Jazz Comes to the Desert

April 9, 2019

Israel Studies, Culture & Jewish Thought

The Times of Israel – The rise of Israeli jazz is one of those causes for wonder, and now there’s an upcoming conference exploring how this small, Middle Eastern country became a mini-powerhouse of the musical genre.

Dr. Aryeh Tepper

“Israeli Jazz and Hebrew Culture” will be held April 14 to 15 at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev campuses in Beer-Sheva and Sede Boqer and will be open to the public.

The center of the conference will be the Sunday night, April 14 performance of the “King David Suite” by Israeli trumpeter Itamar Borochov and his group, a historic first, at the Sonnenfeld Auditorium on the Marcus Family Campus in Beer-Sheva.

American writer Greg Thomas will give the keynote address about Lionel Hampton and his “King David Suite,” a particularly personal story about the jazz great and the fledgling State of Israel. The suite was written by Hampton when he came to Israel with his band in 1953, and played 48 concerts in four weeks throughout the country.

Hampton spent time with Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog — a former chief rabbi of Israel after the creation of the state — who was a jazz fan himself, and visited King David’s purported gravesite on Mount Zion.

The meeting with Herzog was the inspiration for the “King David Suite,” an 18-minute symphony that touches on King David, and the ancient monarch’s own musical inclinations.

The score, however, was lost when a fire gutted Hampton’s New York City home, and it wasn’t until 2008 that a copy was discovered in San Francisco, and then donated to Ben-Gurion University in 2015.

The conference is being arranged by a crew of jazz aficionados in Israel’s south, including the University’s Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism, and supported by the American Sephardi Federation and the U.S. Embassy.

At the center of the organizers is Dr. Aryeh Tepper, BGU’s American-Israeli researcher who has been a jazz fan since his teens, when he would slip out of his childhood home in Washington, D.C., to go hear some standards in Georgetown.

Now he researches other subjects as well, but jazz is still a deep passion, and one he happily shares with other colleagues, including Prof. Arieh Saposnik, an associate at the Ben-Gurion Institute, who is a historian of Zionism and Jewish nationalism.

“It’s a chance to learn about Israeli culture and the boundaries of Hebrew culture,” says Tepper. “Jazz originated in the United States, and it has made a wonderful entrance into the depths of Israeli life and society and that’s a beautiful thing about music in general; it’s a shortcut to the soul.”

Read more on The Times of Israel website >>