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Emotional Value

13 Mar

Lately I’ve been too busy playing and couldn’t blog. That’s a good thing.

I want to thank everyone who have been checking out Four Tips for Improvisers. I’m quite astonished by the amount of readers. I’ll be writing more on this topic, so feel free to send specific questions if you have any.

Shai Maestro, a friend and a great pianist, wrote a beautiful comment on “Four Tips”. It includes a wise piece of advice from Sam Yahel, another great pianist/keyboardist. Thanks for sharing, Shai!

“Sam offered to ALWAYS play in an emotional context. Never practice anything in a mechanical way. Practice as if you had to preform what you are practicing. It can be a very slow tempo, but it has to have an emotional value to it. That way, when you are on stage, and you feel something, your’e brain had already made the connection between the feeling and the action back at the practice room, then it just comes out naturally. It proved itself as one of the best advice Iv’e ever got.”

I recently had mixing sessions with the brilliant engineer Christian Heck, for my upcoming trio album with Haggai Cohen Milo and Ziv Ravitz.

Listening back to the trio, I found myself thinking about my musical and personal relationships.

What I hear in those tracks could only be achieved through quality-time spent together: traveling, talking, laughing, playing live, recording, going through life.

Someone recently asked me about my collaborators. I began naming names, and eventually said “I basically work with my friends”. That’s somehow true. I can’t recall the last time I was on stage, without at least one of the other musicians being a close friend.

Of course, I also play with new people all the time. I love that. You have to do it  if you want to keep fresh and learn new things. But it seems that the ones who become my friends and the ones who become my long-term collaborators are the same people.

I feel very blessed to have in my life people like Omer Avital, Rona Kenan, Alon Lotringer, Ziv and Haggai, and others. With each of these people I have been developing a long-term friendship and a strong artistic bond – we’re playing on each other’s projects, share the bandstand, consult each other.

In my musical life, I cannot think of a bigger asset I have.


Four Tips for Improvisers

1 Feb

Many have reacted warmly to my Seven Tips for Composers; thank you all!

Here are some ideas regarding the unique art of improvisation.

1. Learn Languages.

If you want to improvise, study what other improvisers do. It is essential.

It’s surprising to see how many young players seem to believe they will be able to get ahead without it. I think that’s impossible. Also,why would you want to skip it? Why not tap into beautiful universes filled with musical ideas that were created on the spot by masters?

Most improvisers want to be original, and look for general concepts that will allow them to shape their own ideas; That’s fine. But avoiding learning the common and/or obscure vocabulary of improvised music (be it in the realm of Jazz or any other musical world) is not practical.

Why? Because you can only create something personal if you know what you’re doing.

Imagine someone who wants to express profound and beautiful ideas using the Spanish language, without having learned Spanish vocabulary, grammar and so on – for fear of becoming less original.

Now imagine a great poet, who, out of her deep knowledge and understanding of the language and its contexts, can eventually create singular, personal and powerful work.

2. Record and Analyze Your Improvisations.

An invaluable process. When you’re improvising, you’re so busy coordinating all the various musical elements, that you hardly get a clear picture of what it is you’re doing; especially in the beginning of your life as an improviser.

If you never record and listen back, there’s no way that you will be aware of everything that was going on; there’s no way you’ll be able to say that you liked what you just played, and be sure.

Listening to recordings of yourself can be cruel, but it’s an effective way to understand – according to your own taste and judgement – what are the things you want to improve.

3. Separate the Elements.

Let’s say you’re listening back to a recording of a solo you just played, and you’re not happy with one of the elements in your playing.


1. Your time rushes when you get excited.

2. You tend to begin your phrases at the same place in the bar.

3. You don’t go out of the prescribed harmony enough, to your taste.

4. You’re not using various dynamic levels in your solo.

And so on and so forth.

Now is the time to work on an element that lacks quality, according to what you hear in the recording.

To do that, the best approach is to begin by working only on that single element.

