Harry Stubberfield Interviews Gilad Atzmon
H arry Stubberfield: what was your first impression of the British jazz scene when you arrived here in 1994?
GIlad Atzmon: I was obviously very impressed. I guess that British panthers do not realise that the scene in this country is pretty massive
H: You, have a great admiration for ‘Bird’, was he the musician who inspired you, and light the flame of jazz in your soul.
G: Totally, it was Bird who showed me the light, and it is Bird who manages to refuel me with aesthetic enthusiasm, when my creative energy falls behind.
H: One of your many projects over the last few years has been ‘Parker with Strings’ Do you think this is one of his best periods
G: It is certainly the Album he loved the most. I think that Bird with Strings is one of the most incredible fusion albums. I think that it is a spectacle of American artistic might. The freedom and brilliance of the individual Bird flying around within the context of accurate lush strings played beautifully and accurately.
H: “In Loving Memory of America” was highly praised by the British music press, What part of or period on American music gave you the idea off this album, or was it something else initially.
G: I really wanted to work with Ros Stephen after we completed a Tango Siempre’s Tour and we thought that a tribute to Bird would excite us both. We were correct. It did and it excited many others. It made a very successful album and some very successful tours.
H: You often been described has “hardest-gigging man in British jazz” is this how you see yourself, and do you have any new projects you are working on?
G: Yes, it is probably correct. I am making living as a jazz artist. I try to tour without funding because I believe in a direct contact between artist and audience without the interference of a political body. This means that I have to work hard, probably much harder than most artists. I like it; it has kept me on my toes for many years. But I will have to slow down now because I am getting older and I feel it.
H: Orient House Ensemble Band, This band was formed over ten years ago, made six albums and toured the world. When you first formed the band, did you ever dream it would be so successful, and where does it go from here?
G: Not at all, I really did not though I realized already then that incredible musicians surrounded me. I think that the best way to learn music is always to pick musicians far better than you. This is what I did with the OHE. I am challenged on a daily basis and I love it. I guess that our audience is also thrilled by it. These days I just complete composing materials for the OHE, we will give it a good try at the Pizza Express in early June. We have a three days residency 7-9 June. I should also mention that the OHE is a collective band and we basically operate as a big extended family. It was a unique experience to live the last decade with these incredible people.
H: You played with many musicians, one name just jumps at you, Ian Dury, and not only did you play with his group the Block Heads when he was alive. But after, with the remaining band members. How did you get involved with Ian, what was it like to play in his band,
G: Soon after I came over I started to record with Chaz Jankel. And it was Chaz who introduced me to the Blockhead in 1997. I have been playing with the band since then. Working with Ian was a very special experience. In fact I was very lucky to work with two of the greatest word British wordsmiths Ian Dury and Robert Wyatt.
The Blockheads are a very special bunch of people. They are playing together for 35 years and this means a lot. They are incredible musicians and as Norman Watt-Roy described them a while
back, they are basically a Jazz band with (a lot of) audience. I love them a lot.
H: You still spend a lot time touring abroad, are there any countries you have not played in but wish to
G: Interestingly I have never played in Russia. My books came out there, I have followers there but never been there. Russia is important for me; it is my real home I guess.
H: With all the things you have achieved, is there anything outstanding that still wish to do?
G: For many years I enjoyed to travel, see many places, I met many people. However, I feel a transition in me; I am happy to stay at home for days, go with my son to the movies and watch my daughter painting. I guess that I want to be a good family man.
H: Lastly you not only professional jazz musician and a great writer. You have been touring the world talking about your last book. Where do you find the time, and are you working
on a new book, and what is it going to be called
G: The truth of the matter is that being a touring musician leaves you with plenty of time to write. In the last 10 years I have been writing obsessively about Jewish identity politics. I realized that no one dares touching the subject but I also realized that being an ex Israeli and a philosopher I had a unique touch on the subject. I eventually produced a very short and concise book The Wandering Who. I did not expect the book to be a great success, but to my astonishment, it became one of the most controversial political texts around.
It sold many copies and is translated into more than 10 languages.
I am very proud of it and delighted to be at the centre of this storm. With the Jewish lobby pushing for another global conflict and Israeli racist military frenzy, I guess we all need a serious shake up. I am convinced that this is what jazz is all about. And I am a jazz artist after all.