Q&A with double-bass phenomenon Adam Ben Ezra - combining elements of modern jazz, rock and world music

"Music highlights the beauty and the magic of each culture and it’s a way for people to connect emotionally to different kinds of societies."

Adam Ben Ezra: Crossroads Freedom

Double-Bass phenomenon, multi-instrumentalist and YouTube sensation Adam Ben Ezra; a man seemingly on a mission to bring his instrument from its status as a background note to the dominant front-presence it deserves. For the past few years Adam has been pushing his craft in new, exciting directions and carving out a unique spot for himself in today’s international musical landscape, with both his songwriting and musicianship earning him great success along the way. The term “multi-instrumentalist” is often overused but in this case it couldn’t be more fitting; Adam began playing the violin at age five and picked up the guitar at age nine. Over the years he has added the Piano, Clarinet, Oud, Flute and Cajon to his arsenal, largely teaching himself each time. However, it was an introduction to the Double- Bass at age 16 that truly changed his life, when he instantly fell in love with the instrument’s rich sound. Drawing inspiration from heroes as diverse as Bach, Sting and Chick Corea, Adam made a clear decision to make his compositions current – no matter the tool used. He has consciously added new colors to his palette, incorporating elements of Jazz, Latin and Mediterranean music into his playing.                                                           Adam Ben Ezra / Photo by Ron Kohen

Whether he is playing original material or his wonderfully crafted cover arrangements, ABE is a creative force of nature who can transform a room full of strangers into lifelong fans in a moment. Regardless if he’s performing solo, duo or as part of his Trio with guitar and percussion, no two shows are alike as he expertly moves from one instrument to the next, sometimes within the same song, without ever missing a beat. Using a smart combination of effects and pedals, Adam regularly loops his notes in order to deliver an authentic wall of sound, worthy of a small orchestra. Previously he has been invited to share stages with some of the world’s fusion giants from recent decades including Pat Metheny, Victor Wooten, Richard Bona, Mike Stern and more. Adam has accomplished plenty as a solo artist. Adam Ben Ezra released his third album ‘Hide and Seek’ (2020). Offering a rich sound that incorporates a unique blend of genres with a sharp focus on delivering the groove, it is no overstatement to say that this is Adam Ben Ezra’s best work to date. Representing the peak of his career thus far, the album incorporates jazz, hip hop, R&B, electronica and Middle Eastern influences together with Adam’s instantly recognizable signature musical language, creating something that is essential listening both to casual listeners and hardcore music enthusiasts alike.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Jazz and Middle Eastern music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Jazz is a fusion of so many styles and musical flavours: African, European, Latin and later on Middle Eastern, Balkan and more. I think these blends of sounds teach us to be more open to the world and to the things that are different from us. It offers us a bridge that connects us all. On a personal level it has developed my curiosity and has given me the opportunity to visit so many different parts of the world which has definitely enriched my perspective. On the other hand, playing Middle Eastern music really connects me to my roots and to where I come from

What do you learn about yourself from the Jazz music and culture? What does Mediterranean music mean to you?

Jazz for me first of all is a way of communication. When a group of musicians play together it is a type of ‘conversation’ between people. This way of communication can be found in all kinds of musical genres but I feel that in Jazz the conversation is more open and contains a larger and more varied vocabulary. I think that by playing jazz I developed my ability to be more perceptive in all situations, and it focused me to be in the here and now. Mediterranean music for me is home, the sounds and flavors I grew up with. My musical education is based mostly on Jazz and Classical music but when I bring my Mediterranean background I feel that I express my inner voice in the most honest way.

"Music has been always a medium that gathers people together, whether it’s a public concert, singing around the bonfire or listening to a record with a bunch of friends – it connects people and it can open their mind and soul." (Adam Ben Ezra / Photo by Ezra Gozo Mansur)

What were the reasons that you started the Jazz researches? What characterize your music philosophy?