For example, you practice beginning your phrases in new and unexpected places rhythmically. You work on it, disregarding all other elements.

While you practice this concept, you don’t care about anything else: quality of melodic ideas, using various registers, anything you would normally care about – you stop caring about it for a while. You play as if the only important thing in the world is to begin phrases in interesting places.

Then, when you feel you’ve made progress with this topic, you isolate another element and work on it.

Later you can combine two of these; now you’re worrying about two things – where you begin your phrases, and playing more “out” harmonically, for example. Slowly but surely you bring those improved aspects into your general playing, and actually hear yourself becoming a better improviser.

4. Why are you playing?

This doesn’t have anything to do with music per se. It’s a human, spiritual, existential idea.

Practicing can be a technical activity. The actual playing of music, once you’re performing, rehearsing, or even practicing ‘real’ playing, should not feel technical.

The situation: You are creating music on the spot, on a given day and time, at a given country, city and venue, in front of a given audience, and with given collaborators.

The uniqueness of each event is what lends improvised music its incomparable magic.

It shouldn’t sound the same every night. You are never in the same exact mental state, and if you sound the same, that means you’re ignoring that fact.

Some of your current emotions, ideas, thoughts and so on, should find a way into your playing on a given night. There should be a reason why you’re playing what you’re playing tonight. It has to be that you must play what you’re playing. What story do you have to tell?

When a good friend asks you how you’re feeling these days, you always have something to say. Improvisation can have some of that quality too.

For me, this is crucial in generating a great, even a needed, improvisation.


31 Dec

Approaching the idea of modestly concluding 2011, I could write a few words about the “main world events”: The Arab Spring; The Earthquake in Japan; The Killing of bin Laden; South Sudan; Gilad Shalit. And so on.

I could take a different approach and survey the happenings of my musical microcosmos in 2011: The concerts I’ve played in Europe, the US and Israel; The new music I’ve composed for myself to perform, as well as for the Theater in Germany; The new trio album I’ve recorded with Haggai Cohen Milo and Ziv Ravitz; And so forth.

Another optional path would be sharing my favorite albums, movies, and books of the passing year, as long as I arrange them in lists of round numbers. No one has his or her favorite nine books. They all seem to have ten.

To write about all these things, I need to think of them. But somehow I’m more compelled to think about other things.

First, the senses. All the things I’ve tasted, smelled, heard, seen and touched this year.

Then, Thoughts. Emotions. Words. Deeds. Contact with others.

Trying to remember even a grain of this wealth, I can’t help but concluding that being alive and well is a blessing of inconceivable richness.

Many of us have our fingers on machines and our eyes on screens, for large parts of the day.

I highly recommend eating great food that was made with care by yourself or another; Listening to music that is being played by living men and women right in front of your eyes, in the same room where your body is; And kissing someone.

Happy New Year.

On a different note (quite a few different notes, actually): Austrian composer Johannes Berauer has surprised me and made a great transcription of my composition ‘España’ from ‘Rockets on the Balcony’. It includes the song and my solo. Check it out. Thank you Johannes for a detailed and devoted work!

Music vs. Words

9 Dec

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton wrote in his blog last week that Jazz was dead. It generated a big buzz. Many people didn’t get his point, which was addressing the word jazz and not the music. My take on this is rather simple.

1. Jazz is a word. The music that was played by Minugs, Parker, Trane or whoever, was never a word. It was music. Words are assigned to music to make it compatible for discussion, and also for marketing. That’s OK. But the essence of music lies outside the realm of words – otherwise we wouldn’t have needed music.

2. Anyway, we do use these words (Jazz, Rock, and so on) which unsuccessfully try to capture something that can’t be captured. Since we use the words, we can have a discussion about their meaning, relevance and effectiveness; But it will be a discussion about language, not about music.

