Barak Weiss : A Magnetic Force

The Head of Tel Aviv Jazz Festival

Tel Aviv is considered the most vibrant city of Israel, founded in 1909 by the Jewish Community of Jaffa (Hebrew) or Yaffa (Arabic) on the suburbs of the ancient port city, Tel Aviv is now a global city and interestingly enough its known (like New York) as “The City That Never Sleeps”. Whoever come to this city enjoy its 24 hours beaches, bars, restaurants, shopping. But Tel Aviv is also a major performing art center. Among the many cultural activities the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival has an esteemed reputation. The Festival host internationally notorious artists as well as Israeli jazz artists.

Barak Weiss runs the Tel Aviv Jazz festival. A native from Jerusalem, Weiss is deeply involved in many Israeli cultural/musical matters. He talks to Jazz Times about this major event: “The Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, in its 23rd year, is one of the most prominent and important jazz events in Israel. It has gained a reputation in Israel and abroad for attracting both Israeli and international jazz personalities, and is also well known for its special music projects. However, its main appeal is the exciting annual experience it offers to lovers of the genre".

And when it comes to talk about Tel Aviv, Weiss re-affirm : “Tel Aviv is the culture center of Israel, and its Jazz festival is just the same: central, forward-thinking, fits all genres; from mainstream to Free Jazz, from Straight-ahead Jazz to Ethnic Jazz and from International Jazz to excellent Israeli Jazz. We host both prominent established jazz stars and "rising Stars”. The festival is four days long and it takes place at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, in every 3rd week of February. The Festival is produced by the Tel Aviv Municipality. This year we have musicians from The US, France, Japan Bulgaria and Mali, as well as Israeli musicians, living both in Israel and abroad.”

The amount of concerts and bands to listen and check out this year, are amazing. Barak corroborates: ‘This year we have 19 ticket/concerts and 11 free concerts, so there's a total of about 30 groups/bands playing at the festival. As I said, the festival is organized by the Tel Aviv Municipality and it is its main supporter. There's also a very small government funding. In general all performing arts in Israel are supported by governmental or municipal funding. There is a very limited sponsoring from the private sector. So it's all about public money and the revenues from selling tickets. As of Jazz itself, we have a lively jazz scene here. There are a lot of youngsters who take interest in jazz and they crowd the Jazz spots in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel. There are two major festivals here: the Red Sea jazz Festival in Eilat that takes place during the summer and the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival. Over the years, I think one can feel that there is an "Israeli Jazz sound" to Israeli musicians: their music in infused by Israeli folk songs and by Jewish music from the different Diasporas”.

A former attorney and charming character, Weiss discovered jazz at the Israeli Army. He develops: ” We never listened to Jazz at home and when I was a teenager I listened especially to rock. I began listening to Jazz while I was at the army when I was 18. A good friend of mine is a saxophone player and she took me to some Jazz concerts. I became a Jazz-Fanatic when I attended a Ray Charles concert in my hometown Jerusalem. I was immediately converted after hearing Brother Ray's Horn section blow. In 2002 I started administrating A Jazz forum in Hebrew over the internet, and it soon became the gathering place of both Jazz fans of people from the Jazz community in Israel. Since 2007 I'm directing the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival. And since 2011 I'm also directing Israel International Exposure for Jazz and World Music, an Israeli Jazz and World Music Expo; this in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Despite his involvement with jazz music and art, Barak Weiss confess: “I never planned to be part of the "music industry" it just happened this way. I was just an avid Jazz fan, but when I was offered the position of Artistic Directing, I couldn't say no. The possibilities were incredible for me: I could finally take part of deciding who to feature at one of the most prominent Jazz venues in Israel and I could initiate special festival productions. After doing that for a few years, I began forming the Israeli Exposure for Jazz and World Music. I know practically every Israeli Jazz and World musicians. Many of them consulted with me on how to play more festivals around the world, how to get their message out, well I tried my best... putting them in touch with friend and colleagues at other Jazz Festivals worldwide, but that wasn’t enough. I realized that I must harness my other qualifications (I have MBA in finance and I was practicing law until 1998) for the Israeli Jazz community.”

