Yaron Herman: An Urgent Need to Play


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Yaron Herman TrioPianist Yaron Herman, an Israeli now living in Paris, is one of the most talented artists of the Parisian jazz musical scene. He was a promising basketball player on the Israeli national junior team when he was cut short by a knee injury. He then decided to take up playing the piano at age 16. His teacher, the renowned Opher Brayer—famous for his methods based on philosophy and mathematics—taught him the craving for self-knowledge and discovery.

At 19, Yaron left for Boston to learn at the Berklee College School of Music, but quickly decided to return to Tel Aviv as it didn't satisfy his personal search. On the way back he stopped over in Paris, met some musicians during a jam session and decided to remain there. He has developed a theory of musical improvisation called Real Time Composition, which led to a series of lectures, given at the Sorbonne University in Paris.

Following the success of his two last albums, Time for Everything (2007) and Muse (2009)—the latter recently nominated for the French Victoires du Jazz award, and both released on the superb French label Laborie Jazz—Yaron Herman is pursuing a marathon-like tour that is taking him to the four corners of the world.

A short one hour concert under the beautiful starlit sun of Montauban. An encounter with an exceptional pianist.

All About Jazz: You are an Israeli, you live in France and you play with American musicians. In fact your music seems to walk free from any frontiers. Do you praise universality with your music?

Yaron Herman: Yes, in the same way that it is not always possible to classify everything. For instance we talk about American jazz when the musicians come from all around Europe and from different backgrounds. Music is not about geography. I know some musicians who live in Finland and play extraordinary traditional jazz.

AAJ: Would it make sense to you if we were to talk about Israeli jazz and put you and Avishai Cohen on the same level?

YH: I can't say it doesn't make sense; because I am an Israeli, like him, and play jazz, like him, it would be very convenient to take that road. It is also very easy to come out with clichés that are not appropriate to the complexity of the human nature and the musician.

AAJ: This evening you played an intro on "Blame It on my Youth," a Real Book standard, which you took directly from the tradition. Is this a way to show your syncretism?

YH: Yes, it's a bit like that. There is a mixing of cultures that are part of me and that unconsciously I mess about with onstage. This comes out completely naturally. This is not a collection of emotions or influences, this is something that comes out naturally; it has been digested and it's part of my life. It's part of a whole.

AAJ: When you started playing, people continued to arrive and were extremely noisy and disrespectful of what was going on onstage. Keith Jarrett would have run away. How do you react in such situations?

YH: Frankly, it doesn't bother me that much. I am quite realistic on that matter: first, because people from around here don't know me; and second, because here in Montauban, eighty percent of the people came to see Keziah Jones. I know people need time to get into the music. But even if it takes time, I try to remain myself, to play my music without making concessions and I try my best to catch them one way or another. But whatever the situation I refuse to stroke the public's ego.

AAJ: When you play in this kind of environment, with a public that is different than one in a Parisian jazz club or even in the Theatre des Champs Elysees, do you know how you are going to set up your concert ?

Yaron Herman TrioYH: I never set up a concert around the public. I don't plan in advance. Each time I try to play what I feel at that moment, and that moment is made of lots of different things. Sometimes you have to provoke and look deeper into things. Each public, each situation, is different. This is the basis of improvisation. Jazz exists for this reason, in order to continuously renew creativity. What interests me is to tell different stories each evening. Sometimes I start with very basic melodic pieces and I distort them. I play with them. Music is also some sort of a child's play.

AAJ: Tonight you played slightly difficult harmonies, almost close to the point of dissonance. Is this not too ambitious when faced with a public who has a limited knowledge of jazz?

YH: Maybe, but again I refuse to stroke the public's ego. I have too much respect for them and for the music. You have to believe that the public is intelligent, otherwise what you do is no better than what you hear on television, for instance, where there is no jazz or classical music anymore. This flashy culture which lacks depth is a real disaster. If you feed people's brain with bad food, they become stupid. I refuse to be part of that.

AAJ: This summer you are going on tour without bassist Matt Brewer, why is that?

YH: He was booked for other concerts at the same time. Therefore I decided to tour with Simon Tailleu, who is not only a friend but a great musician. We played together in Newtopia [with Raphael Imbert]. He is brilliant and has a lot of imagination and swing. Furthermore he is highly driven.

AAJ: Tonight, again, we had the privilege of a great performance from Gerald Cleaver. What do you think about the way he is playing?

Yaron Herman Trio l:r: Matt Brewer, Yaron Herman, Gerald Cleaver

YH: I always say the same thing, Gerald is an amazing drummer. What's interesting is that I felt his musicality much before I played with him live onstage. When we talked, we both felt that we knew what we were talking about and that we had the same idea about music—that we were looking for the same things. We have the same view about improvisation. I have never heard Gerald do the same thing twice; each time he pushes you to go further. It is very demanding but at the same time it comes very naturally to him. It has nothing to do with being intellectual; it is just that he has a very deep knowledge of jazz.

AAJ: How did you meet Matt and Gerald?

YH: I met Gerald when I lived in New York for a few months. I shared a flat with him in Brooklyn when I was 20. We practiced together and I knew straight away that I wanted to play with him. For him music is not about ego; he needs to play music—a kind of urgency.

