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Tamir Hendelman: Living a Dream

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Tamir HendelmanOne of those "overnight sensations" who's been working steadily for years, Israeli-born pianist and composer Tamir Hendelman has finally caught a rocket. A member of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and the Jeff Hamilton
Jeff Hamilton
Jeff Hamilton
b.1953
drums
, as well as leader of his own groups, Hendelman is also a first-call arranger and accompanist for some of the best vocalists around, including Roberta Gambarini, Jackie Ryan
Jackie Ryan
Jackie Ryan

vocalist
, Angela Hagenbach
Angela Hagenbach
Angela Hagenbach

vocalist
and Greta Matassa
Greta Matassa
Greta Matassa

vocalist
. He was involved in pop icon Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand
b.1942
vocalist
's flirtation with jazz, playing on her Love is the Answer (Columbia, 2009) and also backing her on Oprah's TV show, in London, and at the Village Vanguard.



Jeff Hamilton says, in a 2006 AAJ interview, that "he's a joy to work with, and his talents keep reaching new levels." Jackie Ryan puts it this way: "Tamir is a sensitive and perceptive accompanist. His ideas are wonderful and fresh, and he brings a unique voice to every song he arranges."



Although Hendelman's reputation for elegance and heart continues to grow in musical circles, he's gotten surprisingly very little attention from the press, with this his first ever U.S interview.



All About Jazz: Lately you seem to be everywhere at once, and people are reacting as if you suddenly appeared, as the song says, "Out of Nowhere." When they ask, "Where did this Tamir Hendelman come from?" the easiest answer is, "Israel." By the way, what's going on in Israel with all these great jazz players all of a sudden? Like guitarist/oudist Amos Hoffman

Amos Hoffman
Amos Hoffman
b.1970
guitar, 8-string
, not one but two Avishai Cohen
Avishai Cohen
Avishai Cohen
b.1970
bass
s (trumpeter and bassist), reed player Anat Cohen
Anat Cohen
Anat Cohen

sax, tenor
and pianist Yaron Herman
Yaron Herman
Yaron Herman

piano
. What are you guys doing over there, anyway?



TH: Having a lot of fun?



AAJ: In the past few years, it feels like a tsunami of Israeli jazz musicians has been hitting our shores.



TH: It's actually a mix of cultures, with people coming from Eastern Europe—my grandmother came from Poland—and all the Russian musicians who bring that tradition. Then you have people from Yemen, and the Sephardic culture, and all the Mediterranean and Arab music.



AAJ: All those great rhythms. So, what were your musical beginnings?



TH: My first instrument was electric organ, which was a popular instrument of the time, back in the 1980s. When I first heard piano I wasn't knocked out. I was six years old, and I heard this teacher play a really bad upright console piano, and it was like, "What?" Then I was walking down the street in Tel Aviv, past a music store where someone was demonstrating the organ to a customer—wow! brass, strings, bells, whistles! This was cool—I heard a whole orchestra. So I ran home and told my mother, "Mom, you've got to get me an organ!"



We did a little bit of classical music, a little bit of jazz; I wrote my own songs, we did musicals, all kinds of things—so it was just about music, not only a label. But then I heard some jazz musicians who came to Israel: Chick Corea

Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
and Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin
b.1950
vocalist
, the Swingles Singers, and Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
—and it was, wow. I began to get exposed more heavily into that.



I left Israel when I was about 12, and in the U.S. I switched to piano. The teacher I had in L.A. came from the Yamaha Method where they do a lot of ear training and sight singing, composing, things like that, and she prepped me to compete in this national competition. I got up to the top three. I wrote this original piece, and I thought, "this is great, I'm gonna win." Well, I didn't, but afterward the judge came up to me and said "I thought you should have won," and gave me his card. Of all the places in the U.S., he lived a mile away from me. He was [pianist, arranger, composer, conductor] Joe Harnell, who had conducted for Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee
1920 - 2002
vocalist
, and worked with Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
1917 - 1996
vocalist
.



AAJ: Of course—his "Fly Me to the Moon" single was a big hit in the '60s [1963]. It was one of the earliest bossas.



TH: He also wrote for film and TV, and studied with [revered classical teacher] Nadia Boulanger. He wrote a letter to get me into Eastman [School of Music]. He became my mentor, and later a really good friend—we'd talk about life.



AAJ: Why did you come to America in the first place?

TH: My parents moved to L.A.—they wanted to have an adventure, basically. Change. Growth.



AAJ: And how did you get connected up with Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Jeff Hamilton
b.1953
drums
and John Clayton
John Clayton
John Clayton
b.1952
bass, acoustic
?



TH: I was doing a duo gig in L.A. with Sandra Booker

Sandra Booker
Sandra Booker

vocalist
, a vocalist that I really enjoyed, and Jeff came by. At the break he came over and said, "I never really heard of you, could you tell me a little more about yourself?" We talked a little, exchanged phone numbers. Then a couple of months later [pianist] Larry Fuller left to go with [bassist] Ray Brown
Ray Brown
Ray Brown
1926 - 2002
bass, acoustic
. Jeff invited me to his house, and said "listen, I have this trio, and here's what I'm looking for. We do so many months of touring, we learn so many tunes, here are my CDs, check them out and let me know." And I said I'd love to do it. So that was the beginning of me with Jeff's trio.


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