Thursday night jazz in Tel Aviv

February 15th, 2013

The last song I heard in the car, on a Ruby Braff CD, was “I’m Flying High” and after an evening brim full of intoxicating swinging music, I truly am!

Yaakov Hoter’s guitar playing is reason enough to be grateful to be on this earth, but when joined with his musical soul-mates Oren and Alon Sagi (the other two thirds of the Swing de Gitanes trio), it’s enough to bring Gabriel himself down to earth.  Thanks to the insightful matchmaking of David Mencher, tonight, at the Felicja Blumental Music Centre,  the trio was joined by violinist Jonathan Miller, who ignited the trio to soar to even greater heights,  while thoroughly enjoying himself playing in a manner that winked at Stephane Grappelly, without actually copying him.  The place was packed.  The audience applauded enthusiastically for each number and very long, hard and loud to eke out an encore!

Friends to whom I recommended this concert were very impressed and very grateful  and I left it truly flying high.

Nevertheless, I went on to a small bar/ restaurant, Casbah, in the Florentine district of Tel Aviv, to hear a lovely jazz duo, Eli Preminger on trumpet with Nahum Perefrekovitch on piano (a real upright piano, by the way).  They really swing and Eli’s occasional offhand vocals (like the Preservation Hall musicians) are quite charming!  Nahum’s solo performance of “Kitten on the Keys” is a treat.  Luckily, one of our friends went ahead and saved us stools by the bar!  The place was packed and youngsters were partying away in honor of an anniversary of the venue, with leis,  party hats, whistles, etc.  I don’t think it would have been possible to enjoy the music had we not been sitting right next to the musicians, but we were and the people around us were totally into the music too!

Snack recipe

February 2nd, 2013

Crunchy Spiced Nuts:

In a large bowl:

Gently beat 1 egg

Stir in 4 cups walnut and pecan halves (or other nuts) and coat thoroughly

In another bowl, mix:

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon nutmeg or cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard

1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

(you can vary the spices)

  1. Add the sugar and spices to the egg and nuts and mix well.
  2. Preheat the oven to low.
  3. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  4. Spread mix evenly over baking sheet.
  5. Bake for about an hour, taking out and stirring every 15 minutes or so.
  6. Cool, breaking apart nuts, if necessary.
  7. Store in foil or closed container.

אגוזים פריכים ומתובלים

בקערה גדולה:

לטרוף קלות שתי ביצים

לערבב כדי לכסות במלואם 4 כוסות אגוזי מלך ופקאן (או אחרים)

בקערה נפרדת, לערבב:

1/2 כוס סוכר

1/2כפית מלח

1/2 כפית פלפל

כפית קינמון או כפית אגוז מוסקט

1/4 כפית אבקת חרדל

1/4 כפית אבקת זנגוויל

(ניתן לשנות את התבלינים)

  1. להוסיף את התערובת השנייה לראשונה ולערבב היטב.
  2. לחמם תנור לחום נמוך.
  3. לרפד תבניות אפיה בנייר אלומיניום.
  4. לפזר את התערובת בצורה אחידה על התבנית.
  5. לאפות כשעה, כשמוציאים ומערבבים פעם ברבע שעה בערך.
  6. לצנן ולשבור גושים גדולים במידת הצורך.
  7. לשמור  בנייר אלומיניום או בכלי סגור.

Jazz Fest at Sea 2012

January 17th, 2013

Thanks to the call for supporters published on the Dixieland Jazz Mailing List by the Potomac River Jazz Club’s youth band, the Capital Focus Jazz Band, my parents, one of my sisters, her husband and I enjoyed a fabulous 10-day jazz festival onboard the MSC Poesia this past December. I’ll treasure the memories of spending my days listening to great music played by some of the best musicians in the world.
All the sessions took place in one venue, the Pigalle Hall, at the stern of the ship, which could only be entered with a jazz ID. It was so nice to have great music morning, noon and night, just a few minutes away. There was relatively little technical trouble and the sound staff was helpful and anxious to please. Seating was in armchairs and couches arranged in a semicircle around the stage, which was itself a bi-level double circle, with the baby grand piano on the upper one. The one thing that made it a bit uncomfortable was that the room was generally much too cold for a lot of people and I was always bundling up and running out on deck during the 15-minute intermissions between the 45 minute sets, to warm up and enjoy the beautiful sea air and the view. During the day, the curtains of the Pigalle lounge were open and there was a good view of the sea all around.

