All that Jazz – An Interview with Chema Garcia Martinez

Last week ahead of my Ibiza Jazz Festival’s concert I had a short email exchange with Spanish writer Chema Garcia Martinez. We discussed topics to do with Jazz,Culture, USA, Palestine, Israel and Jewish identity. I guess that the followers of my writing and music may find it interesting.

Q: Is there any reason to keep on playin´ jazz in 2010?

GA: I don’t play Jazz for a ‘particular reason’; I am not committed to this form of music ideologically or religiously. I just love it. I am entertained by the idea of reinventing myself on a daily basis and Jazz allows it to happen. However, the collapse of the music industry allows us to look at music in broader terms. While in the past we had to play within a defined style just to make sure that the record company knows how to shelve it in the record shop and in the market place, nowadays the boundaries are disappearing. At last we are free.

Q: What does the word “jazz” mean for you?

GA: Jazz is innovation, it isn’t just beauty, it is beauty in its making. Jazz is freedom. It is freedom to think and the freedom to express. Jazz is a celebration of one’s symptoms. For me Jazz is the ultimate art form. Yet I hear Jazz in Bach and even Palestrina, I can read Jazz in poetry, in visual art and architecture. Jazz is the attempt to constantly define and re-define the notion of itself. From that perspective Jazz is similar to philosophy. For philosophy is also engaged in an attempt to redefine itself through the act of philosophizing.

Q: Is it necessary for a jazz musician in 2010 to play in the US?

GA: Not at all, but I must admit that playing and recording in America is a very special experience and I would advise every musician to consider it positively.

Q: Your image resembles a combination between a conventional musician and a soldier. Do you agree with that?

GA: Maybe, it is hard for me to say, I have never seen myself on stage. As it happens, every time Gilad has a concert around I am also busy.

However, I guess that I know what you mean. The OHE is operating as a unit. We play a lot and we have a serious message to deliver. I obviously have lived a very intensive life in the last 10 years. My music career is pretty successful and I am very happy about it. But I also maintain another career as a writer. I publish my thoughts in a few magazines on a daily basis and it is pretty consuming. I guess that this strain puts my body under pressure and gives me what some regard as a soldier look.

Q:Would you define your music as a fusion between jazz & Middle East music?

GA: My music is a fusion of many things. I love folk music and actually many different types of Jazz music. In fact I am not so sure that I like contemporary jazz that much. I think that along the years Jazz education has managed to sterilize Jazz and made it a colder intellectual art form. I am far more interested in the music that started in the Bebop era and ended more or less with Coltrane’s death. I try to combine that era of ecstatic music with my growing love of folk and blues.

Q: Do you define yourself as a bopper?

GA: Absolutely

Q: Can you tell me a few words about your guest, Mrs. Sarah Gillespie

GA: Sarah, is an incredible singer song writer. She is a Jazz poet who brings about meanings through rhythm, sounds and abstract metaphors. I really believe in her. I produced her first album two years ago and as soon as I am back from Ibiza we’ll master her new album. She is like good wine, getting better all the time.

Q: How about the musicians you are going to play with in Ibiza?

GA: As you may know, this fall the Orient House Ensemble is going to celebrate its 10th anniversary. This is a great experience for us all. I will come to Ibiza with Yaron Stavi, my bass player for the last 18 years. As always the inspiring Frank Harrison will sit in front of the Piano. On drums we will have Eddie Hick. I met Eddie 2 years ago in a Jazz Workshop and thought that rather than having him as a student, I better let him be the drummer for the ensemble. The young man is an astonishing talent.

Q: Obama, did he bring any change?

GA: I tend to differentiate between ‘Obama the brand’ and ‘Obama the president’. Obama the brand is pretty brilliant, he says the right things, he supports the right values, he spread hope and so on. Obama the president is far behind the brand (unfortunately). As we know, American bombers still drop bombs in the name of democracy. It will take some time before America and its political institutes liberate themselves of Zionism’s relentless grip.

Q: Can you imagine a non-jewish president in front of Israel?

GA: No for Israel is the Jewish State and as long as Israel maintains itself as a racially orientated society, it would not allow the Palestinians to live in peace on their land leave alone the possibility of political influence.

Q: Let´s imagine that the Israeli government “forgives” you, in that case, will you travel to Israel?

GA: To start with I do not ask for forgiveness. However, the answer is No, Israel is a racially orientated state. It is an apartheid state and I have no reason or plan to visit this state. I will be delighted to travel to the Holy Land once it becomes a state of its citizens but if I understand it correctly, by the time this happens Israel will be Palestine. And I hope that this will happen soon enough.

Q: Can anybody can be “apolitical” while living in Israel ?

GA: Good question. Can you rape someone’s land and be apolitical? Can you take someone else’s house or orchard and call yourself a humanist? I assume that one can do it until challenged. I believe that it is my duty to challenge Israel but not only Israel. I challenge every form of Jewish secular political thinking, whether it is Zionism, Judeo- centric peace activism or even escapism.

Q: What is your opinion about the Gaza floltilla raid?

GA: I do think that the Israeli massacre in the high seas was not a coincidence. It brought to light Israel’s lethal madness. But it is actually deeper than that. The Gaza flotilla is a symbol of kindness. It is a humanitarian mission performed by peace activists. The murderous assault on this mission was in fact a murderous act against kindness. It was a repetition of Christs’s killing. The Zionist ideology is inspired by some utterly brutal unkind precepts that are taught by the Old Testament and Deuteronomy in particular.

Q: What does it means to be “ex-jewish”?

GA: To be an ex-Jew means to leave Jewish supremacy behind. To be an ex-Jew means to depart from choseness and to become an ordinary human being with no privileges. I am very happy in my state of being and I do believe that if more Israelis would follow this simple transformation our planet will become a much safer place.

Q: Is there any particular reason for you to live in London?

GA: I love Britain. And Britain has been also very kind to me. Britain is a very tolerant place and a genuine multi ethnic society. I was obviously totally devastated by Britains’s role in the criminal war in Iraq and its constant support of Israel. However touring Britain constantly I know very well that that there is a growing abyss between the Brits and their government.

Q: Do you miss your home country?

GA: A long time ago I realized that Palestine is a country and Israel is a state. Yes, I miss the country Palestine, the blossom of the spring, the sea, the mountains, the blue sky, but I do not miss Israel, not at all.

Gilad Atzmon, a former Israeli soldier now a writer and an award winning Jazz musician resident in London, where he lives in virtual exile