The Phenomenon of Elite Israeli Jazz

The Phenomenon of Elite Israeli Jazz

By Eli Sperling

The past two decades Israel has produced dozens of the world’s most talented and celebrated jazz musicians. Revered for their work ethic, creativity, diverse and international musical influences, and technical prowess, Israeli jazz musicians are becoming some of the most listened-to players in the world.

Many wonder why Israel, a country of roughly 7.5 million people, produces such a disproportionately large number of the world’s elite musicians. No single answer provides a clue; it is a combination of Israeli history, culture and society.

Since the establishment of a Zionist community in the land of Israel, music has been a societal priority. Over 4,000 Hebrew folk songs were written in the land of Israel between the 1880s and 1948.

Photo courtesy of Zeal NYC Israeli clarinet and saxophone virtuoso Anat Cohen performs at the Miller Theater in New York.
Photo courtesy of Zeal NYC
Israeli clarinet and saxophone virtuoso Anat Cohen performs at the Miller Theater in New York.

Elite-level classical music was likewise cemented to Hebrew culture during the formative years of Zionist development. In the year of its founding in 1936, the Palestine Orchestra (now the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), despite meager resources, attracted internationally renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini and then Leonard Bernstein in 1947.

After the state was established in 1948, music was further imbedded into the fabric of Israeli culture, society and institutions. Israeli children regularly sang Hebrew folk songs as part of their schools’ curricula. Military bands and orchestras trained the country’s top young talents, grooming some of Israel’s most cherished musicians of all genres. And public schools for the arts developed, offering professional-level training for Israeli children who showed early musical talent.

Today, Israel’s Rimon School of Music, founded in 1985, is widely seen as one of the world’s top schools for musical training, specifically for jazz. Producing some of the biggest names in elite, international jazz scenes, Rimon has palpably affected the trajectory of jazz music all over the globe.

One must simply show up to any number of New York’s acclaimed jazz venues to see performances by world-famous Israeli artists including Avishai Cohen, Yotam Silberstein, Omer Avital, Anat Cohen, Eli Degibri, Anat Fort and many others.

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Eli Sperling is the Israel specialist and assistant program coordinator for the Center for Israel Education.

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