Ever since I can remember myself, I have always been a big music fan. My father taught me from a young age about different musical styles, greatest musicians to have ever lived, and how to use the record player to listen to music right off the vinyl. From classical concerts on Saturday morning to video clips from Woodstock, my father taught it all to me. But not all of these diverse musical genres I was exposed to were popular in Israel, and finding good concerts could get pretty difficult. Imagine my surprise when my father and my younger brother told me about a monthly blues jam session occurring regularly for the past few years – right here in the center of Israel, in the city of Herzelia – less than ten minutes’ drive from Tel Aviv.
But before we go any further, let’s talk about blues for a moment. From Billie Holiday to Ray Charles, From B.B. King to Eric Clapton, blues music has produced some of the most valued musicians in American history. Blues is define as a ”song often of lamentation characterized by usually 12-bar phrases, 3-line stanzas in which the words of the second line usually repeat those of the first, and continual occurrence of blue notes in melody and harmony” (According to the Webster Dictionary). But if you ask Eli Marcus, a blues musician, historian and one of the founders of the “Israel Blues Society”, he’d tell you “There are a lot of musical genres that make you smile because of lyrics or singing, then there is the type of music that’s more emotional and touches your heart. But the blues, you feel the blues deep in your stomach. If you don’t, it’s just not good blues music.”
The “Israel Blues Society” was founded by the previously mentioned Eli Marcus (also known as “Dr. Blues”), Johnny Mayer, attorney Ilan Yonash, and high-tech worker\musician Nimrod Margalit. They collaborate with Assaf Ganzman, the owner of a chain of bars in Israel called “Mike’s Place”. Back in 2008, Nimrod tells, he came back to Israel after spending several years abroad. “I was missing a Blues scene in Israel. I looked online and came across a blues forum of about 6 people.” They had their first meeting, and the ball started rolling from there. The Mike’s Place Jam was founded, at the yearly “Bom Bamela Festival”. The Mike’s Place stage dedicated an entire day for blues performances. As time went by, the organization got bigger and bigger. It now has over a thousand members. The society was recently registered as a NPO, and is the Israel branch for “The Blues Foundation”, an international organization based in Memphis.
Friday’s blues jam sessions are held in Mike’s place on a monthly basis, starting around noon. Going in, you get to enjoy the Mike’s Place hospitality, American cuisine, a wide variety of beers on tap and some of the best song in blues music history performed live. I personally recommend you try the amazing Mike’s Place “Sloppy Joes”, as it is by far one of the best I have ever tasted . The musicians taking the stage are as diverse as it gets – from 70 year old keyboardists, a guitarist who works as a gynecologist, a nineteen year old guitar player and even a fifteen year old drummer. One of the more well-known members of these jam sessions is Noa Golan Barel, who became renowned as a prominent contestant on the Israeli version of “The Voice”. Her husband, by the way, is a regular drummer at the jams, and has a band of his own.
But the activity of the “Israel Blues Society” does not end in the monthly jam sessions. The society promotes and encourages performances of blues musician from abroad, such as John Bonamassa, Robert Belfour, and more. It also encourages the activity of Israeli blues musicians. “As a result”, tells us Eli Marcus, “more Israeli blues albums came out these past two years than in the past twenty years”.
What’s ahead for the Israeli blues scene? Next month, on October 18th the “Israel Blues Challenge” will take place. In this musical competition, blues bands will compete for the honor of representing Israel in the” International Blues Challenge 2013″ which will take place in Memphis Tennessee. There they will compete against blues musicians from all over the world for the honor, a cash prize, an interview at BluesWax and a lot of performances booked for them. All that’s left to do now is wish all the contestants good luck!
The “Israel Blues Challenge” will take place on October 18th, 8:30 PM at Mike’s Place Herzelia. No reservation needed; entrance is free.
For more information:
Israel Blues Society website: http://www.blues.org.il/
Israel Blues Society Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/IsraelBluesSociety