Israeli virtuoso saxophone player and composer Daniel Zamir is headed to Atlanta for a Feb. 19 performance at the Marcus Jewish Community Center. The Hasidic jazz musician, who has toured with Matisyahu, is one of the most in-demand artists in Israel.
He spoke to the AJT by phone from Israel.
AJT: Will this be your first time performing in Atlanta?
Zamir: Well, I played a few years ago with Matisyahu at the University of Georgia. We were on a college tour, and, every campus we visited, I bought a baseball hat and would play the show wearing it. I remember I shouted, “Go, Bulldogs!” into the mic at UGA, and the crowd went crazy for it.
AJT: You’ve actually been on a few tours with Matisyahu. What was it like touring as two observant Jews?
Zamir: It’s an amazing experience to be able to express such a unique message on a big stage in front of so many people. To be able to bridge so many gaps and overcome so many prejudices and stigmas, it’s really unique and a privilege.
AJT: You also have the top-selling jazz album of all time in Israel. How does that feel?
Zamir: It’s amazing. I never thought that something like that could happen. I’ve loved jazz since I started playing the saxophone, but I never thought I could be this successful in it. Also, to be able to connect jazz and Judaism is something I never thought I could do. From what I can tell, I think I’m the only ultra-Orthodox jazz musician in the world.
AJT: How much Jewish or Hasidic influence would you say your music has?
Zamir: When I write my music, I have no concept in mind. In other words, I never planned to be a Jewish musician; it’s something that happened organically. It actually started before I was religious, and I was calling it world music or ethnic music. Only after (American Jewish composer-saxophonist) John Zorn heard my demo in 1999 and called it Jewish music did I finally accept it.
AJT: Why are there so many top-notch Israeli jazz musicians?
Zamir: I remember people were asking me in New York, “What are they putting in your falafel over there?” But the truth is jazz is music of the people, and after the 1950s people in Israel were trying to imitate American jazz. But what my generation did — Avishai Cohen, Omer Avital, myself and others — we took our personalities and tradition and infused that into high-quality jazz. The result of that product is so unique and original and alive. I think that’s why people love it so much.
Who: Daniel Zamir
Where: Marcus JCC, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19
Tickets: $15-$25; atlantajcc.org/pldb-live/daniel-zamir-32968