The Music Never Stops: A Report from Israel

Many TST readers, like me, are of an age that we can recall Pearl Harbor, the camps at Auschwitz, and the atrocities of the Japanese soldiers in Burma and the Pacific. We also remember the wonderful music of the time—Benny, the Dorsey brothers, Artie Shaw and more. Today, two generations or more, the atrocities are forgotten—Germany and Japan are among our closest friends and allies.

This is the epiphany that came to me this morning as I reflect on the atrocities of October 7 inflicted by Hamas which has led to the ongoing suffering of the Gaza civilians as Israel tries to uproot the fanatics.

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Here in Tel Aviv, the music never stopped. After a short hiatus, Shablul, my favorite jazz club, opened its doors to a series of concerts with all proceeds going to help the thousands of Israelis who have been uprooted by the horrific shock attack. Musicians of all genres traveled throughout Israel to perform for the uprooted and homeless survivors living in makeshift accommodations.

A particularly poignant evening was one of the first concerts at Shabul in November featuring Achinoam Nini (Noa). Arguably one of the most famous Israeli singers world-wide, she is less known to the jazz world, though she has performed at the Montreux and The North Sea Jazz fests. Her music is influenced by the singer-songwriters of the ’60s such as Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen. Combining these musical and lyrical sensibilities and Noa’s Yemenite roots together with the jazz and classical rock background of her long-time musical partner, Gil Dor, creates their own exceptional sound.

At this event the focus was on recovery and coping. In her opening number she sang of the trauma of the attack as she narrated the moment in her own words before continuing the story setting it to original music. She continued with a selection of her most popular songs as well as displaying her versatility on percussions. Noa is also a strong human-rights activist. She ended the evening with “Beautiful That Way” the theme song of the Oscar award-winning movie Life is Beautiful for which she wrote the lyrics. It’s safe to say that there were few dry eyes in the audience. Her rendition is available on YouTube.

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As the war entered its third month in the new year, the music continued to fill the country. On the Jazz scene Ziv Ben restarted his Hot Music series bringing leading talent from Europe, Trinidad, and the USA including trumpeter, Michael Varekamp (Netherlands) and singer Denise Gordon. Later this year I am looking forward to Molly Ryan appearing. In previous years we have enjoyed Dennis Lichtman, Enrico Tomasso, Eyal Vilner’s Big Band, Gordon Au, and the Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick duo among others. This series offers a package of nine events spread over the year. Each event is repeated at six venues throughout Israel. Together with Ben’s annual New Orleans Jazz Fest, the series are without doubt the most important influence in bringing international hot jazz to Israel.

Shablul was also the venue of a very unusual Saturday noon-time session for young people with Eli Preminger and the Hot Chocolate Factory. The club was packed with youngsters, mostly 6-14 years old, as Eli led a class in New Orleans Jazz explaining the role of the instruments as the band played. Ammon Artzi on trombone fascinated the kids with his slide work just as Shimi Gilad did on banjo. At one point, to the delight of the audience, Eli invited one of the youngsters to participate on stage to play a washboard guided by Shimi. The young people enjoyed the whole gig though my sense, from the dancing in the aisles, was that their mothers enjoyed it as much if not more!

Eli and the Chocolate Factory
Eli and the Chocolate Factory

Another very enjoyable event in late January was “The Three Tenors” dedicated to the great tenors of jazz—Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Dexter Gordon. It featured Amikam Kimelman, Merton Kam, Dror Ben-Gur on tenor saxophones supported by Alec Katz, piano & Roy Kimelman, drums. The outstanding musicianship was received enthusiastically by a full house on a very rainy night. These three tenors are emblematic of the outstanding musical talent that exists in Israel.

For me the highlight was Merton Kam who at 94 years of age is still challenging the “youngsters” to keep up with him! His solo rendition of “Stardust” was a masterpiece of lyricism.

Merton, growing up in Manchester England, is certainly a veteran who remembers World War 2. At the end of the war, at age 15, he bought his first saxophone. In 1947 he joined the army after seeing an ad that two saxophonists were being sought for a military orchestra. In 1949 he was discharged and began to perform in all kinds of orchestras, first in Manchester, then Bermuda and London before arriving in Israel in 1962 where he has been playing ever since.


Amikam Kimelman who produced the program is no lightweight. As graduate of the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University he is a true “home-grown” talent. Amikam has performed in festivals throughout the world as well as serving as past general and academic director of Israel’s outstanding Rimon School of Music where he is currently the head of the external studies programs. He is also musical director and conductor of The Tel Aviv Jazz Orchestra.

So once again the music continues. Returning to my World War 2 “epiphany,” I am reminded of the famous London Windmill Theatre slogan during World War 2: “We never closed.”

Frank Farbenbloom is a traditional jazz supporter based in Israel.

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