Clarinetist Allan Vaché did a wonderful job as musical director, gathering about two dozen top hot jazz artists on one boat and giving them all a chance to play together in a dizzying array of delightful combinations. Banu Gibson even told entertaining stories about the history of the songs she so ably sang. All the musicians seemed to be jazz fans themselves and even each other’s fans, so the atmosphere was very congenial. The audience was happy and friendly, as well as being very enthusiastic about the music.
The Capital Focus Jazz Band gave swinging professional performances and added their youthful enthusiasm to the fun! Some of the band members were invited to join the grownups from time to time and some of the adults played with them at times; there was even a surprise visit by Dick Hyman. Young Geoff Gallante on trumpet was outstanding and got a lot of well-deserved attention and opportunities to play with the grown-ups.

I was particularly touched and excited to hear Django Reinhardt’s compositions, Nuages and Tears, featured by Allan Vaché and Tim Laughlin, respectively. Django was not only a great guitarist, but also a great composer and his works deserve to be heard in contexts other than Gypsy swing groups.
Special treats included an unscheduled hour of Dick Hyman on solo piano in the wine bar, a very late night jam at the same venue, that I just happened upon, and the Piano Extravaganza with John Cocuzzi, John Sheridan, Johnny Varro and Dick Hyman, who actually played all at once on one piano at one point!
Fortunately, pianist Ed Clute is also a piano tuner and was able to pitch in and get the piano in the Pigalle Lounge, where almost all of the sets took place, into shape. He boasts a wealth of jazz knowledge and an endless repertoire, so it’s no surprise that he played a few request sessions and knew whatever anyone could think of requesting! He also graciously sat in with, and listened to, the informal jam group that met for a few hours a day.
Because I’m learning to play the guitar in Django style from the master, Yaakov Hoter of Swing de Gitanes, and looking for opportunities to jam, I was delighted that there were open jam sessions available every day! They were very ably and amiably guided by Mike Evans, Phil Stone and Jim Gover. The atmosphere was convivial and anyone who played an instrument was welcome to join in. It was a fabulous experience for me to really be involved in this group and get in a few hours of playing every day. The speed and accuracy of my accompaniments definitely improved and I got my brain working in the direction of better solo playing too. The opportunity to do so was invaluable and the encouraging group made all the difference. There were plenty of good players to make us all sound good as a whole and, to my surprise, we always had an audience, and even gave an official “gala performance.”
The Jazz Fest at Sea was a great experience and I hear they’re planning to make next year’s even better (and on a new ship, too). I heartily recommend it! You can get more information at and on their Facebook page.

Have Guitar will Travel

January 10th, 2013

I was wary about air travel with my beloved Yaakov Hoter model ERG Gypsy swing guitar after seeing various warnings about airlines and about restrictions on bringing wooden products into the United States. Before flying with the guitar for the first time, I looked up airline policy and U.S. customs regulations, both of which seemed okay. Friends had contrary opinions, but I was convinced by one who travels to the U.S. with a guitar and mandolin in gig bags, as hand luggage, once or twice a year. He said the air crews were always accommodating and found a safe place for the instruments and that he had no problem with customs.
Now, with some very positive experience of my own flying to the United States a few times, with and without stops in Europe, as well as flying from Tel Aviv to Eilat, I can confirm the advice of my much-travelled friend. Ground crews and flight crews on various airlines have been helpful. They often put the guitar in its soft bag in a closet, but sometimes in an overhead bin, when it was clear nothing else would go in with it.
The only reaction I got from customs officials was along the lines of “Wow, you play the guitar.”
I, for one, will continue to consider my guitar to be a welcome travel companion (I even practiced quietly while waiting for hours in transit).

