Ben Scholz

Over the past few years I've been fortunate to interview many well-known musicians, most often in New York City, or Los Angeles. Occasionally the opportunity to interview a subject in-person arises, and I always try and jump at the chance to conduct an in-person interview. Before my most recent re-location to California, Oz Noy called while on tour with Oteil Burbridge and Keith Carlock. In need of a replacement pedal, and perhaps a change of scenery from the airport Holiday Inn, Oz asked if I could give the band a ride to a local music store. A Sunday morning after a weekend of shows and my church gig is usually a race against exhaustion, however I agreed to act as chauffeur in return for an interview. Here's what went down.

Ben Scholz: So, Israel. Just a couple questions. Was your family living in the middle east in '48?

Oz Noy: No. They were in Europe.

Ben: So, why did they move to Israel?

Oz: Second world war. Nazis, the whole deal. They were running away from the Nazis. My grandparents are all from Poland. But they started to move around. My parents were born in Russia. My Aunt was born in Germany, you know they had to move around Eastern Europe.

Ben: Did you move straight to New York from Israel?

Oz: Straight from Israel to New York. In August of '96.

Ben: Why did you choose New York other than for the obvious reasons? Why did you choose New York as opposed to, like anywhere else in the world?

Oz: It was the obvious reason. There's really no other reason.

Ben: Something I've noticed about Israeli musicians is that they tend to settle in NYC. Why do so many Israeli musicians move to New York, and why do so few move elsewhere?

Oz: Because, it's very simple. It's simple. New York is pretty much the center of the jazz scene, musically speaking. If you're immigrating to another country you might as well be in the right place you know? There's really only three centers of music in America. There's New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. If you wanna do jazz you need to be in New York. If you wanna do studio work, or country you live in Nashville. And if you want to do pop stuff, movies etc., Los Angeles. In general it's kind of a waste of time going to a city that is not totally central. At least in terms of the music scene.

Ben: Do you find yourself going to Nashville and Los Angeles a lot?

Oz: Just to play, yeah. Most of my sessions are in NY and I've been fortunate enough to live in Manhattan in the same apartment since I moved to NY in '96.

Ben: So you have rent control or something?

Oz: Yeah, rent stabilized. It's a great place and I'm never gonna leave it. There's no chance in the world that that's gonna happen. I just got lucky you know? It's interesting. When I moved to New York I landed on the Upper West Side with a good friend of mine. It was so friendly, it kind of reminded me of Tel Aviv in many ways. So, it kind of felt like home in a way. Right away, it didn't feel like that different.

Ben: What do you think of the other boroughs? What are your perceptions on, the "scene" in Manhattan?

Oz: What, like Williamsburg, Queens and such?

Ben: Well, Brooklyn and Harlem.

Oz: Brooklyn? Well, there are a lot of really nice areas all around Manhattan. Brooklyn and Williamsburg, Queens and Long Island and Westchester. If you're close to the city then you're fine. If you get a little farther away, travelling becomes a little problematic. Especially now when it's so congested in NY. So, I don't know. I think some of those areas are way overrated. Living in Brooklyn? Way, way overrated. I don't know why this is the case, but it is. That's just my opinion.

Ben: I'm just kind of curious. How did you get hooked up with The Bitter End? How did that whole thing evolve?

Oz: Well, when I moved to New York there used to be a jam there every Sunday. There's still a jam there, but now it's every other Sunday. At the time, it was a pretty happening jam. And before I moved to NY, I had friends of mine, Israelis that were already here. They told me about the jam and I went there and before long, they hired me to be in the house band. That was the same time that Keith Carlock moved to town. We used to do those jams together. I played there a bunch, and I made a tape with friends of mine. Just a trio. I gave it to the guy and I said "Hey can I play here once a month?" He was nice, he gave me a gig you know? After a couple of years a friend of mine convinced me to do a live record. He was like "man, it's got like a real vibe, you should record it." So the first record I did was "Live at the Bitter End." That was the in 2001 or 2002. Somewhere around there. Then after that, I started to play every week. That's the story, really.

Asian Twistz the latest album from Oz Noy, featuring Etienne Mbappe and Dave Weckl is now available.

