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Roni Ben-Hur

The youngest of seven siblings and therefore a musician who knows how to thrive as a valued member of a group, Ben-Hur was one of the first Israeli jazz musicians to have a significant impact on American jazz. He single-handedly blazed the trail for the current new wave of talented Israelis now making their mark.

As a determined and impressionable young musician, literally ‘fresh off the boat’ in 1985, Roni absorbed a lifetime of real-deal experience hanging out at Barry Harris’ Jazz Cultural Theater, the epicenter of hip in Manhattan during the 1980s. There he met a veritable who’s who in jazz, each of whom imparted enriching tales about living the jazz life to the aspiring guitarist. “People like Walter Booker, Barry Harris, Chris Anderson and Leroy Williams offered me a window to this music,” says the guitarist who has been a key player in Harris’ band since 1991. “They were my most important mentors. What attracted me to them is the way they always seem to go right to the essence of what music is about. They made me realize how it is never just about chords and scales and musical theory. It’s about the story you tell. That’s a key lesson for a young musician to learn.”

Ben-Hur has earned high praise from jazz critics around the world for his previous recordings, Backyard (TCB-1996), Sofia’s Butterfly (TCB-1998), Anna’s Dance (Reservoir Music- 2001), Signature (Reservoir-2005), Keepin’ It Open (Motema-2007) & Smile (with Gene Bertoncini, Motema-2008). Among his most ardent admirers is award-winning writer Gary Giddins, who selected Ben-Hur’s Anna’s Dance as “One of the Best Jazz CD’s of 2001” in The Village Voice.

In addition to leading his own bands, Ben-Hur has shared the stage and the studio with the likes of Barry Harris, Ronnie Mathews, Rufus Reid, Chris Anderson, Cecil Payne, Walter Booker, Etta Jones, Marcus Belgrave, Charles McPherson, Leroy Williams, Charles Davis, Rufus Reid, John Hicks, Jimmy Heath, Clark Terry, Slide Hampton, Earl May, Teri Thornton, Lewis Nash, Steve Kroon and Bill Doggett. He regularly performs in major festivals and clubs around the world.

Along with being a prodigious player, composer, arranger and bandleader, Ben-Hur has truly dedicated himself to educating others about the joys and rewards of playing jazz and, in turn, has done as much to generate a new audience, and new players, for this music as anyone on the scene. Since being the jazz program founder/director at The Lucy Moses School at Kaufman Center in Manhattan, Roni has literally taught thousands of people through his jazz ensembles and workshops.

He is also responsible, in collaboration with Santi Debriano, for creating a very successful week long jazz camp in the village of Saint Cezaire in Cote d’Azure, France. With Nilson Matta, he created the Jazz and Brazilian Camp in Bar Harbor, Maine. Both camps offers adult jazz amateurs an opportunity to learn jazz and Latin music, while living and interacting with the community, and has become a major attraction in their region. Ben-Hur was also on the faculty of the jazz camps in Stanford, Litchfield, and the National Guitar Workshops. His book, Talk Jazz, is much sought after by fellow musicians and students worldwide. Ben-Hur’s upcoming DVD on guitar harmony promises to be one of the most important educational works for aspiring guitarists. For Ben-Hur, jazz is not only a calling, it is a life force.

With his wife, Amy London (Motéma recording artist, jazz vocalist and professor of vocal studies at The New School), and their two daughters, Roni Ben-Hur resides in the “jazz town” of the tri-state area, Teaneck, New Jersey.