September 23rd, 2012


Swing de Gitanes at Havana Club

July 24th, 2012

Swing de Gitanes provided another exciting experience last Friday night at Havana Club in Tel Aviv. They never cease to amaze, surprise and delight me with the way they meld to create innovative, melodic and just plain hard-driving swing (and I’ve been to many of their performances over the years and listen to their CD and whatever they post on You Tube)! Yaakov Hoter and Ori Ben-Zvi on guitar and Oren Sagi on string bass make beautiful music together and really connect with each other and with each audience. This one included many Russian speaker and quite a few who were either hearing the group for the first time or had only heard them once or twice before, yet I heard members of the audience humming along with Autumn Sidewalks by Oren Sagi and Yaboganza by Ori Ben Zvi and there were lots of hand-clapping and shouts of encouragement all along, and that was even though the venue was one with a chef’s menu and people were eating and drinking. I could tell they were, nevertheless, focused on the music! When Yaakov announced Yaboganza, one of the crowd shouted out, “что это такое?” (What is that?)! Ori has admitted that it’s an invented exclamation of joy! The piece reminds me of “I Dig Rock and Roll Music” and “The Ballad of Billy-Joe.” I’m not looking those songs up now, but am sure you can find them if you like. I was particularly impressed with Friday night’s rendition of Avalon. Two pieces that were either medleys or just had an unusually liberal helping of interpolation also stood out and reminded me of the way Johnny Russell of Edinburgh’s Gypsy swing group, Swing ‘xx (whatever year it happens to be) once announced the piece they’d just played “I don’t know what you call that number, but I call it fast!” Swing de Gitanes always delivers a performance full of variety, pure swing and truly beautiful music. They’ll be giving a free concert in Netanya on August 2nd, so whoever’s reading this in Israel – this is your chance for a great evening of music, with sea breezes thrown in! For those of you abroad, if the great microbreweries and wineries aren’t enough to draw you here, perhaps the music will!

Swing de Gitanes with a Chamber Orchestra?! Yes!!!

June 23rd, 2012

Hearing that the wonderful Gypsy swing trio, Swing de Gitanes, would be playing with the Ramat Gan Chamber Orchestra, I was a bit wary.  One of my friends, who avoids classical music like the plague, wouldn’t even try it (after all, “It Don’t Mean a Thing…”)   I was accompanied by one who actually attends classical concerts and met another such friend there.   I won’t keep you in suspense, it meant a lot!

The Ramat Gan Theater has a nice concert hall with good acoustics.  The only problem there is finding parking on the surrounding residential streets – no parking lot.  As I used to live In the neighborhood and have a friend who still does, I know the ins and outs and was able to park in the vicinity.

The conductor Aviv Ron first announced that the Chamber Orchestra would play a few numbers on its own as a warm-up band (a cute touch) and they launched into I Got Rhythm – a statement of intention?   Things really heated up when guitarists Yaakov Hoter and Ori Ben Zvi and bassist Oren Sagi came out on stage and began to play.  I had been wondering to what extent they would actually be playing with the orchestra and was pleasantly surprised to find that, on most numbers the orchestra really backed them up and complemented their music beautifully, maintaining a good swing feel and keeping the audience tapping their feet and otherwise enthusiastically moving with the music.   At one point, the orchestra’s violinist even took a short solo.

The audience seemed to be mainly made up of subscribers to the Ramat Gan Chamber Orchestras concert series, but they were supplemented by devotees of Swing de Gitanes, like me.   In general, there was thunderous applause at the end of each number (this time, Yaakov announced them as pieces, as one would in a classical setting), but none for solos.  However, at one point, Oren Sagi got enthusiastic applause after a solo anyway!  I believe that was when they played a Bach improvisation and when the members of the orchestra also applauded!