I think that the total freedom one has in jazz was the main reason I started to play and listen to this style of music. Every player can fully express himself and the fact that it’s mostly based on improvisation really shaped the way I practice, play and compose. Through playing Jazz, I could explore all kinds of scales and chords. I developed the ability to tell a story with a melody whilst pushing my playing techniques to the limit. However I always try to make music that will be communicative for the general audience, and so I feel it’s important to try to keep a good balance between total freedom and simplicity.

How do you describe "Hide And Seek" sound and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

"Hide And Seek" gathers so many flavors in it: Groove, emotional melodies. middle eastern sound, all kinds of electronic aspects and all that jazz. I think it's a very communicative album and even with this great range of flavors and sound, I tried to make it as simple as I can for the listener. In general, I try to deliver a profound level of music but not to be over sophisticated.

Are there any memories from "Hide And Seek" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There were all kinds of magical and funny moments during the process but the most memorable one was on the last day of the recordings. We listened to all of the songs to check if there is something missing or something that we need to correct and we noticed that the last note of "Daldaya" was a bit off. My wife and newborn baby son were in the studio and he had been amazingly quiet throughout the whole session. At the exact moment I recorded this single note he shouted, and we were all laughing, it was so on the spot that I decided to keep it in the album, I guess my son really wanted to participate in this album.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?                   (Adam Ben Ezra / Photo by Johanka Francesco)

I’ve been playing for the last 2 years with the amazing singer “Noa”. We perform around the world and it was and still is an amazing and inspiring experience. During this period I have learned so much about the life of a touring musician; both my performance and communication with the audience have greatly improved and I never stop to be inspired by her strive for perfection.
I once had a conversation with Gil Dor, Noa’s musical director, about improvisation and he said that when he improvises he thinks about two general kinds of phrases: A question – which may end on the dissonance notes of the scale, and an answer – which mostly ends on the consonance notes of the scale. This simple point of view really enhanced my improvisation skills and developed my ability to tell a good story through music keeping a fine balance of tension and looseness.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I guess that every period of time has its own specific magic. I’m not the kind of person who likes to look back and compare to the present day, every change and progression is blessed. I do think that the current times are really good for musicians and artists in general because of the internet and the social media revolution. We – the musicians are able to be less dependent on big corporate companies that will tell us if we fit or match the market or not, and what we should change to make our music more commercial. We can now deliver our art directly to the audience which is a unique aspect. I feel that this direct and consistent communication with the audience has really shaped me as an artist. It’s also less expensive and much easier to record a song or to make a video nowadays.
For instance, one of my latest videos – a cover version of “The man who sold the world” by David Bowie; It was recorded in my living room with a laptop and was filmed with a smartphone camera. It took just a few hours to make and it received excellent feedback from all over the globe. In this way anyone that is talented and unique can share his craft and if he is good he will get noticed. Of course the competition is hard because there are an infinite amount of artists on the web but at least if you’re good and interesting you are much more likely to be discovered.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

When we recorded my debut album “Can’t Stop Running” we had some difficulties in one of the songs - “The Busker”. We couldn’t find the appropriate percussion part for the ending. After a few tries, my manager Guy Dayan came up with an idea. Since the song title refers to ‘busking’, he suggested to record a spinning coin. It was as if by magic that after spinning the coin it fell down precisely at the end of the song, with no additional editing! It was perfect.

"I think that the total freedom one has in jazz was the main reason I started to play and listen to this style of music. Every player can fully express himself and the fact that it’s mostly based on improvisation really shaped the way I practice, play and compose." (Adam Ben Ezra / Photo by Paolo Galetta)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

One of the main challenges for me as a touring musician is actually dealing with flight companies. There are always arguments about the equipment I carry – an extra kilo here or an extra inch there and it can be annoying and frustrating sometimes. If I could change one thing I would make the flight companies’ rules much more flexible for musicians and it would make the traveling experience much easier and more relaxing.

What are the lines that connect the Jazz, with Blues, Rock and continue to Latin, Folk/World and Israel music?

