This morning I was doing some spring cleaning, even though it is summer. My wife has some Greek musicians coming over this afternoon, and asked me to clean up the musical mess (saxophones, guitars, sheet music) in our living room. I love jazz, so in my case, it’s jazz making way for bouzouki. That’s life.
While I was cleaning the contents of an old suitcase, I came across a notebook that I had been looking for for many years. A jazz notebook. From 1974.
Here is the original notebook. I bought it in an old music store on Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem named “Saphir”.
Mr. Uri Saphir, the owner told me that he and his mother were clairvoyant and psychics. I believed him. One has trouble forgetting a person like that. I remember both him and the store quite well. I checked. The store is there after over 90 years and run by his grandson. But I digress.
In November, 1974, I was a graduate students studying towards my M.Sc. degree in the Department of Botany (of all things) at Tel Aviv University. I was allowed to take an elective course towards my degree.
I used to hang out at the music academy of the university, where I would play rock tunes on their practice pianos. I must have heard about the jazz course and enrolled.
Dr. Zvi Keren was an amazing jazz maven. Most of the students in the course were classical music-oriented, and understood Zvi’s explanations of harmony much better than I did. I had practically no experience playing jazz, so whenever I was called up to play, I hyperventilated so badly that my fingers froze over the keyboard. Still I learned a lot, and still play and love some of the songs that Zvi taught me over forty years ago!
I got a final mark of 85 in the course, as I recall. I brought the grade back to the Department of Botany where they summarily refused to add it to my list of grades. They told me that their idea of ‘elective’ was the choice of a course within the scientific field. I had no business, they thought, learning something that would be useless to my developing scientific career.
I thought that they were idiots, and I protested up to the level of the Dean, until they finally gave in. This was one of the first times I challenged the academic system and actually won. So Jazz appeared alongside many courses in my master’s ‘score card’. Ironically, I remember a lot about Zvi’s course and next to nothing about the botany courses.
Zvi introduced me to the genius of Andre Previn as a jazz pianist, and talked about the album that had recently come out with Shelley Manne, featuring jazz improvisations of the music from “My Fair Lady”. When I was in London in the summer of 1975 I bought two copies of the LP, one for Zvi and one for myself.
But when I tried to give him the copy I had bought him, he told me that another student had bought it for him. He was a modest person and couldn’t accept the double gift. I still have both LPs by the way (the one I originally bought for him has never ever been opened).
To the best of my knowledge, Zvi gave the course at Tel Aviv University only a couple of times, it was a sideline, a side alley of his career. He would never have remembered me on the street. I was far from a remarkable student. Yet the effect that he had on me was uncanny. He was the first person who helped me begin to UNDERSTAND jazz.
I went on to pursue a scientific career, but have always loved to play mellow jazz. At the age of 41 I started learning to play sax, and at 48 I began to sing.
About seven years ago I learned that after forty years, another jazz course was opening, under the tutelage of Ittai Rosenbaum. I took it. Twice.
Zvi had many illustrious students who went on to have successful careers as musicians. Three years ago I was asked to perform alongside them in a tribute to My Jazz Teacher. I played a duet with one of his talented grandchildren. The wheel had come full circle.
Here are some of the individual pages from the notebook, with the transcribed tunes, some of which I still play! Here is a video playing two of the blues that Zvi taught us way back then.
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“My Very First Act of Plagiarism”
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Published: Jul 8, 2014
Latest Revision: Aug 25, 2014
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