You could really see and hear that Swing de Gitanes was really thriving in the fantastic atmosphere, bouyed up by the congenial accompaniment of the orchestra.  All three had smiles on their faces most of the time (so did I – I was transported by the music).  What added to the enjoyment is that we could see the smiles spreading on the faces of the members of the orchestra as the evening went on!

The program was mainly the Gypsy swing repertoire, along with Oren Sagi’s Autumn Sidewalks and Yaakov Hoter’s Rhythm Israel, which are catchy tunes already very familiar to their fans, and very well received by the audience.  In fact, I’ve rarely, if ever encountered such an enthusiastic audience and Swing de Gitanes always evokes a strong response.

The last tune on the program was the Love Theme from the God father, which I’ve heard has become a kind of Gypsy anthem.  This was followed by a long lasting ovation, bouquets to each member of Swing de Gitanes and the conductor, the arranger being called upon to take a bow, etc.  Finally, Swing de Gitanes and the orchestra played an encore – Mister Sandman; What could be more appropriate (it was around 11 PM already)?  I believe it was Yaakov Hoter, who did a lot of the announcing here as he often does, who said to the audience, “You aren’t tired?  Neither are we!”

My friends and I came out intoxicated with the excitement, gushing over the wonderful music and seeing great things in the future for Swing de Gitanes.

It would be great if this performance could be repeated elsewhere!   For now, I’m looking forward to hearing Swing de Gitanes on their own again (well, almost, with some swing dancers) at the lovely Inbal Hall in Tel Aviv on June 30th.

Frank Vignola and Vinnie Raniolo in Tel Aviv

April 29th, 2012

Dynamic duo Frank Vignola and Vinnie Raniolo, impeccably-dressed nice guys and extraordinary virtuoso musicians, recently brought their over-the-top polished Vegas –style show to Israel (surely an intentional pastiche – see them on You Tube). They spice up the atmosphere by bringing up local musicians to play with them and I could almost hear sidekick Vinnie exclaim “Holy Gypsy Land” when mild-mannered, jeans-clad Yaakov Hoter of Swing de Gitanes revealed his super powers when he launched into Nuages. The three engaged in an electrical musical exchange, including a segue into Ochi Chornye.
Frank Vignola and Vinnie Raniolo really take the philosophy that life is a laugh to the limit and demonstrate that it’s no rumor that the guitarists of the world are one tight-knit family, regardless of minor differences like language, religion or cultural background. I attended both their Jerusalem concert and the one in Tel Aviv. Their show is aimed to have a very wide appeal and they are completely at home with music of many different genres and a generous helping of nostalgia. I must admit to being enchanted by the short Beatles medley of If I Give my Heart to You and Here, There and Everywhere. Having seen them play The Flight of the Bumblebee on You Tube quite ably while jumping on a trampoline, I’m convinced that playing while doing simple kicks, plies and other dance steps, as they did, is nothing for them (while I myself find playing a chord and saying its name out loud at one and the same time quite a challenge). It seems that Vinnie and Frank get a lot of their kicks from the reactions they get from their audiences, who really don’t need prompting to sing along, and from actively seeking out local guitarists and having them participate in their show.
The highlight of both evenings was in Jerusalem, when Yaakov Hoter, looking disarmingly young and casual, gave Frank and Vinnie a run for their money on a few Gypsy swing numbers. Frank realized Yaakov was up for a challenge and switched tunes in the middle, lunged at Yaakov’s machine heads as though to change the tuning, etc. Yaakov later pointedly and purposely tuned down the top string to play a lower note, with a “so there” glance at Frank, who invited Yaakov to stay on stage when the next guest, Dotan from the Rimon Music School, came up. Yaakov not only shone on Nuages, but also was brilliant when called back up for Minor Swing, on which he engaged both Vinnie and Frank in trading eights later on, setting sparks flying among the three and leading to raucous applause.
In general, I enjoyed the performance in Jerusalem more. It was a lot longer and there were more guests (there were very able musicians onstage at both venues). The atmosphere was more intimate; although there were tables, they were smaller than those in Tel Aviv and the whole audience was closer to the stage; I was sitting right nearby. There were a lot of English speakers and a bunch of my friends from the jam session gang, with families, a bunch of whom clambered on stage to play All of Me and Sweet Georgia Brown in a Dixieland vein, with Frank and Vinnie and all of the guests; Yaakov shone on the jam once again. A bear-like Russian-speaker whose name I didn’t catch played in Chet Atkins style and appeared on both nights. In Jerusalem, he showed his skill as a sit-down comedian, as that’s just what he did when Frank went into a long drawn-out story! The guests in Tel Aviv included Roman Alexeev, who brought along lots of fans and played Charlie Christian numbers with brilliance and energy ,and Geoff Menzer who updated Making Whoopy with the words “he doesn’t even text.” All the guests on both nights got into the swing of things and many showed their prowess as stand-up comedians as well as musicians, and even did a few kicks.
It seems this whole tour was spearheaded by Frank’s online guitar lessons – teach music online and see the world!
I’m looking forward to hearing Frank and Vinnie again on their next visits to Israel, and hope they’ll have many an opportunity to play swinging music in an intimate setting. Maybe I can even attend a master class!

