Take Five With Yoni Kretzmer

Yoni Kretzmer By

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Meet Yoni Kretzmer:

Before moving to New York City in 2010, Jerusalem born tenor saxophonist and composer Yoni Kretzmer was an active member in the growing Tel Aviv nu-music scene leading various groups such as New Dilemma (chamber/free jazz string quintet) and Far From Home (free/folk quintet with two acoustic guitars). For the premier of New Dilemma at the Jerusalem/Khan Theater, Tel Aviv Jazz Festival Producer Barack Weiss wrote for NANA, "It has been a long time since I have last experienced such a sincere and impressive performance, in its willingness of the artist to expose the full force of his most inner feelings."

Kretzmer has been a sideman for Albert Beger and Harold Rubin, and performed and curated many shows and festivals including October Jazz Fest, Red Sea Jazz Festival and Tel Aviv Jazz festival.

Yoni attended the American School of Modern Music (Paris, France) and has studied with Rick Margitza, Matthieu Donarier, Ellery Eskelin and Assif Tsahar. He currently leads 2Bass Quartet (Sean Conly, Reuben Radding, Mike Pride) and 6 Boxes (Daniel Levin, Eyal Maoz, Andrew Drury), and has released four CDs under his own name: New Dilemma (Tanchelson, Cohen-Shani, Ettun, Feinglod), One Afternoon (Jacoby, Fershtman), Nevertheless (Ajemian, Pride) and Overlook (Levy, Ran, Peskoff). New Dilemma was rated top five in Ha`aretz. Kretzmer actively runs the Out Now Recordings recprd label with Israeli musician Ido Bukelman


Tenor saxophone.

Teachers and/or influences?

My first was David Perkins, a colorful, larger than life figure who remains a great influence to this day. I continued to study with Mattiew Donarier, Assif Tsahar and Ellery Eskelin. My greatest influences are Albert Ayler, Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Ellery Eskelin, Tim Berne, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Coleman Hawkins, David S. Ware and so many more

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

When I understood music enables you to go deep into life's guts with the sole purpose of dedicating yourself to it.

Your sound and approach to music:

I believe jazz—and music in general—is a live organism. If it does not grow and develop it dies. I do not strive to be avant-garde, yet if music is static and non-evolving I lose interest. Music can go nowhere but forward, being a museum piece, or trying to recreate ancient times is futile; the only thing one can do is try and display her/his current day take of the same spirit that was displayed by our heroes.

A good saxophone sound is one that resonates until and beyond absurdity. The feeling of the reed must collide with a strong subconscious predetermined sense of what that sound should—or could—be. When the physical and emotional feelings meet there is nothing like it; when they do not it might lend you the ability to see yourself from the outside and redirect your focus.

Your teaching approach:

Teaching a student new to playing music I aim to pass on the deepest love of music in its unburdening yet profoundest form. If that is one's base what could go wrong?

When a natural eagerness is sparked, the teacher's main job is done.

In addition, I think that listening to music is as important as playing—maybe more. The continued search for new and challenging music has been a lifelong passion and I'm almost religiously passionate about passing it on, not just to music students but to anybody. The recorded history of jazz is a testament to the will of its creators; enabling someone to hear that will within the music, with all its implications, is an important achievement for any teacher.

Your dream band:

My dream band would be a lasting one that evolves over years. I am excited about my 2Bass quartet with drummer Mike Pride and bassists Sean Conly and Reuben Radding; each time we finish a show I'm eager for the next time to come and the countless possibilities upon which we have not yet touched.

I like leading a few band simultaneously, bands with different approaches. The 2Bass Quartet is more open and, although does have charts, they are so vague it is almost like playing a totally improvised set with just a few general guidelines. My group 66 Boxes, with Eyal Maoz, Daniel Levin and Andrew Drury, is more composition-based; the pieces are still open, yet have clear chapters and movements.

Favorite venue:

Levontin 7, Tel Aviv.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I think my main contribution might be adding to the pool of musicians who still feel music is art and not an entertaining pastime activity. In setting my standard there, whether my music in itself touches anybody or not, I'm already helping to amplify the seriousness this music demands and deserves.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

While there is a lot of outstanding music coming out these days, in my opinion jazz is facing a crisis. From the get-go jazz—meaning improvisation-based music—had traits of rebellion, a rebellion that manifested itself in a struggle against the convention of the day, against the way many people thought the world should be—a struggle against racism and a struggle for freedom, human freedom and freedom of expression.

For me, the trait of the struggle within, is at least a good a definition of the word jazz as any musical one could lend. In other means the spirit rather that the shape, is what might define this music and its characteristics.

The vibrancy of Louis Armstrong was kept alive in Charlie Parker, then Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Ayler and so forth. The inner struggle was still in their music, the desire to live life to its fullest and dispense of any social restraint was heard in every note.

Maybe jazz today has lost that battle? Maybe the ever-growing, cooperative, mass-producing world has crashed it? I think that without noticing we might have been beaten; without noticing, we have given in to many restrictions that have not been artistically motivated, but rather are socially or falsified as financially motivated. It is as though we are in a sci-fi movie, that the moment "they" win you over is the very same moment you become unaware they have won you over.

If jazz is a cry for freedom, if jazz is a refusal to live in a strictly materialistic world where only money has value of any kind, if jazz sees every human as deserving the exact same rights as his or her fellow human brother or sister—if jazz is all of that, and I know it is, than there is a deep crisis in the music today.

I can sometimes feel the moment that I give in; sometimes I don't want to be a nuisance, why? Where does this come from? Shouldn't we, the musicians, at least try and determine what is good or bad, pleasant or horrifying? In general jazz today does not stand its ground; many think that we shouldn't upset people or else we will lose the crowd. In my opinion, jazz has lost its crowd (and, even worse, is looked at as not a very high form of art) exactly because we did not stand our ground, exactly because we gave in to other considerations, and exactly because we lost the passion and ceased to struggle. Who would want to hear a music that does not agonize and struggle in order to be heard?

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

In order for jazz to be alive the actual music, down to the very most basic sound, has to be alive, oozing with freshness and vitality. It is not possible to awaken the dead; we have to recreate, we cannot ignore our own time's crises for the glory of days now passed. The challenge is to manage to play our current time (because another option does not exist) while enabling the history and inner soul of the music to help us rise above the deceptions of these days.

Jazz can be a tool to differentiate from what's right and wrong, and good and bad; but one has to humble oneself before the music, and humility is a tricky thing. On one side there is something arrogant about the mere attempt to even play music; on the other, without that arrogance we would not have music. Somewhere in between those two positions is the honest, uncompromising, relentless humility that this music deserves. The famous prayer comes to mind: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

What is in the near future?

At the moment I'm working on a bunch of different projects simultaneously. I Hope to record a second CD for my 2Bass quartet this summer, diving deeper into the rumbling and hunting sound this band can generate. Graceless, the new CD of my group 66 Boxes should be out in a couple of month. Another CD, with double bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Harvey Sorgen, should be out very soon. Aside from all this I'm close to finishing the composing stage for my chamber ensemble, New Dilemma, I released one CD with this third stream group in 2009 and can't wait to reestablish it here in New York.

By Day:

I teach Jewish religious studies to teens.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

A gardener.


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