From a blog article published by Yotam Ziv on the Israeli newspaper Haaretz website March 28, 2019. (The article was translated and edited) Disclosure: I am a big fan of Anat Fort! See links to other Israeli jazz artists at the bottom of this post.
After 20 years of relentless and uncompromised persistence, Anat Fort became the first Israeli to be signed on the prestigious ECM jazz label. Her story is a story of great passion and Israeli daring . In an interview on the occasion of the release of a new album, she talks about being a female jazz artist in an almost-exclusively male field. “There’s something very cool about feminine energy that is sometimes lacking”, she said, “something that inspires young musicians,”
“We have about 10 percent of female students at our Stricker Conservatory, about the same as when I was a student there.
Women are ready and want to enter the field just like men do, if it were not for the discriminatory ‘bullshit’ that they have to endure.
What do you mean?
“Our trio played a double performance for a German radio station, together with another all-male band. We all sat in the bar where I was the only woman, as usual. One of the men from the other band sat next to me. He saw us play beforehand and knew that I was the band leader on my side. ‘What cool pantyhoses’, he asked me, ‘where did you buy them? Maybe I’ll buy the same for my group.’
“It’s like some of the BS in jazz that demeans women”, Fort said, “it’s like testosterone that rules the world, the solos have a lot of show-off, which is an essentially masculine trait, and I’m less connected to that, and there is a lot of gender talk among musicians, even I am culpable of that! It’s a fact that there are almost no successful instrumental women in this field”.
But hopefully, that may be changing for the better as more successful models are emerging. ”
Fort, 49, began playing at the age of five and asked to join a military band while serving in the Israeli Army. “Towards the end of high school, I realized that my classical music studies were going downhill, and I looked for other musical avenues.” I applied for the Army bands. When I entered audition room, Yoni Rechter, one of the judges, asked me if I knew how to play chords… John Coltrane, I was in shock, I never heard such music before!”
After release from the Army, Fort traveled to the United States to try to get into a jazz school that had never accepted foreign students before. She was not deterred. She asked for an audition, persevered and was eventually accepted. That is when she started to learn what it feels like to be a woman in a man’s world. “My first job after school was to accompany actors at the Lee Strasberg school,” she recalls. “Because of my versatility as a pianist – classical, jazz, cabaret and musicals – I was able to survive in New York, meet people in my field and play jazz, sometimes two or three gigs each night. I swallowed all the jazz that New York had to offer.
The opportunity for Fort to play her own compositions came when she met singer-composer Vered Dekel. “My relationship with her inspired me, and Vered wrote a lot of original music which was very significant to me, In 1999, I recorded my first album, alone, independently, real indie, which was also arund the time when when musicians started to record without the backing of a record label .”
The album was passport to exposure and performances of sorts. But a significant leap came after a musical encounter with Paul Motian, one of the greatest jazz drummers and a former member of the Bill Evans’ partner trio, one of the best jazz bands of all time. “I went to hear him wherever he played and eventually I found myself playing with bassist Ed Schuler who knew him. I approached Ed with my typical Israeli hutzpah and asked him what I needed to do to play with Paul Motian. Paul agreed to hear my music. He said he really liked it and might record my stuff. I almost fainted with my jaw wide open! A class about my music at Paul Motian’s place?! “
Motian did not record Anat’s music in the end, but refered her to Manfred Eicher, manager of the ECM jazz label. “Even then it took another three years for the ECM album to come out, which is one of the reasons why it was called” Long Story, “says Fort,” Eicher did not accept material that he was not involved in. I felt responsible for being the first Israeli to be signed on this special label. This gave me tremendous exposure to new markets, and it opened up the Whole World to me where people started to buy my albums, it was a breakthrough in every way. “
About 10 years later, Anat went back to Israel, and it seems that her return has only done her good. She continues to teach, record and perform non-stop. Her compositions have been celebrated for 20 years now. Although members of her trio its have split geographically, Fort in Israel, drummer Ronald Schneid to Germany and bassist Gary Wang in New York where he remained. This makes producing music a bit more complicated, but here (in Israel), a new album – Color – is about to come out and a tour around the country is about to start…
More fun stuff about Anat Fort
Listen to NPR’s Anat Fort’s ‘Long Story’ from New York
Listen to NPR’s Why Are So Many Jazz Musicians From Israel These Days?
Listen to NPR’s Anat Fort On Piano Jazz on
MARIAN MCPARTLAND’S PIANO JAZZ
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