Gospel and Big Band in Tel Aviv

Maybe because it is the Holyland, the mythical land of prayer and salvation, that Israel was the right setting for the premiere of Eyal Vilner’s latest musical exploration. Eyal Vilner’s Big Band is an established feature in the USA Jazz scene. Tammy McCann enjoys a similar repute in Gospel and Soul circles.

In a homage to Mahalia Jackson, Eyal and Tammy collaborated to create an original musical experience combining Gospel with Big Band Jazz which they premiered in Tel Aviv this past May. The result was two hours of sheer pleasure for music lovers.

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Eyal’s arrangements are brilliant. One moment we are at a Gospel revival meeting, the next it’s the toe tapping sound of big band with shades of Ellington and Basie. The transitions are so smooth one forgets this is not normal to the ear of fans of either genre. Instead of a choir responding to Tammy’s call to prayer, it’s a quartet of saxes supported by the four-man brass line that answers.

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Tammy McCann and Eyal Vilner pay tribute to the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, in a series of concerts held in Israel in May 2019. (photo by Peter Vit, Hot Jazz Israel)

The show opened with the “Rabbit,” an original instrumental composition by Eyal, before introducing Tammy. From her rousing “Come In This House” the audience responded with delight as Tammy and Eyal offered a mix of traditional gospel numbers such as “Elijah Rock” and “Walk in Jerusalem” all with original arrangements by Eyal. Tammy’s rendition of “Move” in memory of Martin Luther King was particularly moving. In “Come Sunday” taken from Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige suite, Eyal himself offered with a beautiful clarinet solo. In a couple of the arrangements, we could even hear the influence of Middle Eastern music with Eran Fink playing the Darbuka drum.

“Down By The Riverside,” a crowd favorite delivered in a more Dixieland style was received enthusiastically with audience participation as was the closing “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.” This latter was the encore number to a standing ovation.

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Born in Tel Aviv, saxophonist/ clarinetist/ flutist/ arranger/ composer/ conductor Eyal Vilner moved to New York in 2007 and graduated from the prestigious New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in 2009. Since its inception in 2008, The Eyal Vilner Big Band has been performing widely at some of New York’s landmarks such as Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club, Iridium, Smalls Jazz Club, Swing 46, Minton’s Playhouse, and Central Park Summer Stage. Their first three albums, Introducing the Eyal Vilner Big Band (2012), Almost Sunrise (2015), and Hanukkah (2017), received rave reviews and stand strong at the Top Jazz Radio Charts of the US and Canada. Their new album Swing Out! will be released in July 2019. More information and upcoming concerts can be found at www.eyalvilner.com.

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Eyal Vilner leads his big band in Tel Aviv, May 2019. (photo by Peter Vit, Hot Jazz Israel)

Tammy McCann has been named as “Best Jazz Vocal Performance” for several years by the Chicago Tribune. Her powerful, sultry, and emotionally charged voice paints pictures and tells stories by merging Classical vocal technique and Gospel esthetic with Jazz to create a sound that is completely her own.

McCann has thrilled audiences in festivals and clubs world-wide as well as in the nation’s premier Jazz venues. For more information go to www.tammymccann.com.

All the musicians for this concert are outstanding in their own right. Daniel Pearson, Yuval Drakin, Erez Bar Noy, and Eden Bareket made up the reed line. Edo Gur and Assa Kook on trumpets supported by Jonathan Peled and Yoav Trifman on trombones made up the brass section. As each song was played, Eyal called on one of them to stand for a solo turn. Katia Toobool provided beautiful piano support while Tal Ronen on bass with Eran Fink on drums kept the beat swinging. They too had outstanding solo turns.

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This concert was the last in the Hot Jazz series offered annually by promoter Ziv Ben. Each year he brings an eclectic selection of European and American Jazz performers to Israel. The concerts are always sold-out proof that Jazz is alive and well in Israel. Ziv Ben also founded the “Tel Aviv New Orleans Festival”, now in its 3rd year, each June with Eyal Vilner as artistic director. More information at eng.hotjazz.co.il.

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