Weiss pursue: ” I think everyone in New York knows that the Israeli Jazz scene these days is one of the best in the world and it produces great musicians each years, and yet many very talented Israeli musicians rarely play outside of Israel, and Israel is a small country with a very limited number of performing options. All that leads me to understanding the need and importance of creating an Israeli Jazz and World Music Showcase that brings to Israel key figures from the World Music Industry, in order to expose the great Israeli talents worldwide. Eventually, the first Showcase took place last November and it was a huge success. I'm hoping to turn it into an annual event. Check out this link:

http://www.jpost.com/ArtsAndCulture/Music/Article.aspx?id=258100

I considered Jerusalem as one the holiest places over the world and always wondered about its jazz scene. Barak clarifies: “Well, I live In Jerusalem but I work both in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv and I can tell you, it’s a different crowd. I don't think of Jerusalem as "holy". It is not holy for me. It is my beautiful hometown and I'm proud to live in it and to be part of it. By the way, there are 2 Jerusalem’s: the Israeli and the Palestinian …two different cities. I'm talking only about the Israeli Jerusalem, culture-wise. The Jerusalem crowds are different than the Tel Aviv crowds in many ways. It's much more eclectic than Tel Aviv, with more Jewish-religious people. Tel Avivians are more International ambience to it. Jerusalem is all types of Jewish music and to fusions between "Jewish Music" from all over the Jewish Diaspora – and other music genres than Tel Aviv.”

Hassidic and Klezmer music become special part of the world music scene in NY. It’s the same in the holy land? Barak responds: “In some parts, the Hassidic and Ultra-orthodox neighborhoods, that’s the music they are playing for many generations. In the secular parts of Israel …there's a "Klezmer revival" as well. Many years after the Klezmer revival started in NYC. And like I said – The Jerusalemite is much more open to this fusion than the Tel Avivians, but little by little, it arrives to Tel Aviv As well. It is important to note that you only referred to Hassidic Music/Klezmer and here in Israel there are many more Jewish music traditions from all over the world : from Jewish Andalucía music to Jewish Azeri Music, from Jewish Ethiopian Music to central European Jewish Music. We have it all here.”

Fascinating and multi-faceted Barak Weiss is now listening on his cd player to Mozart, Die Zauberflute and Lin Halliday's Airegin! ... Chance strategies and the like are all made on venture. We don't know if we'll need to resort to our back-up plans, but we make them…just in case. On the other hand, there is one event that we will all face eventually: our passing from this world to the next. Since it makes good sense to have a back-up plan for living, it is surely wise to prepare for what comes after. This is a central principle in Jewish life and lifestyle. Though it sounds reasonable to have a back-up plan, it's not often considered a life priority. Yet Barak Weiss happily wager: “I have no idea what will be next week, certainly not in two years. Here in Israel it's not wise to make long term plans. We can always entangle ourselves in some silly war or get blasted to pieces in a terrorist attack. Carpe Diem! …Israel will remain a small country in the future and hopefully the same amount of talent coming from here will continue, which means that Israel will continue to have more supply musicians than demand, and that means that Israeli musicians must find more venues to play abroad. I don't believe this necessarily means immigrating. I think there's a similar situation in the US, where the diminishing demand for Jazz cannot cover the much greater supply of Jazz musicians US is producing. In both cases Israel and the US musicians are looking towards Europe, Japan and elsewhere to earn money as performing artists and still most of them don’t immigrate to Europe or Japan.”

Barak Weiss concludes: “In addition, there are so many other factors in deciding where one shall live and raise his family. Taking all that into account I think that most Israeli musicians that are now active in NYC and elsewhere will eventually return to live in Israel, while others, younger, will continue go there to get great musical education and experience”.


Visit Tel Aviv Jazz Festival February 21st - 24th 2012.
English website:

http://www.jazzfest.co.il/2012/english/

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