3. My personal agenda is: what I care about is creating amazing music and presenting it to the people. I don’t worry about definitions. I compose, practice, perform, and do my best to repeat this endlessly, intensely and creatively. When this is being done, I don’t care what’s it called. Whether the word ‘jazz’ will be alive, dead, asleep, or googling itself, my artistic and spiritual goals will remain the same.

4. This is a racial issue. As I’ve said I don’t care so much about genre-names, but Payton is trying to make a historical point. To be very clear – when I play Jazz, of course I’m playing Black American Music. I never felt anything else. If Payton (or anyone) feels the word Jazz is a generalization which leaves Blackness out, it’s worth pondering. I’m not saying the word Jazz should be replaced, but at least the point should be understood for what it is.

Paul Motian, 25 March 1931 – 22 November 2011

I would have felt weird if I only discussed the death of a word, or an idea, in the same weeks of Paul Motian’s actual death.

Paul was one of the greatest drummers since human expression is documented. I won’t link to any specific video, but I’ll just say that I’m playing more hours a day, more intensively, and with more awareness these days, partly inspired by him.

Recent Addictions

3 Dec

The last months were packed and exciting. In August and September we played in Europe with the trio. Also in September I was playing solo and teaching in Israel, then in Belgium. In October we recorded our next trio album in New York, to be released in 2012 – more about that soon. Then November brought concerts in Germany, and the exciting solo show in Tel Aviv with Alon Oleartchik as a special guest. But what was I doing in my spare time? The (somewhat partial) answer is found below:

1. Mozart’s widely celebrated Quintet in G minor, for 2 violins, 2 violas and cello. I could probably listen to the first movement  repeatedly forever. Good thing the next movements are so enchanting so I can bring myself to move on.

By the way, I have an old score of this piece, that I bought who knows where and when. Now that I can read a bit of German, I saw that it used to belong to a dentist called Kadish, who must have been a German-speaking amateur  musician, and that he performed it twice, in 1921 and 1923.

2. Elsa Morante‘s novel, La storia. One of the most profound novels about World War 2.

3. Charles Rosen’s book, The Classical Style. Takes you by the hand through the musical worlds of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

4. Michael Brecker’s solo on John Coltrane’s Transition, from Hancock, Brecker and Hargrove’s Directions in Music. It’s a tour de force demonstration of how all you need for a great solo is one idea. Well, that and the ability to expand and develop it masterfully.

In order to balance all this culture, you have to eat something.

1. If you’re in Tel Aviv I highly recommend Eyal Shani’s Miznon. It’s something like Gourmet in a pita. The minute steak is great.

Miznon, Ibn Gabirol 23

2. One of my favorite italian restaurants in New York City is kind of a best-kept secret. Bring cash, they don’t take credit cards. And don’t miss out on the Tiramisu.

Celeste, 502 Amsterdam Ave.

3. I think I’ve found the best three restaurants in Düsseldorf. These are all amazing:

Toxotis, Kaiserswerther Straße 402. One of the best greek places I’ve ever been to is surprisingly in this west-german city – I swear. I took Haggai and Ziv here after our concert at hofgarten in August and they couldn’t believe it. Get the lamb chops and thank me later.

Robert’s Bistro, Wupperstraße 2. An old establishment. The menu supposedly hasn’t changed for decades, and in this case that’s a good thing.

San Leo, Wallstraße 31. Probably the best Italian around. I thank drummer and friend Peter Weiss, a veteran Düsseldorfer, for the tip. Highly appreciated.

The Riddle

2 Jun

The act of creating something new.

Sometimes it feels like you’re inventing a riddle to which you yourself don’t know the solution.  You look for it for a while, then hopefully you find it.

This is something that might as well have been said by myself, including the exact age:

“Since age seven, I’ve been composing and have never stopped composing, yet, the creative process is as elusive to me as it has ever been.” – Lukas Foss

This happened to me twice last week:

“The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put first.” 

– T. S. Eliot

Sometimes you just have to keep working, and the work eventually brings the inspiration:

“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.” — Victor Hugo

And this is by the persian poet Rumi, whom I mentioned the other day:

Birdsong brings relief

to my longing.