Swing de Gitanes at HaSimta in Jaffa on February 8, 2012

February 19th, 2012

Oh my goodness! It’s already been ten days since my visit to HaSimta (the Alley) in old Jaffa to hear Swing de Gitanes, the marvelous Israeli trio that claims Django Reinhardt as its musical father, as guitarist Yaakov Hoter announced (or grandfather, as guitarist Ori Ben-Zvi quipped in response – and it makes sense both from the perspective of time and because the band members not only learned from Django’s recordings, but also from living Gypsy musicians following in Django’s footsteps). Virtuoso bassist Oren Sagi completes the trio.
The band is really attuned to the audience, even to the extent of adjusting the announcements to suit it. Yaakov took care to make most of them in English as well as Hebrew, having noticed some English speakers in the crowd, and I could tell that the English-speaking couple sitting next to me appreciated it.
I’ve been to HaSimta before, but this is the first time its location in an artists’ colony was emphasized by oil paintings hanging on the walls of the roofed street, which made arriving early worthwhile. This venue is very different from Tel Aviv’s Felicja Blumenthal Center, where I last heard the trio. Instead of that theatre-like atmosphere and subdued comfort, HaSimta is more like a club, with plastic seats arranged around small, round tables and some lined up on bleachers in the back. The last time I heard Swing de Gitanes at HaSimta, I was on those rather rickety bleachers, but this time it wasn’t as crowded, though there was a good audience, and I managed to get a seat right up front.
Not only does each member of the band seem to improve with time, but the trio as an entity seems to be becoming ever more cohesive and complex. The solos flow into one another so smoothly that there was little applause between solos (there was no between), even though the sound and feeling of each player are distinctly different and certainly the bass provides even more contrast. I felt the audience didn’t want to break the spell or miss even a single note of what the next soloist had to say. The hush while the band was playing (even though people were sitting with glasses of wine before them) and the resounding applause at the end of each number left no doubt as to the rapt attention and ardent enthusiasm of the public.
The program was a mix of Django standards, more contemporary pieces in the genre, like the waltz from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and theme from the Mafia computer game, and original compositions by members of the band. In fact, I’m quite glad they started off with Oren Sagi’s jaunty Sidewalks in Autumn, which is already familiar to fans. The other originals scattered throughout the program included Yaakov Hoter’s energetic Honeymoon and Ori Ben-Zvi’s Yaboganza, the beat and feeling of which remind me of I Dig Rock and Roll Music, making me feel like taking out my go-go boots and starting to dance. Ori says the name is his invention and meant to be a cry of joy similar to Yabbadabbado.
The band plays as one and becomes more creative and inspired each time they play, making even such standards as Nuages and Dark Eyes seem to come alive . This time they were absolutely breathtaking, plucking on my heartstrings. Yaakov’s emotion-imbued playing and the deep, mellow sound of his guitar during his solo on Nuages actually evoked the taste of rich dark chocolate . It led me to wonder how to describe the playing of the other two wonderful musicians and the way they all complement one another. To me, Ori’s sound is more sharp and bright, like vodka straight from the freezer, and Oren’s dark, complex and bubbly, not at all like champagne, but more like rich brown ale. The combination would certainly make a delicious, explosive and highly intoxicating cocktail, as the music itself certainly does.
The band invited host and jazz club organizer, Shlomi Goldenberg, to sit in on saxophone for the last two numbers; if I recall correctly, they were All of Me and I Can’t Give You Anything but Love ,and added some spice by taking turns trading fours with him. Shlomi graciously bowed out when the audience clamored for more and got an encore. I could hear the excitement and enthusiasm of the public, including some tourists and new fans, as they left the hall, stopping on the way out to congratulate the band, sign up for their mailing list and buy CDs (taking up Yaakov on his suggestion, “if you like the music, you can take us home with you…wrapped in cellophane”). Their CD, Muza, is available from Amazon.

