top of page

Adventure with Israeli Jazz

Israeli jazz has been gradually gaining attention since the 1990s, and in the past 20 years or so, it has risen to the forefront of the world jazz scene. The 20 years that Israeli jazz has permeated the world are exactly the 20 years that I have been wrestling with jazz. To me, Israeli jazz is like a companion who has traveled together in the wilderness of jazz.

-Atsuko Yashima (Representative Director / Producer of Eight Islands Co., Ltd.)

"I hear Israeli jazz is kind of a big deal." I first heard about Israeli jazz in the mid-2000s. It had been a few years since I launched the jazz festival "Tokyo JAZZ", and in the days when I was struggling with planning and booking, I had been relying on my fellow overseas music festival producers more than anything else. They were all talking about Israeli jazz.
I've been a jazz fan since I was a student, and I had heard of Avishai Cohen, who was discovered by Chick Corea, but that was about the extent of my knowledge of Israeli jazz. It was a completely unknown world to me. However, as a jazz festival with the theme of "Beyond National Borders and Beyond Generations," I have always wanted to introduce a variety of jazz from around the world, not just from the United States and Europe, so I started listening to every Israeli jazz CD recommended by my friends. The Balkan Beat Box was enthusiastically talked about by many friends. What? What? Electro? Jazz? Folk music? I began to see horizons of music that I had never seen or heard before. This is where my adventure with Israeli jazz began.
A few years later, the Israeli Embassy sent me to an event called "International Exposure for Jazz and World Music" in Israel, as I wanted to learn more about Israeli jazz.
Festival producers and music professionals from about 30 countries gathered at two venues in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to spend four days immersed in Israeli jazz and world music. The performance by saxophonist Eli Degibri was a gut punch from the opening. I've heard rumors that there is a great saxophone player from Israel who is co-starring with Herbie Hancock, but this was my first time to experience a live performance. I was moved by the beautiful sound and the depth of sound that came to my heart. The level of the band as a whole was high and the sense of unity was amazing. I looked at the band members and thought, "Hmm? Middle school students? High school students?" At that time, the pianist was Gadi Lehavi (born in 1996), who was 15 years old and 17-year-old Ofri Nehemya (born in 1997). Both of them still looking innocent, but they were supporting Eli Degibri (born in 1978) with their solid technique and beautiful playing.
Besides, I was completely fascinated by talented jazz and world music artists. Hardcore klezmer, noisy avant-garde jazz, and folk music packed with all the tunes of the Middle East. I was blown away by the Israeli music scene, which has completely transcended genres. It felt completely new to me, but at the same time, it was the kind of music I had been looking for somewhere in my heart.
Immediately, I invited the long-sought Israeli artist Balkan Beat Box to Tokyo Jazz the following year. Since it was a big deal, I asked "SOIL & "PIMP" SESSIONS" to collaborate with a Japanese artist, and he kindly agreed and co-starred. Of course, it was the first time for them to perform together, and I was thrilled to have organized it, but, after the performance, I felt relieved to hear them both said, "It was a lot of fun. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to co-star!" During the performance, a dancer suddenly appeared on stage and danced around, but I was not informed of this at all. I was surprised, but this is what jazz is all about. It was very exciting.

A New Horizon in Jazz from Israel

Starting with the Balkan Beat Box, many Israeli jazz artists have come to Tokyo JAZZ. Eli Degibri, who I met in Tel Aviv and was impressed by his music, came to Japan in 2015, along with Gadi Lehavi, who turned 20, and Ofri Nehemya. We also featured Avishai Cohen, a wonderful trumpet player who was born in the same year as Eli and is a childhood friend of his, and Chihiro Yamanaka, who has a long history with Israel, joined us as a special guest. I learned for the first time as Eli and Avishai, two of the most popular artists in Israeli jazz, would be performing with us, that when they were little, one of them would ride the butt of the other's mother's scooter to music school, but as adults, they rarely had a chance to perform together, so it was a dream come true for them to perform together in Tokyo. Many of the audience had never heard Israeli jazz before, but their lyrical and beautiful performance was very well received. I also went on a tour of Tohoku with Avishai, and along the way he shared with me his dreams as an artist and his feelings for his homeland. I was very touched by his strong desire to achieve his dreams without giving up, no matter how many detours or how far the road might take. One of his dreams was to release an album with the double-drums Big Vicious Project, which later became a reality. Since then, Eli and I have been working together on various projects based in New York, and continue to be at the forefront of jazz. While both of them are globetrotters, they both value their roots and legacy, and continue to focus on training their younger colleagues.
I myself am still continuing my adventure with Israeli jazz. I am also paying attention to the pleasant music of Nitai Hershkovitz, the Buttering Trio, and Gilad Abro, who are creating a new sound by incorporating various beats, rhythms, and elements of the current music scene. In addition, the generation born in the 1990s has begun to make original music with a fresh feeling of living in the present while inheriting the legacy created by Avishai Cohen and other greats, and I feel that the scene is getting hotter and hotter.
In my recent translation of Chick Corea's book, there is a section titled "Pianists I (Chick Corea) studied and was inspired by." There was the name of Gadi Lehavi along with Beethoven and Martha Argerich. Unfortunately I didn't have a chanceto talk with Mr. Chick about Gadi, but it's no wonder Gadi inspired Chick, who valued his imagination and creativity above all else.

Growing up at the crossroads where dozens of cultures overlap and converge, Israeli artists already have a spirit that transcends borders, cultures, and genres. Global, diversity, borderless, etc., are not necessary words to describe them, but they are ingrained in their bodies and minds. They continue to refine their outstanding skills and their ability to express themselves in a forward-thinking and creative way, and to weave new sounds with a full range of free thinking and creativity.
I would like to continue to follow the horizon of Israeli jazz for a long time after this. I feel that this is where the future of jazz lies.


Atsuko Yashima

Representative Director and Producer of Eight Islands Co., Ltd.
She grew up in Seattle, USA from the age of 8 to 11 due to her father's work. Wanting to work as a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world, she studied international politics at the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University, while at the same time studying simultaneous interpretation. After graduating from university and working for NTT, she became interested in urban planning and studied architecture and urban design at the graduate school of Keio University. Since joining NHK Enterprises, she has planned and produced international exchange programs such as the International Robot Contest, the invitation to the French Christmas Market, and the Music for Tomorrow project to support the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. In 2021, she established Eight Islands Co. and is working hard to produce concerts, events, and content to fulfill her long-held dream of "connecting Japan and the world through music and culture". She is the author of "Chick Corea's A Work In Progress: To Continue to Grow as a Musician" (Published by Yamaha Music Entertainment Holdings on August 31, 2021).

bottom of page