Konitz's conservative musical universe.
In the interview we investigated the standard “High How the Moon” comparing a version of Art Tatum, Tristano/Konitz quartet, and Ohad's own group, Newsreel playing a line based on this standard co-written by Ohad and Lee, “Moon”. I encourage you to listen to the podcast of the interview for the detail of this discussion and investigation, along side of the musical examples.
Towards the end of our interview we turned to a more recent area of musical discovery and nutrition, Indian classical music. Ohad primarily attributes his association with drummer Dan Weiss, whose deep investigation and mastery of North Indian tabla, encouraged his interest in Hindustani music with artists such as Hariprasad Chaurasia (Bansuri) & Nikhil Bannerjee (Sitar).
So far Indian classical music has primarily informed and affected Ohad's writing more directly than his playing. Much of his recent writing derives it's conceptual base from some of the rhythmic and melodic systems of Hindustani music. He recently completed a concerto for soloists Dan Weiss and Jason Moran; two wonderful examples of musicians who share his interest in blurring the lines between the precise interpretation of notated music and the capacity to improvise music within a multiplicity of disciplined systems.
“I believe very much that beauty and truth lies very much in what Bartok was doing with music that was close to the people. There is something universal and resonating in music, that is close to us or that can be awoken in each of us. 'Traditional' Music comes from traditions that root people.”
Gerry Hemingway (September 2012)