The New Orleans Function Jazz Band at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv, with guest artist Israel Gurion

February 6th, 2012

Levontin 7 is both the address and the name of the basement club that hosted the performance.  Like Pizza Express in London, there’s a restaurant upstairs and a musical venue downstairs, though Levontin 7 is not devoted to jazz.  One descends into a real cellar painted in black and white and fitted out with a stage and bar.  Wooden chairs were set up to accommodate the audience, but we were told it was standing room only.  The place can hold 200 people, but I’m glad there were actually much fewer, say one hundred or so, most of whom did find seats.  Marek and I eventually did too – just to the right of the spacious, well, lit and unobtrusively amplified stage.   Shimi and Kobi were right in front of us, with the rest of the band strung up behind.   The small space created an intimate atmosphere.  The audience of all ages, including some children and friends and family of band-members,  was friendly and in a good mood from the outset.

Israel Gurion is a multitalented veteran Israeli entertainer, who has justifiably remained popular for decades!   Among other things, he’s a disciple of Marcel Marceau, so his inimitable stage presence is not surprised.

The band started out without the guest, however, setting the tone for the evening and showing it could swing an Israeli standard , melding it into Saint James Infirmary and ending with a quote from the Funeral March.  The program included such mixes, as well as straight New Orleans standards and Israeli songs (some derived from Russian folk music) that could really swing and pass as pure jazz!  Israel Gurion joined in as vocalist after about two numbers and was on stage much, but not all of the time, for the rest of the show.  His vocals were rhythmic and entertaining (both for the words and the music).  He demonstrated a truly fluent talent for scatting and actually did a schtik reminiscent of Louis Armstrong, getting all tangled in the music on the stand, dropping pages and eventually throwing them all away.  He danced energetically on stage while others soloed, reminding me of Jacques Sany and joined in on sax on two standards; as far as I can recall, they were Down by the Riverside and The Saints.

The enthusiastic audience applauded (and shouted) loud and long after every single solo and number was and the band actually played a few encores!  The staff had to quickly clear out the chairs for the late night crowd.

Click to see a picture of Israel Gurion with Eli Preminger and Arnon de Botton

You can find New Orleans Function on Facebook, You Tube and My Space, including a video from their previous performance with Israel Gurion in Jerusalem.   On Facebook, Arnon de Botton has also promised that videos of last night’s performance are on their way.


Yair Salzman-drums

Yoav Kolumbus-bass

Arnon DeBotton-trombone

Shimi (Panza) Gilad- Banjo

Eli Preminger-Trumpet

Kobi Solomon –clarinet

Israel Gurion – special guest – vocals, tenor  sax and comic relief!