It all started, as so many good things do, in a little jazz club in Harlem. I was sitting with my dear friend Gady, listening to a succulent set by some of New York’s finest. Halfway through a marvelous week, half drunk on the music, half-joking, I turned to Gady and said, “That’s it, I’m going to the Red Sea Jazz Festival next year. I need more jazz in my life.”
“OK,” said Gady. Then we forgot all about it.
Eight months later, we found ourselves landing in the tiny Red Sea beach town of Eilat, Israel. When we stepped off the tiny plane, the air hit us like the blast from a furnace. We squinted our eyes shut, grabbed our bags, and ran across the tarmac towards the little hut that houses the airport. A few minutes later we were seated by the water, drinking iced coffee under a grape trellis, listening to a promising mix of jazz-techno-oud music floating out from the cafe loudspeakers. We looked at each other and grinned.
The festival was held in the Eilat port itself, in venues created by stacking shipping containers on top of each other, the stages shaded by floodlights and gantry cranes. The crowd was friendly, knowledgeable, and crazy about jazz. The food was - as everywhere in Israel - to die for, even if served on paper plates with plastic forks.
Best of all, the music rewarded close listening. There were plenty of choices - Omar Sosa, Bill Evans, Avishai Cohen - but my favorite band was a new one: the Shauli Einav quartet. I wandered into their concert the first night and was struck by their deep, meditative groove, at once cerebral and warm, sparking emotion and images. It was a deeply satisfying listen, a good example of why I love jazz (his album is on iTunes).
After the last concert each night (which started at two a.m.) the musicians would gather for a jam session by the pool at the hotel Riviera, everything from standards to weird improvisations, played by everyone from the headline performers to one 12-year old kid genius on the piano.
Hard to believe it was only three days. There were enough memories for two weeks. But Saturday we dragged ourselves back to the airport, and flew to Jerusalem where more beauty awaited us.
On Thursday I’m off to Paris, which just goes to show that some people are too lucky. I will do my best to live up to this fabulous string of good fortune, which should bring me back to San Francisco around the middle of September. Stay tuned..