I met Matt on MySpace. I navigated on his page and I was instantly struck by his sound, a sound not only great but also ample and round. We exchanged messages, he went onto my page and was seduced by the way I play. Two months later the three of us were together onstage. Matt and Gerald had never played together before, and so this cooperation was totally new. The association didn't work too well at first. It took some time. Matt's style is not as free; he is very mathematical. But if you listen very carefully on the last album, Muse, I give them much more space. It does happen sometimes that I play only with my left hand and you can feel that behind me something is happening—strange rhythmic and serious groovy sounds.

AAJ: Do you feel that by playing with American jazz musicians you are finally closer to a jazz culture that you could not find anywhere else?

YH: To be honest, yes. There are lots of French musicians who know jazz very well but from a rhythmic point of view you can't find something that compares to it. When you go to New York you understand why. There are so many musicians; you need to be always at the top. It is cruel and terribly demanding, but it pushes you to work like a dog. For example, over there you can see two drummers or two pianists working together, trying to progress together. In France, that's not possible. Everybody is very protective of their little world.

AAJ: Between Time for Everything and Muse there is a big jump, a massive progress. But Time for Everything givees the impression that you had greater freedom, whereas you are more reserved on Muse. On this last album there is an adaptation of rhythm on a totally different level.

YH: Of course as we progressed through concerts; this happened quite naturally after the first album. Something more complex happened in our way of playing. Careful; I say complex, not stern. The way of communicating became multidimensional. It wasn't only between me and Matt or me and Gerald anymore but it was more interactive between the three of us. We started to come closer to the real meaning of a trio. So I started to write in that direction. Contrary to what you are saying, I think that we are freer in the way we are playing. It is not only about the way I play anymore; it is about the way we play together. If we look at the essence of the trio, the energy is still there, but it's a different energy.

AAJ: You composed much more on Muse. What is the most important thing in your writing—the melody, the harmony or the rhythm?

Yaron Herman TrioYH: It is a whole. There are things, ideas that I get when I am traveling in a plane, or when I'm at home, at any time, and I take note. I write tempos and structures, and afterwards I try to put it all together. For instance, on "Ysobel" we can hear Gerald playing a riff. This was something I had in mind from the beginning. It starts with little things that I compose and that I try to imagine played as a trio

AAJ: Are we going to be able to hear you again as a sideman?

YH: I never say never. But I do other things apart from the trio, for example when I play with Michel Portal.

AAJ:This is not really what I would call the role of a sideman

YH: It is very impressive to play with him. Portal is totally open; I don't know anybody who plays like him. We really have a good time playing together. We are not trying to play at high speed; we are really sharing the moment and the space.

AAJ: How did you meet with Portal?

YH: Quite simply. He was programmed to play with Jacky Terrasson. One evening Jacky couldn't be here and Christophe Deghelt [agent for Terrasson and Herman] suggested that I replace him. It instantly clicked between us.

AAJ: You are young and there are already lots of cliché about you.

YH: Really; which ones?

Yaron Herman Trio

AAJ: There isn't a single review that doesn't refer to your precocious genius, and to your time as a basketball player. They even say you are the new Keith Jarrett. Aren't you fed up with all that fuss?

YH: No. First, because I don't read the newspapers; mainly, I am very concerned about progressing, playing the piano better, make better music and in substance becoming a better human being. I don't want to waste my time with that. Also, the view that people have of me is determined by things that are sometimes out of my control. My duty is to get up in the morning, play the piano and get closer to what I have in my head, knowing that it is my life.

AAJ: Playing the piano and becoming a better human being, are those two linked?

YH: For me, music and life are inseparable. This is why I love Keith Jarrett's music. Not only his music but his approach to music. He is the reason why I started piano. He says: music doesn't come from music. By that he means that you have first to work on yourself and then the music will come naturally. You are going to grow as a human being and you will be able to open the doors to creativity. If you work the music for the music only, you will soon find yourself in a deadlock situation.

AAJ: Aren't you worried to fall into total introspection?

YH: This is far from introspection. But anyway, introspection is a must for anybody, musician or otherwise. Without introspection you don't know who you are. It is necessary in order to be able to better communicate. How can you communicate with the world if you don't know yourself? When you start looking at yourself, and at what is preventing you from going forward, then you inevitably open up. You get rid of the things that are stopping you.

AAJ: Does it become a never ending quest?

YH: Absolutely. This is why I have problems analyzing what I have done. I walk forward, I never stop to look at the past. I don't care. These clichés really give me satisfaction. But in reality they are not my main worry.

AAJ: The opening that you are referring to, is it also an opening to the public?

YH: Yes and no. I am very skeptical when a musician says that he "gives to his public." This automatically means also that there are things that he doesn't give, that he keeps for himself. I consider that playing in front of a public is interactive and not unilateral. I try to take from the public as much as I give them. In an ideal situation, if all goes well, if all the conditions are met, what I feel one second before I play, the public should feel one second after I've played it. Of course they won't feel exactly what I feel myself because for them those are just notes, but they should feel the motive that was behind it. This is exactly what I try to communicate. One doesn't play music just for the pleasure of writing notes. There is an urgency, the need to express oneself.

AAJ: Have you already got ideas for your next album ?

YH: I have a few ideas....

AAJ: With the same people ?

YH: We'll see...

Selected Discography

Yaron Herman, Variations (Laborie Jazz, 2006)
Yaron Herman, A Time or Everything (Laborie Jazz, 2007)
Yaron Herman, Muse (Laborie Jazz, 2009)

Photo Credits

Page 1, Page 2: Gala Reverdy

Page 3: Jean-Michel Sabatier

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