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Gilad Atzmon - a  foreigner in London

Primarily, Gilad Atzmon is known as an excellent saxophone-player, but there´s more important things to tell about him as well: He is a philosopher, has left Israel because of political reasons - and he enjoys his role as a foreigner in London: because of the opportunities this position offers for oneself´s personality. - And what also must be mentioned is his 'group of foreigners', which this autumn will release a new CD on Enja Records.

Gilad Atzmon came to Berlin to talk to Carina Prange at the Jazzdimensions-Office.

Carina: In your linernotes is written: 'This is an original creation by four different people who come from different backgrounds. It is about being a foreigner and enjoying it to the limit ...' - Could you explain that to me?

Gilad: For me, being a foreigner is a great advantage. The first thing, you might want to do as a foreigner, is to assimilate - to be like the others, which is possible sometimes. - Doing it, you loose some main features of your identity! This is not a problem in itself - it is a loss for the others: It might be problem for you if I loose my identity, because you might miss some cultural feature that I can contribute to you.

Now the new western culture is very multicultural in an aspect, we can explore many different views. Foreigners are in many cases refugees, political asylant people, people that suffer - or just people that want a better life - that are not happy: "I can be better off in Germany than in Istanbul or in Ankara."


In England the contribution of the foreign culture to the
society is massive. Many of the artists are foreign people!

As the result of that moving population in the world we have the advantage of meeting people that are very, very radical, or interesting, or selfish, or individualists. - In England the contribution of the foreign culture to the society is massive. Many of the artists are foreign people!.

Foreign people have done a massive shift in their life - they took all the bags, they said bye-bye to their parents - maybe for twenty years. My album is about that: I am a foreigner in England. My drummer is a foreigner in England. The bassplayer and the pianist in a way are "foreigners in my music".

We came from so many different places and created something that has never been there before. Whether you like the album or not is another question - but it is definitely different music!. You understand what I mean? It's different for me - I could play Arabic music with Arab people - but this is kind of combination with jazz and I wanted everybody to come with his own kind of self-dimension.

Carina: You have studied philosophy - when did you decide to earn a living by playing music?

Gilad: I was making a very good living in Israel as a Rock´n´Roll producer and a session-player. But being a producer means to produce "commodities" - something that people will buy. So I had this kind of an intense commercial pressure on myself. I think, I wasn't too bad in luck - I was doing - I had a good living. And then, approaching the age of 32, I was completely bored with it - I couldn't do it any more.

And funny enough at the same time I was facing a book called "Slonimsky -Thesaurus of Scales" - have you heard about it(*)? It is a book that every jazz-musician in America knows by heart. It is like a very much "twentieth century approach" to music. Although it is a Russian book it very much explores the twelve-note-scheme.

And I just thought that I can explore "musical dimensions" through a very, very different aspect of improvisation. - Actually - for you: Slonimsky was the main book, that influenced Coltrane, Mike Stern, Scofield. It is a very important book. And - thinking about that, I began to ask too many questions about aesthetics.

Getting into aesthetics, I started to get more and more involved into German philosophy - basically in Kant: "Third Critic". I remember that I started from a very critical position towards Kant. How comes that he says that "aesthetic" has something to do with "subjectivity"? And then I began to understand the difference between "aesthetic" and "aesthetic pleasure" and "fashion" - which is not necessarily "aesthetic" pleasure.


I don't have any problem to wake up at four o'clock in the morning,
with my saxophone, on the road, no problem
- but to teach philosophy?

I got more and more into philosophy. I went to England - funny enough - to study German philosophy. Then I was supposed to start to work as a philosophy-teacher. Just an assistant in the university. And the first morning, that I had to wake up like six o'clock, going from London to Rochester - I don't have any problem to wake up at four o'clock in the morning, with my saxophone, on the road, no problem - but to teach philosophy? This is not way of living, straight away - and this was the end of my philosophical career! But I am still very interested in it, wherever I go. It's quite always a problem for my local tourmanager, because I use to ask questions all the time.

Carina: Let´s get from philosophy to technology: what about the internet?

Gilad: Internet is a very good thing, a very, very good thing -all the time it is clear that this is where we go now. The main question is - and it is very massive: we have jazz - like a million sites. Nobody chooses for you and it will be very difficult - the way I think as a philosopher - to develop a "conditional flavor" or "guide" to get around the multiplicity. And I don't see how this will happen.

What happens now: More and more and more people make companies, everyday. People that want to put my music on the internet. Only six months ago I thought: Yeah! - I´ll send my music to all this internet-sites. - Now I don't want to send it to anyone, I prefer to "stay small".

So, I have my site, that I have actually to maintain. I am on the road for so long. I am going to be at home now for a week and I am going to work on it. So I want to stay small, I want people come to me - like the way I came to you. There is something about that effort, that you don't get fed: You want to be hungry. You want to get to search around, to meet people that you didn't expect.

But it is a much longer approach. Your life in this business will be determined by the quality ... - That's about the internet! - You might say: it is not ready yet, and you might say it will never be ready. It might be that it is like a "transforming" medium, that is kind of a complete evolution.

Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble

Carina: How do you get in contact to other musicians you play with - how do you decide with whom to play or not?

Gilad: I don't play with too many musicians. It doesn't look like, but I am very shy. If my bassplayer is ill or has a problem - and I have to find another bassplayer - I will call my pianist: "Oh, we have a problem ..." - Funny enough, my friend - the drummer on my latest album - can call anyone. He could call Randy Brecker - he got this confidence!

All my life I already "walk" with the same people. It takes me some time to find people to walk with. For instance for the new album, we tried very different musicians for like seven months -. I was already about to do the album with a specific bassplayer and pianist. Then - by coincidence - we had a jam-session with that drummer and arranger. I liked this way to play, they were very natural, they didn't try to play "Arabic" or "Jewish" or "Gypsy" - they asked me: "What you want to play?" - I said: "Just play the way you understand it - this is beautiful, let's go on!"

I am not a typical person that meets musicians. What I want to do now is the "Orient House": in every country, every territory, every area, every town I want to meet the local musicians to come to play with me. That as kind of an authentic approach to music!

* Nicolas Slonimsky: Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns (1997) Music Sales Corporation; ISBN: 082561449X

Carina Prange

CD: Gilad Atzmon & the Oriental House Ensemble
(erscheint Herbst 2000)

Gilad Atzmon im Internet: www.gilad.co.uk

Foto: n.n.
Cover:David Foreman / Shades

© jazzdimensions2000
erschienen: 21.6.2000
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