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An AAJ Interview with Issi Rozen

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My inspiration usually comes from great concerts. That is the only thing that consistently restores my creative energy. Whenever I see someone like Elvin Jones play I run home and play the guitar or write a new tune.
"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" ' H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" ' David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920's

'There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.' ' Ken Olson (President of Digital Equipment Corporation) at the Convention of the World Future Society in Boston, 1977.



February 1, 2004 ' This afternoon Super Bowl XXXVIII will be played and viewed by millions of people across the world. Twenty years ago, during Super Bowl XVIII, Apple Computer unveiled the Macintosh in what is arguably one of the most famous technology oriented advertisements ever broadcast (does anyone remember what other computers were advertised? Hmmm?). This commercial was extraordinarily impressive upon this recently graduated double E with his impassioned concern for technology's effects, good and bad, upon society.

Twenty years later most of those concerns remain and a number of new ones have emerged. As negative examples: One year ago today space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry. This weekend it is reported that computers to be used for e-voting in Maryland have 'vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious individuals' while the Mydoom virus overwhelmed the website of a small software company, effectively knocking that company off the Internet.

On the positive side, this article is being written on a laptop computer, wirelessly connected to a broadband modem. Apple has moved beyond computing and into consumer electronics with its iPod mobile music device and iTunes music service (and is partnering with Pepsi to make available 100 MILLION legally downloadable tunes according to the advertisement broadcast seconds ago).

What does all of this have to do with jazz? Well, obviously you wouldn't even be reading this if it wasn't for a host of technologies developed over the past century plus.

Eventually, you may not even be hearing jazz without a connection to the Internet (barring hanging out at your local jazz nightclub). It's left to you, gentle reader, as to whether or not that is a good or bad thing (but this jazz fan is excited to think on the inevitability for seeing and hearing live music from half way around the planet, performed by musicians that might never ordinarily be seen or heard).

But as a legitimate concern, how does this impact the commerce of conventional audio/video distribution? Equally importantly, what impact does this have on the working musician?

One musician who has thought about these issues is guitarist/composer Issi Rozen whose latest (and third) recording, the aptly named Dark Beauty, was recently released on his own label New Step Music as both a conventional CD and as a downloadable MP3. Issi Rozen's second recording Homeland Blues was picked as one of the top 20 CDs in 2000 by WBEZ radio in Chicago, while in 1999, he won the "Best Jazz Performer" award from Boston Magazine in its annual "Best of Boston" issue.

In addition to performing and recording, Issi Rozen also teaches. In 2002, he joined the faculty of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston where he teaches guitar and music theory.

Of Dark Beauty, AAJ contributor Michael P. Gladstone writes:

'Most of the 71 minutes are comprised of Rozen's own compositions with a lesser-known Charlie Parker tune, 'Segment,' and a traditional Israeli song, 'Sheharhoret' (the translation of the album's title), included'I have seen a lot of references to Pat Metheny and Jim Hall as Rozen's guitar influences and, in fact, having been in receipt of this subliminal observation, much of his playing has elements of both guitarists. What separates Rozen from the pack is his unhurried pace and articulation of clear, bell-like notes. Also, Rozen's compositions have a distinct Middle Eastern flavor, which is only natural, having been exposed to both Arabic and Israeli musical influences.' (All About Jazz, January 2004)

To mark the release of Dark Beauty and the inception of New Step Music, Issi Rozen graciously agreed to this interview, which was conducted via e-mail during Dec. 2003/Jan. 2004.

All About Jazz: Would you please tell the AAJ readers about where you were born, raised, and what your earliest musical memories are?

Issi Rozen: I was born in Haifa, Israel but moved to Tel-Aviv at an early age. I lived in Tel-Aviv until I moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. My earliest musical memories are the lullabies my mother used to sing. Interestingly, they were mostly in minor keys as most of traditional Israeli songs.

AAJ: What led you to choose guitar as instrument of choice?

IR: I saw a TV show with kids playing guitars and immediately asked my father to buy me one. I was 10 years old at that time.

AAJ: How would you describe your musical education? Formal? Informal? Both?

IR: Both. I took guitar lessons for many years and I attended Berklee but a lot of my musical education came from listening to records, transcribing music and learning from musicians I played with.


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