by Ya’akov Almor
“You live in Mitzpe Ramon? Really? That’s a far-away place, isn’t it?”
It’s a question – and assertion – that I hear often. Fortunately, most of those phrasing these questions know where to find my little town on Israel’s map.
“I had lunch at the new shopping center when I drove through on my way to Eilat a while back,” an acquaintance enthused. Many locals, myself included, do not share the occasional visitors’ enthusiasm. The building, stuck next to our town’s central roundabout, is an eyesore.
However, despite my aversion, I found myself at the shopping complex every day during the Mitzpe Ramon Summer Jazz Festival that was held here from August 14 to 21. After the regrettable closing of the Mitzpe Ramon Jazz Club’s premises in the artist quarter during the pandemic, the club now has a classroom-sized, temporary home on the ground floor of the shopping center. A few weeks earlier, my neighbor Marc asked me if I fancied participating in the masterclass program that would be held during the festival. Marc, who lives a few houses down my street, is a violinist I jammed with on several occasions. “You will enjoy this tremendously! I’ll send you the link!”
Mitzpe Ramon’s school of music, the Internal Compass Music’s ‘Matanel’ Program for Creative Music, operates under the auspices of Mitzpe Ramon’s Community and Cultural Center (MRCCC). It has an excellent national reputation, especially for modern music and jazz. Ehud Ettun, an internationally renowned double bass player, and his wife Brianna Ettun-Perez, a percussionist, organized the 2022 edition of the festival after a three-year hiatus. Like in the past, the Ettuns, Internal Compass Music’s owners, organized the festival in cooperation with the MRCCC and with the support of several sponsors. Internal Compass’ teaching staff includes some formidable names and talents. If you’ve not yet heard of David Alfandary, Daniël Schwarzwald, Jacqueline Fay, Ehud Ettun, Amir Bar Akiva, and Michael Wolpe, you should lend your ears and eyes and visit their websites and YouTube channels. This, of course, is only a partial list.
Back to the festival and the masterclasses. After registering and offering proof of ability, I was assigned to the ensemble of Argentinian / Portuguese jazz pianist and mentor Pablo Lapidusas. Marc and I were the local boys. Our bass player Yaakov, drummer Oleg, Stanislav (an unbelievably talented pianist), singer Tamar, and percussionist Oren came from the country’s center and the northern port city of Haifa to participate in the masterclasses and evening concerts.
I usually don’t gush or express myself in superlatives, but here I’ll make an exception. It’s difficult to describe the enormous energy, enthusiasm, and enchanting musical manifestation the 50 or so participants – aged 16 to 66 – experienced during the Jazz week. I cannot recall when I was last challenged to significantly crank up my musical and technical capabilities in just a few days.
Pablo Lapidusas is an incredibly ardent, motivating, eye-level, and considerate mentor and teacher. Apart from the intensive rehearsals, harmony and composition lessons, and other instruction, I enjoyed spending hours a day mastering the complex scores Pablo had put in front of us. Full disclosure: my embouchure (the lip-and-mouth techniques that flutists need to articulate their sound properly) and fingering techniques greatly improved. I got close, but it was never perfect. But it was great fun!
The presence of a group of foreign musicians – colleagues and collaborators of Ehud Ettun with whom he often works and performs worldwide – was of immeasurable added value. Prior to one of the evening concerts in the Jazz Club, I talked to Darren Pettit, a saxophonist from Omaha, Nebraska, who had earlier participated in the festival’s 2019 edition.
“What is it that brings you back to Mitzpe Ramon?” I queried. “What motivates you to return? We’re not the center of the world, certainly not in the music world?”
“Listen, I wouldn’t want to miss it! This place has an almost magical pull and energy that is difficult to explain. The local geographical settings and surroundings, the delightful and passionate students we tutor and work with, and the other colleagues we perform with inspire us all. It’s the energy that this special place and these amazing people radiate!” Darren indicated that he spoke for all of the foreign colleagues who participated this year: Saxophonist (Ms) Lihi Haruvi (Boston/Israel); guitarist Rafal Sarnecki (Poland); drummer Adam Zagorski (Poland); base player and percussionist Leo Espinosa (Cuba/Portugal), and the formidable Pablo Lapidusas. All of them are top musicians.
Socially, the week was also a success. The performance of our ensemble was far from perfect. But that didn’t matter much. We got great reactions and, more importantly, made many new friends with whom we had great fun. Can’t wait for next year!