I am just as ecstatic as they are,

but with nothing to say!

Please, universal soul, practice

some song, or something, through me!

New music on its way to you.

What’s New

31 May


I haven’t been blogging in a long time – too busy with other things.. but I’m back. So, what did I miss?

Two really nice reviews of my trio with Haggai and Ziv. Nate Chinen wrote in The New York Times about our trio show at Smalls in New York City, that took place on April 5.

Here is a short video from that show, (we’re playing Shining Through Broken Glass) and this is us rehearsing a new tune, the morning after, in Brooklyn.

Carlo Wolff wrote about our album Rockets on the Balcony, in JazzTimes magazine. The review includes some great short descriptions of the tunes on the album, including calling ‘España’ “Sexy”, and saying that ‘The Wedding Song’ is “Middle Eastern disco for the end of the world”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I was especially happy with the way both Haggai and Ziv are complimented:

“For Milo’s style at its spriteliest, try ‘Hope.'”

“Ravitz is so driving, his highly textured rhythms dovetail perfectly with Klein’s explorations.”

last paragraph:

“That Klein has technique to burn is obvious. That he deeply feels what he’s writing comes through even during a composition as rueful as the title track. He’s pushing envelopes ethnic and musical here. Stretch your ears to meet Omer Klein.”

I’ve been checking out so many things recently.


Francis Poulenc. This incredible French composer is going with me everywhere I go these days. His choral music is beautiful, and I love his opera Dialogues des carmélites, but I’ve been mainly listening to his chamber music. I’ve developed an obsessive fascination with his Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet. Check out the first, slow theme of the second movement.

I’ve also been digging into some other 20th century pieces: Stravinsky’s Octet, Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, Ravel’s Piano Concerto (Second movement!), Berg’s Violin Concerto and Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp.

I find a lot of beauty and depth in all of the above.


Guy de Maupassant – Le Horla. (In Hebrew it’s called Ha’ShamKan.)

A collection of short stories translated to Hebrew by Aviva Barak. The story Le papa de Simon is a testimony of the existence of good people in the world. It touched me so much that I composed a tune inspired by it, which bares the same title. Can’t wait to bring this one to the trio. However, other stories have much darker themes. All is warmly recommended.

Alex Ross – The Rest Is Noise. I have a much clearer picture of the music of the 20th century now. Ross really creates a strong, unified narrative that ties it all together. If you care about music, this book is a must.

Pablo Neruda – Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Translated by W. S. Merwin.

Rumi – Birdsong, translated by Coleman Barks.

I’ve been composing new music intensively, preparing for the Israeli tour with the trio in June, for later concerts we have in Europe, and for several upcoming solo concerts. It’s a very exciting process and I’m looking forward to sharing the new sounds with all of you.

Israel Trio Dates: (all in June)

  • 16 – Beit Ha’Kshatot, Ein Ha’Shofet
  • 17 – FestiJazz, Givatayim Theater
  • 18 – Levontin 7, Tel Aviv
  • 23 – Levontin 7, Tel Aviv
  • 24 – Milestone, Gan Shmuel

European dates for the trio coming soon, including some very cool surprises. In the meanwhile, this hit is announced:

  • August 20 – Hofgarten, Düsseldorf – outdoor park concert!

In September, apart from the trio gigs that will soon be confirmed, I’ll also be playing solo concerts and teaching. On Sep 18-22 I’ll teach at the Jerusalem Music Center, in a special, intensive Jazz course for Israel’s finest young classical pianists.

During that visit, I’ll play two solo piano concerts. One at the JMC, (exact date coming soon), and one on Sep 16 at the Gesher Theater. Later on, on Sep 25, I’ll play another solo concert, this time in Belgium – would love to see all my friends over there! This one is at Den Egger, in Scherpenheuvel-Zichem. Try to say that fast, three times, chewing a gum.