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An AAJ Interview with Issi Rozen

By Published: February 5, 2004

AAJ: Was there any watershed moment where you decided (or discovered) that you simply had to become a musician? Please elaborate.

IR: During high school I found myself practicing for hours every day. At that point I realized that this is my real passion in life and started thinking about a future as a musician. After high school I had to serve the mandatory three years in the Israeli army. During that time I decided to move to Boston to study at Berklee.

AAJ: When did your first exposure to jazz occur? What was your reaction?

IR: My first guitar teacher played a Joe Pass recording for me (one of the virtuoso albums on Pablo). It was so incredible and different than anything I heard before that I immediately ran and bought a Joe Pass record. I could not believe that anyone could play so incredibly well. I definitely did not believe that I will be able to play jazz one day. It seemed impossible.

AAJ: Who or what are your most profound sources for influence and inspiration? (this can include nonmusical items) Why or how do these influence and inspire you?

IR: John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery and Jimi Hendrix.

John Coltrane because of the passion you can hear in every note he plays and his endless pursuit of new ways to express himself. He always did something new and his music constantly changed and evolved.

Wes Montgomery because of the purity of his playing. He played everything by ear and always sounded incredible both melodically and rhythmically. You never hear him rely on technical exercises or repeating the same old licks.

Jimi Hendrix was an amazing player who completely changed rock guitar. Again, like Coltrane, you can hear such passion in his playing. He was unbelievably creative and had such a unique voice on the guitar.

The qualities that these three musicians so clearly exhibited in their music are extremely important to me in my own music. They are a great source of inspiration and had influenced both my playing and writing.

AAJ: 1998 finds the release of your first recording, Red Sea (Brownstone). What were the circumstances that led to this recording?

IR: I founded my group around 1995. By 1998 I felt that the group had developed a strong and unique sound and I wanted to record the material we were performing. We also had a lot of original material that I thought would be great to feature on the recording. I contacted Jack Wertheimer from Brownstone Recordings, sent him a demo tape and he was very interested in releasing our CD. We went into the studio and recorded 11 tunes. Initially, I was planning to choose the best ones out of the 11 but they all sounded really good so all of them ended up on the CD.

AAJ: 2000 sees the release of your second recording, 'Homeland Blues' (Brownstone). Apart from the change in the rhythm section (Dave Smallwood and Harvey Wirht replacing Jim Stechschulte and Steve Langone on bass and drums respectively) what else would you define as being different about this recording? As follow up, what do you see as being the similarities?

IR: 'Homeland Blues' is closer to the sound I am looking for. After the experience of recording 'Red Sea' and working with the band for two more years I was able to get the music to sound more and more the way I want it to sound. The album has a more powerful and deeper sound. Also, my writing had developed further by that time and the tunes on 'Homeland Blues' are more sophisticated harmonically.

There are also strong similarities between the two albums since the musical vision behind them is the same. I tried to feature the unique personality and background of each musician in the band. My writing is also a link between the two CDs. I tend to write mostly in minor keys with Middle Eastern and Latin motives.

AAJ: Your third recording, Dark Beauty (New Step Music) was recently released. In retrospect, what did you learn from composing, performing, and recording the first two recordings that you applied to this one?

IR: The biggest learning experience was that the music sounds best when you let everyone loose to experiment and try new ideas, so as a result, there is much more freedom in the playing on Dark Beauty. Another thing that was very important to me was to capture the musical interplay between the band members that is such a strong part of our sound during live performances.

AAJ: As follow up, what aspect of making Dark Beauty was the most fun? What was most difficult or challenging? What did you learn from this recording that you'll take forward to the next one?

IR: The most fun was definitely recording the album. We had a great time in the studio, we booked three days in the studio but we finished recording the album in two days and there was no need to come back the third day. The most difficult part of making the album was choosing which takes to put on the CD. Since the band played so great in the studio we had multiple takes of some tunes and they all sounded so great that it was very hard to pick which ones should go on the album.

The most important lesson for me is to create a relaxed atmosphere in the studio where everyone feels comfortable to try out new ideas and stretch out as much as possible during solos and when accompanying the other musicians.

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