Thursday, November 10, 2011


St. Lawrence Church
November 12

An original voice from the Mideast.

A funny thing happened to Israeli pianist Anat Fort on the way to releasing her second album, A Long Story. She recorded it in 2004 with bass player Ed Schuller, clarinetist Perry Robinson and drummer Paul Motian, a seminal figure in modern jazz. Motian liked the music so much that he recommended it to Manfred Eicher, founder of the prestigious ECM label. Eicher was impressed enough to sequence and mix the final product himself, reportedly the first time he produced an album without actually being at the recording session.

A Long Story was finally released in 2007 – thus the title – adding to the growing accolades for Fort, who started studying classical piano at the age of 6 and turned to jazz in her late teens. Her first album, Peel (1999), which featured all original compositions played solo and with various combinations of sideman, drew critical praise for its strong musical vocabulary and original voice. Both A Long Story and And If (2010) , also released on ECM, continued the arc of growing acclaim for Fortʼs strengths as a composer and skillful blend of the traditional and original in her playing style.

All of which makes her a great headliner for the opening night of the International Jazz Piano Festival, a set of three concerts at cozy St. Lawrence Church in Malá Strana, each featuring three solo pianists from different countries. Also on the bill this Saturday are Luxembourgʼs Michel Reis and Switzerlandʼs Christoph Stiefel. Fort graciously agreed to answer some questions in a phone conversation last week from her home in Israel.

When did you decide that you wanted to devote yourself to jazz?

Actually, I never was really serious about classical music. I just played because I had fun doing it, and I would improvise on the side. Playing the piano was never something that I thought I would do professionally until I discovered jazz, which was sort of at the end of high school, the beginning of my army service. And when I did, it soon became very clear that I needed to do this.

Did you study jazz in Israel before going to the U.S?

For three or four years. Then what happened was, I was at a summer session at the Eastman School of Music in New York, where I heard about William Paterson [University in New Jersey]. So I called the school and asked for an audition – I guess thatʼs my Israel chutzpah. And they said no, this is not audition time. But I convinced them, and went there the next day, and auditioned and got accepted.

Who are your jazz heroes?

All of them – and itʼs not just pianists. John Coltrane is just as big an influence on me as Keith Jarrett or Duke Ellington or Hampton Hawes; itʼs a matter of musicianship. But of course there are certain times when I listen to a lot of jazz piano, and so itʼs the people that I mentioned, and also Paul Bley, and Marilyn Crispell, and all the traditional ones too – Art Tatum and later on Cedar Walton and Red Garland and Wynton Kelly – you name it.

Critics cite a lot of other influences in your work, like Mideastern music.

I think whatever people want to hear, or can hear, they will hear. If I wanted them to hear something specific, I would probably write lyrics – but I donʼt, and thereʼs a point to that.

Thereʼs one tune that appears in three different instrumentations on A Long Story called “Just Now.” I remember clearly, when I was writing that tune, I was on the fjords in Norway. I had never been there, but I just had that feeling. It was something very Nordic that I was hearing, and it just kind of came out. When I was with Manfred [Eicher] in the studio when he was mixing the album, he looked at me when he heard that tune and said, “Tel Aviv, huh?” Well, yeah, itʼs Tel Aviv, because Iʼm from Tel Aviv. But I was thinking about the fjords in Norway. So Iʼm a lot of things, and eventually they will all come out.

What are you working on now?

An orchestral piece. Iʼm doing my doctorate in musical composition at a university in Israel, and thatʼs part of what I have to do – which is a really cool excuse to write a piece for piano and orchestra. Hopefully I will have a chance to perform it. There are already discussions about that, which would be very exciting and interesting for me. I wrote one orchestra piece that was never performed, so itʼs exciting to know that this could actually see the light of the stage some day.

So you do both jazz and classical composition?

Yeah, though I donʼt really like to categorize too much – itʼs just music, you know? Most of the work I do is for smaller ensembles, because I have a working trio, and itʼs easiest for me to write for that band. But Iʼll use any excuse to write for bigger groups, even if I just add a couple people, or a whole orchestra.

Have you been doing more solo outings lately?

Yes, which is wonderful for me, because I donʼt like to do just one thing. The fact that Iʼve had a working trio for about 12 years now doesnʼt mean thatʼs all I want to do; I always need a mix of projects. So to do a little solo work, a little trio work, some collaborations with other people, some writing, some teaching – thatʼs pretty healthy for me, and I try to keep that balance.

Iʼm also excited about coming to Prague. Iʼve never been there, except passing through the airport, and I know itʼs a great city for music. So Iʼm looking forward to this performance.

For more on Anat Fort:

For a complete festival schedule:

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