Music has been said to change lives. Listening to the richness and diversity of the sound illuminating from Israel-born pianist Alon Yavnai’s newest album Shir Ahava, recorded in collaboration with the 17-member German NDR Bigband, more than one life is susceptible to change through the orchestration of their reflective compositions. Full of joviality, earnestness, personal journey and deep emotion, the album is a mix of improvisational ingenuity and careful planning of bringing an assortment of cultural and musical sounds into one grandiose entourage. It is simply like a delicious entrée course of the finest caviar that leaves you relishing the taste even after the dishes have long been gathered away, the sweet sensations vibrating throughout your body as you wish for a slither of prolongation – a connoisseur’s paradise.

Though this is Yavnai’s first large-ensemble album, his prior accolades are many. From recording with Grammy award winning musician Paquito D’Rivera and Yo-Yo Ma, who shared a Grammy with him, to a musical director stint in 2003 on Soldier’s Tales as well as the winning of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville, FL in 1996, the New York based musician has come far since his childhood days of practicing on the piano. And he only promises to keep journeying forward in this musical ocean that he calls life as he readies a new solo album for the upcoming year and tours across a few cities around the world. Yet, his musical accomplishments are not only for himself. In fact, they are a foundation of knowledge that he wishes to pass onto the musicians of tomorrow through his teachings at the various universities, inclusive of his current position as a piano teacher at Berklee College of Music in Boston (a college he himself attended at first but dropped out of to pursue his music career, only to continue his education later on in life at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem where he earned his Bachelors of Music degree followed by a Master’s in composition), where he aspires to push students in discovering their passions, perseverance and ability, in hope of preparing them for the career they want.

In the same faith, hoping to bring a snazzy and electric atmosphere to the city of New York, not to mention delivering the aforementioned entrée course to what promises to be a succulent tour, Yavnai will be performing on May 8 at Joe’s Pub as part of Jazzreal: A Festival of Israeli Jazz and World Music 2012 with special guest Dave Liebman on saxophone.

Taking a small break from practicing for the festival, Yavnai revealed to GALO his interest in Peruvian music, his working with Paquito D’Rivera, and his thoughts on the importance of musical education.

GALO: Your new album came out on March 25. Prior to it, you had the release party at Birdland in New York. How did New Yorkers perceive the album upon its release?

Alon Yavnai: The CD release party was a very exciting and enjoyable evening. The band got a very warm response from the audience, who was very receptive to my music.

GALO: Can you give us a taste of the performance for those who missed it?

AY: The performance included all original music and big band arrangements of mine, which are featured on the new album Shir Ahava. I had the pleasure to have two very special guest artists, Malika Zarra on vocals and Paquito D’Rivera on saxophone and clarinet. We played one set of music of about an hour and a half.

GALO: Tomorrow you will be performing at Joe’s Pub in New York as part of the Israeli Jazz and World Music Festival. Will the concert be similar to that of the release party in NY as well as those across other cities or will there be significant changes to the set, full of myriad surprises for the audience? Any secrets that can be shared – perhaps surprise guests? I know that Dave Liebman will be one of those present.

AY: One concert will never be like its previous one, at least not in this particular setting. This big band is alive and dynamic. We are playing music, which has improvisation and a vast array of musical moods and energies. There is always a surprise. And yes, we are having the great Dave Liebman as our guest artist.

GALO: The festival spans across various venues in the city for a total of a week’s worth of performances, inclusive of the Guggenheim Museum. Are you a fan of any of those performing this year?

AY: Yes, I am. Nurit Galron is a singer I used to listen to when I grew up in Israel. But I will not be able to catch all the shows, since there will be [numerous] rehearsals with the band. It’s a good lineup and I am very happy to see the New York Times preview the festival this past weekend.

GALO: Will the international fan base have a chance to see you play this year? Or does the tour end on the States?

AY: Well, the last two concerts with the big band, and the upcoming May 8th date, are the opening statement of more concerts to come in the future. At this point, I am planning my next production with the NDR Bigband in Hamburg, Germany probably somewhere next April or May. I also have a concert in Mexico at the end of September, playing with the Hector Del-Curto Tango quintet; a fantastic group comprised of bandoneon, piano, acoustic bass, cello and violin.

GALO: This is your first large-ensemble personal album recording, though not your first time working with the 17-member German big band, NDR. Can you tell us about your experience working with them again and how it felt to record a large-ensemble recording of your own after having participated in such recordings for others?

AY: Performing with the NDR Bigband is a great experience. It is a very professional band which has its own sound and a very nice blend between the sections. The guys all know each other very well and have been playing together for the longest time. Now, writing for the band is even greater — it is a truly rewarding experience. The band is versatile and very supportive of my music. This gave me confidence to keep writing for them. With time, I am getting to know each one of them better, so I can write certain things for certain people, knowing their sound and the way they play.

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