Jazz guitarist Roni Ben-Hur has earned a sterling reputation as a musician and educator, renowned for his golden tone, improvisational brilliance, compositional lyricism and ability to charm peers, students and listeners alike. Eminent jazz critic Gary Giddins wrote in the Village Voice: “A limber and inventive guitarist, Ben-Hur keeps the flame alive and pure, burning in every note… He’s a guitarist who knows the changes and his own mind.” Roni — born in Israel in 1962 but a longtime American citizen, based in the New York City area — has recorded a dozen-plus albums as leader or co-leader, with The New York Times praising his “crisp, fluid style” and Time Out New York calling him “a formidable and consummately lyrical guitarist.” He has developed a rare facility in both straight-ahead jazz and samba/bossa-nova styles, underscored by his work with masters in each field, from bebop piano sage Barry Harris and winds ace Frank Wess to beloved Brazilian vocalist Leny Andrade and composer Marcus Valle.
Roni’s newest album as a leader, Stories — released by Dot Time Records in March 2021 — features a poetic mix of songs and instrumentals, one that sees the guitarist tracing a line from childhood musical memories in Israel to his life today as a globally minded artist. JazzTimes, in its glowing review of Stories, noted the guitarist’s inspired interplay with such generationally diverse talents as pianist George Cables and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, as well as vocalists from Israel and Mexico; the review went on to laud Roni and company’s brand of storytelling as “distinctive” and “uniformly engaging.” Always an educator as well as a performer, Roni has directed the jazz program at New York’s Kaufman Music Center for more than 25 years. Along with creating acclaimed educational products – such as the method book Talk Jazz: Guitar — Roni has also directed international music camps for two decades, currently leading his Roni Ben-Hur Jazz Camp in Vermont and France. Jazz guitar star Russell Malone got it right when he said: “Everything Roni does is beautiful. He has the magic touch.”
Originally from Tunisia, Roni’s family relocated to Dimona, Israel, where he was born into a large, working-class family — and grew up not only with good ensemble values but also a sense for the necessity of improvisation. Going on intuition above all, the guitarist began performing in wedding bands and in Tel Aviv clubs as a teenager enraptured by the recordings of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Joe Pass, Jim Hall and Kenny Burrell. The young musician also came to love the classical Spanish repertoire via the iconic guitarist Segovia, hearing a Moorish sound that resonated with his family’s North African roots. Later, after moving to New York City in 1985, he would fall for Brazilian music, particularly through the work of guitarist-composer Baden Powell.