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.

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