BY ELIZABETH FRIEDLY // AJT
Just as a good jazz song, the 36th-annual Atlanta Jazz Festival is no simple affair, but instead is an eclectic, creative series of events weaved throughout the entire month of May. Among the happenings, of particular interest and excitement is the May 27 appearance of Israeli saxophonist/composer Uri Gurvich, playing with the Uri Gurvich Quartet.
Gurvich won Israel’s Jazz Player of the Year – perhaps the country’s most prestigious award in the genre – at the ripe age of 19. The honor led to his eventual enrollment at the Berklee College of Music, and he has since performed all over the world.
The quartet is currently touring in support of their second studio album, “BabEl.” Drawing from the traditions of all five band members, this record has roots in Israel, Argentina, Bulgaria, Cuba and Morocco. In preview of the group’s performance, the Atlanta Jewish Times spoke with Gurvich about his passion for the genre as well as his new release.
Atlanta Jewish Times: How has the music changed since your debut, “Storyteller”?
Uri Gurvich: It’s from the same record label [Tzadik], so both records definitely have a strong Jewish theme. [But] it’s different on this new album; we have a player from Morocco that plays percussion. The direction is gonna be a little more Middle Eastern, but it’s the same core quartet on both albums and the same group we’re going to perform with in Atlanta.
AJT: Speaking of which, have you been to Atlanta before?
UG: Actually, it’s gonna be my first time, so I’m very excited. It’s great.
AJT: Now, you’ve been to a lot of festivals. Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to about the Atlanta Jazz Festival?
UG: Well, the Atlanta festival is a very prestigious festival, and there will be some friends there. Also, it’s considered one of the best in the country, so it’s very exciting; it’ll be great to be in the company of a lot of great musicians.
AJT: Back to the new album – what inspired “BabEl”?
UG: Well, the four of us, we come from different countries. I’m from Israel, my piano player is from Argentina, the bassist is from Bulgaria, and the drummer is from Cuba. So really “BabEl” represents this mixture of culture and languages that we have between us but [also that] we also kind of speak the same language of music. We have all the different influences the compositions.
AJT: But this is still a jazz record, yes?
UG: It’s definitely still a jazz record; a lot of folk music influences, but it’s all been done in this big sound called jazz, improvised music and music of the moment. It’s definitely a jazz record most of all.
AJT: How did you become interested in the genre?
UG: I started playing jazz as a kid, maybe like age14. I would just play in this jazz band in school, and I had a couple great teachers who were into jazz. They introduced me to a lot of records, to Charlie Parker and all these other musicians.
AJT: And what was it like winning the Jazz Player of the Year at 19 years old?
UG: It was fun, yeah [laughs]. The great thing about it was, the prize was to go and study – my school in Israel is an affiliate of Berklee, so the prize was to go to Boston for the big conference of the International Association of Schools of Jazz. So I had the chance to go to that, and we really got exposed to a lot of great players and got familiar with Berkley, and eventually – in three years – I went there.
AJT: Now, I understand you’re living in New York City now, which has a real history in jazz. Was it a dream of yours to end up in NYC?
UG: Definitely, yeah. I had a dream of coming to New York. It’s the capital of jazz, throughout the world, so yes. I always had that in mind. I kind of planned it after going to Berklee.
AJT: Any final thoughts on the new music that you’d like to add?
UG: It really represents the mixture of different cultures, and I’m excited to bring the music here.
For more information on the Atlanta Jazz Festival and a complete listing of events, visit atlantafestivals.com.