To be a great musician one must “zoom out” and be a part of the big picture when playing in an ensemble. The primary focus is on the greater whole. Only by doing this does a significant band sound emerge. If people of the world could only grasp this way of looking at things, we would be much better off.” - Bob Mintzer

The global community is presented with an extremely myopic point of view when it comes to the dissemination of information.  Media conglomerates allow news outlets to force a certain perspective without much criticism.  This bubble extends to the music world as well.  Easy access to home recording equipment and online distribution has created a certain sense of isolationism in the music industry.  Tasks that once required an entire staff of skilled technicians can now be accomplished by a single person.  At a recent concert in Chicago, Mintzer was asked if he felt that this “lack of accountability” from producers, engineers, fellow musicians etc., fosters creative independence, or if he felt that these DIY artists need to learn how to work with others.  

“The technology which allows musicians to conceive music at home is a good tool for trying things and documenting your music for a fraction of the cost that a top rate studio would charge. However, this is not a replacement for the experience of playing with and writing for live musicians in real time. Your ability to program music on a computer will only be as good as your conception of how live musicians would play together to create an ensemble sound. I think the only way to learn this is through playing with other musicians. Being in a band and developing a band sound through collaboration with the other players is a creative process that one must experience to develop as a well rounded musician with something to say.”

The last chord has been played, the lights have been dimmed, and the iconic NYC skyline (in miniature) behind Dave’s desk has been disassembled and stored.  The airing of the finale of “The Late Show With David Letterman” on Wednesday May 20th and the accompanying performance by “The CBS Orchestra” marks the end of a television era.  

This past year, Anton teamed up with guitar wizards Eric Johnson and Mike Stern to release Eric’s latest album “Eclectic”.   We caught up with Fig after a performance with Johnson and Stern to discuss their rehearsal process, the album and tour.

On his debut album as a leader, saxophonist Michael Eaton presents a collection of original material featuring a rotating group of NYC based musicians including Jon Crowley on Trumpet,  David Liebman on Saxophone, Brad Whitley on piano, bassists Daniel Ori and Scott Colberg, and Shareef Taher on drums.

Exhibiting his artistic and personal development while ambitiously bridging the worlds of lyrical themes, Eaton intricately combines rhythmic minimalistic vamps, freebop, Cageian prepared piano, and multi-layered open terrains.  Songs such as “Guru” and “Me, But Not Myself” feature motivic, almost Mid-Eastern ostinatos and pads.  “Alter Ego” with it’s afro-cuban 6/8 rhythm and McCoy Tyner - esque piano riff features a solo by Leibman, and the two duke it out on the track “Prickly”.  The title track features a 5 part ouvre that transitions through some of the same rhythmic ideas present in other tracks on the album.  Even though the music on this album took months to complete, the material pops in a fresh and lively way without sounding over-rehearsed.

Pop culture’s love-hate relationship with its artists presents an interesting conundrum.  Music created for mass-consumption must be easily digestible, yet the public is quick to retaliate against content that lacks substance. Gifted musicians are often pigeonholed into a certain style or sound that may not reflect their true range.  This myopic point of view focuses on one marketable facet of an artist’s talent without taking into account the fact that most recording musicians tend to compose in a variety of styles and genres.

Born in Cardiff, Wales, Donna Lewis grew up in a family of musicians.  Exposed to the jazz greats at an early age, she left the UK for Canada to record with producer Pierre Marchand.  After years of unsuccessful pitches to record labels, she caught the attention of Atlantic Records in ‘94 and released her debut album “Now In A Minute”.  The album and accompanying single “I Love You Always Forever” went on to become major hits on both the US and global charts, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the album certifying platinum.  

In the 20 years since her smash hit, Donna Lewis has maintained a steady career as a recording artist and composer. Now, accompanied by longtime producer David Torn, pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King, Donna is set to release her first album in nearly decade.  Light years away from her commercial radio hits of the 90’s, Donna Lewis’ latest release “Brand New Day” re-imagines work by artists as diverse as David Bowie, Neil Young, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Gnarls Barkley.  We sat down with Donna to talk about her artistic influences, her history as a recording musician, and the demands placed on young artists by the popular music industry.


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