“When you are in a performance, don’t be scared of making mistakes, play in a way that makes your audience wants to get up and dance.” With these words, pianist and teacher Michael Pellera ended the New Orleans jazz artist’s master class with the big band and gospel ensembles from Begin High School. And we all benefited from the result at the Jazz Sounds of Partnership– Rosh HaAyin-New Orleans Festival, which comprised two wonderful evenings of jazz at the end of May.
Jazz was born in New Orleans around 100 years ago, and has since become an international artistic language. To this day, jazz and music in general are a basic part of life in the city which frequently celebrates this with festivals and parades, and at countless clubs and bars which host live music. In New Orleans there is the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), a music and arts academic institution whose graduates are among the world’s top jazz artists. Fortunately, the Jewish community of New Orleans is a partner of Rosh HaAyin, as part of the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Gether project. What could be more natural than linking the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, with Rosh HaAyin, the city of music?
Last year, a mission of teachers from the Rosh HaAyin music center visited New Orleans. There was immediate chemistry when the teachers met the NOCCA staff. This year we invited the staff to Rosh HaAyin, with a view to consolidating a long term relationship between the music center and the jazz department at NOCCA, and to generate ties between the arts and dance departments at Begin High School and the corresponding departments at NOCCA.
Michael Pellera – head of the Jazz Department at NOCCA, came to the music center in the city for a week-long visit, together with three of his colleagues Khari Lee, Jasen Weaver and Miles Labat. It was a packed week, with master classes, sessions with the students, teachers and heads of the education system.
After an initial encounter at the mayor’s office, which included an overview of the music education system and the music city’s vision, the guests went to meet students from the Eshkol and Rambam schools who attend the “Menagen (Playing Music) school” program. The students played music, the guests played, the school teachers joined in – the atmosphere was electric. We realized we were going to have a special week.
Later in the week the musicians met with other Menagen (Playing Music) schools, visited the musical Kindergartens, presented master classes and workshops with music stream students at the Begin Middle School and Begin High School, and watched a rehearsal of the Mandolin Orchestra and Meitav Vocal Ensemble, and a concert of the Batterista percussion ensemble in Tel Aviv. The foundations for academic cooperation, and for a busy week of work, were laid out at meetings at the music center and at Begin School. The musicians and other members of the mission stayed with host families who opens their homes and hearts, and took an active role in the visit.
The high point of the week was the two days of the jazz festival, which was organized by the municipal department of culture, the music center and Partnership2Gether volunteers.
On the first day students of middle school music streams and Begin High School performed. The climax of the evening was a concert by the Begin High School big band and the high school’s gospel band, together with guest vocalist Roy Young, which really got the audience going. The evening closed with a jam session with alternating jazz groups and, of course, with the guests from New Orleans, who already had gotten to know the youngsters at the master classes.
The second evening opened with an unforgettable performance by Batterista, the music center’s percussion ensemble who, for the first time, appeared before an audience of thousands. They were followed by the New Orleans jazz quarter – Michael, Khari, Jasen and Miles – with generous portions of wonderful contemporary jazz which references traditional jazz whose heritage hails from New Orleans of around a century ago. Jess Koren was the guest artist at the concert. Jess is a saxophone teacher at the Music Center, and is one of the most important jazz musicians in Israel. The evening was MCed by radio personality and singer Dori Ben Ze’ev, who also closed out the show with his trademark ebullience.
During the course of the evening, Danny Shani, chair of the Partnership steering committee, addressed the audience and participants and noted the strong bond between the Jewish community of New Orleans and Rosh HaAyin, and the importance of the partnership in bringing Jews close through these kinds of projects and ventures. Moshe Sinai, the Mayor of Rosh HaAyin, also presented a special certificate of appreciation to Lis Khan, a member of the New Orleans Jewish community, and chair of the Partnership2Gether steering committee. The certificate was awarded for her contribution to strengthening the bond between the communities and the cities. In addition, the evening’s program included the transfer of a significant donation from the community for the purpose of purchasing instruments for the music streams in the city.
The guests left in tears and promised to come back.
And we stayed hungry for more.
See you next year