INTERVIEW Destinations and playgrounds
Tamir Hendelman gives The Tech his unique musical perspective
Sculler’s Jazz Club
Thursday, January 6
Tamir Hendelman is a young Israeli musician and a product of the Los Angeles jazz scene. His latest Boston performance at Sculler’s Jazz Club was particularly lively, with Tim Horner on drums and Martin Wind on bass. Hendelman’s music is quite accessible, and he does a particularly good job of combining various musical influences together. Credit should also be given to Horner and Wind, who gave a decisive edge to the trio’s sound. Tamir Hendelman has two recordings released to date: 2010’s Destinations with Lewis Nash and Marco Panascia, and 2008’s Playground with Jeff Hamilton and John Clayton.
Hendelman took the time to talk with me after his Thursday, Jan. 6 show at Sculler’s.
The Tech: I wanted to talk a little about the influence of location, culture, politics, and how that factors into your work — how you’re trying to get it across, what you find beautiful in it, and what is beyond just the technicality of whatever you’re trying to say.
Tamir Hendelman: Well, the beautiful thing about music and about playing jazz, and playing with music all over the world, is that music kind of transcends any kind of boundaries. National boundaries, ideas about different things — so it’s like a heart-to-heart kind of thing. I came to LA when I was 12, and I had a very happy childhood [in Israel], and then it was a really nice adventure of discovery to be in this huge country, all the opportunities, and so on. And, one thing that I don’t do much is read the news. Usually the news is designed to make people afraid or separate them from each other and things like that, so I think one of the things I try to do through my music is to connect people and share, and just share the joy of communicating together. I mean, on my recording, the drummer is from New York, originally from Arizona, the bass player is from Italy, Martin’s from Germany, so, who cares?
TT: What have you been listening to recently? Do you focus on one thing for a while, or are you all over the place?
TH: No, I keep pretty eclectic. Lately I’ve just been digging into standards and listening to one song — a lot of different approaches to the same song. Actually, a few years ago I did my first year of the Jazz Cruise, which is happening again in a couple weeks, and it was there…I just started listening to really different musics, and even some things that weren’t even songs. They were just print-outs of Turkish music, and [I’d] play one of those things and let that influence me. So I just go with the flow with that, and if I really want to get into something, a certain groove or a certain type of music culture, I’ll sit with it for a while.
TT: Do you have a certain composing process? Is there a methodology?
TH: Yeah, sometimes I’ll just hear a tune and write it, or sing it, record it, or play it then mess around with developing it in different ways. Sometimes if I’m writing an arrangement or if I’m writing a more extended piece, it could be a matter of getting an overall picture of the story that I want to create and the different moods, or kind of ups and downs, or emotions I want to go through. Then usually I’ll improvise an idea or a few ideas or a few sections, record them or listen to them, or just print them down on paper, and then later on I can always go back and change them.
But a few years ago I started teaching a course [at UCLA] called “Pathways to Composition,” which I kind of created and which was inspired by my love of all these different musics. Why should we have someone only writing classical or jazz? Good music is good music. So I took about twenty pieces, and jazz songs, and music by Jobim, Ravel, Mozart, and just created little lead sheets — just basically the melody and the chords for those — and I basically had the students compose music that was inspired by those. Almost as if Ravel or Mozart were sitting there saying, “Check this out, look, let’s try modulating, try repeating that motif, but not the whole thing.” And we started playing with the element of repeating something because you love it, or the element of surprise, and rhythm — a lot of different things like that. I just like to experiment and not stick to only one thing.
TT: It seems you’re very visual with a piece and there’s good stories behind the piece. These stories, do they happen before, and then the piece develops, or do you start a piece and then realize you’ve been writing about sycamores the whole time?
TH: Well, you start writing the melody and then you realize what it’s really about. It’s funny because when I was about 14, 15, 16, I was writing these pieces that were very impressionistic. I was listening to a lot of Ravel at the time, pieces like Daphnis et Chloé, the mythological type. I would write pieces like the “The Tortoise and the Hare,” different things that would have a real story to them. Part of my goal was to write music for film, because I’d had a few mentors that wrote music for films — Joe Harnell, Misha Segal, different composers in LA — and we all listen to those greats, could be a John Williams score or whoever, and you say “Wow.” But then one of my mentors sat me down and said, “What do you really want for you — do you want to write music for film when sometimes the director might tell you what the music is supposed to sound like, and you might have to write music for a film you don’t really believe in, or do you just want to play around the world, be a jazz artist?” And I thought, “That’s what I really want to do.” But I [also] thought that I want to create these stories, create these people that create the movie in their own minds.
TT: Do you see, in terms of future music, places where music is coming from — music or other things that you wouldn’t have thought of?
TH: I just love what’s happening in the last forty years, fifty years with music. You see in classical music, for example, in the middle of the 20th century, there was this period where a lot of the classical composers were writing this very atonal music, and it was becoming very not accessible. And then later on people started coming back to harmony, coming back to melody, things that you could sing or things that had a color that you could feel — but combining things in different ways. Combining classical and jazz, for example. When I was in Europe I was so excited to hear some of the local groups…there was a great 18-year-old bass clarinetist that did a duet with a guitar and a bass. There’s just so many combinations out there, and of course now with YouTube…you can explore all day. So it’s giving me some ideas of where I want to take the next step of the journey.