Israel is a young country of immigrants from all over the world, each bringing their own culture that has with time blended in with the other cultures. The last decades of Israeli music have several elements from Russia, Poland, Ethiopia and Greece, as well as all kinds of Arab flavors from Egypt, Morocco, Yemen and many more. So basically it’s a fusion of all kinds of folk music, for instance an Israeli song may have a Russian harmony structure, a 5/8 rhythm (very common in Arabic music), a bouzouki solo and it all works together smoothly. Jazz and blues have a similar story (apart from the slavery part) – African people who were brought to America, mixed their African musical background (rhythm, groove, singing style etc.) with the western musical aspects and created a new fresh sound.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

Music has taught me so many things along the way; how to listen, the balance between supporting and leading, communicating with all kinds of people and more. Perhaps the thing that I learnt the most is the power of persistence and how by working hard on the things you want to achieve can bring you anywhere you want. For example, when I started performing solo I was terrified to speak on stage, it took me even few years until I started to enjoy performing solo. Now the stage feels like home and I couldn't imagine back then ever being able to reach to this point.

"Mediterranean music for me is home, the sounds and flavors I grew up with. My musical education is based mostly on Jazz and Classical music but when I bring my Mediterranean background I feel that I express my inner voice in the most honest way." (Adam Ben Ezra / Photo by Ezra Gozo Mansur)

Why do you think that the Middle Eastern music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Middle Eastern music has so much emotion and passion in it. When I think of defining different kinds of music genres, I like to refer to the way my body reacts to them. When I listen to African or Latin music, I feel it mostly in my feet and hips - make me want to move and dance. When I listen to Classical and modern jazz, I will feel it mostly in my eyes and head - it opens my mind. Middle Eastern music goes straight to my stomach and fills it with warm fillings and high levels of emotion. I guess thats what connects so many other people to this genre.

Do you consider the Jazz a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

I think that Jazz has evolved from a specific music style to an open-minded artistic state of mind. Today there are so many "Jazz" artists that are so different from each other by the sound, atmosphere, style etc. In my opinion, the "Jazz" element is the endless seeking of a self-expression regardless to the boundaries and "rules" of a specific style or genre.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits and industry?

A year ago I played the opening act for Richard Bona in Italy, it was so exciting for me since I listen a lot to his albums and I’m really inspired by his music and character. When I saw him at the hotel lobby I approached him and introduced myself. He asked me where I’m from and when I answered that I’m from Israel he said a sentence in fluent Hebrew: “Eifo ha kesef sheli?” – which means “Where is my money?” It was very surprising and funny; I guess he had some bad experience with a producer while in Israel. After the concert he told me that he really liked my show, we took a picture of the two of us and when I posted it on Facebook he even commented on the picture and said how great my show was and that he’s a fan! It made me feel really honored and very proud.

What is the impact of music (and especial of Jazz) to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?                                   Adam Ben Ezra / Photo by Ron Kohen

Music has been always a medium that gathers people together, whether it’s a public concert, singing around the bonfire or listening to a record with a bunch of friends – it connects people and it can open their mind and soul.
Music highlights the beauty and the magic of each culture and it’s a way for people to connect emotionally to different kinds of societies. Jazz, in my opinion, was one of the things that contributed to the acceptance of Afro-Americans by the white people in the USA. Lots of music styles nowadays (including Jazz) bring different flavors from all over the world into their music; Avishai Cohen brings the Mediterranean and Arabic sounds to his Jazz and there are all kinds of pop songs with Balkan or Latin elements. This is an outcome of the multicultural society that we’re living in today but it’s also a tool for achieving tolerance and good communication.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would set the time machine to the future mode, maybe 100 years from now. I’m really curious to know how it will be and what it would look like. It will be interesting to see what kind of technological environment people will live in. How will that affect the social and psychological processes in the human race? Will religion still be important and relevant? And of course, what kind of music will be played?

Adam Ben Ezra - Official website

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