Acclaimed Israeli jazz guitarist to perform

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

You can thank drummer and St. Louis native Dave Weckl for bringing noted Israeli jazz fusion guitarist Oz Noy to Weckl’s hometown. 

“I don’t get to play St Louis all that often these days,” said Weckl, who has performed with Simon & Garfunkel and Chick Corea. “To be able to come and play there and hopefully have a … lot of other friends and family still in the area come out and hang is a heartwarming thought.”

Noy, who has also recorded music with luminaries such as Corea, Allen Toussaint and Joe Bonamassa, moved to New York from Israel in 1996 but has never been to St. Louis. 

He, Weckl and bassist Jimmy Haslip, a founding member of the jazz-fusion band Yellowjackets, will perform on March 24 at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups. 

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It will be the final stop on his tour following the release of his new album, “Booga Looga Loo.” He performs a mix of originals and covers from The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Ray Charles and Thelonious Monk.

“It’s boogaloo (the Latin music genre) meets ‘Bitches Brew’ (Miles Davis),” said Noy, who grew up in Rishon Lezion, a city south of Tel Aviv.

He became interested in music when he was about 10 years old. First he considered drums; then a friend suggested that he come along for a guitar lesson but Noy “wasn’t that much into it.”

But his older brother, a bassist, brought a guitar player over to their home. He started playing songs from The Beatles on an electric guitar, “And I’m like, OK, that’s what I like.”

Noy recalls that the music scene in Israel at that point was still in its infant stages so he was able to get paid gigs at age 16 despite the fact that he “wasn’t that good.”

Still, it was not only foreign music that inspired him. 

“The guy over there who was the most major influence on me was Miki Shaviv. He was a guitar player, bass player, singer-songwriter. He had a band named Tango, and that was the most influential thing on me musically,” said Noy, 46.

He also points to Israeli guitarists like Gil Dor (most well known for his longtime collaboration with Achinoam Nini, also known as Noa) and Haim Romano (a member of the Churchills, often described as Israel’s first psychedelic band) who both attracted followings in Israel. 

But Noy also listened to John McLaughlin, who performed with Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

“The record that was a real impact on my life was ‘Friday Night in San Francisco,’ (featuring McLaughlin) and the reason it had such a massive impact was that technically they were on top of their game — they were playing really, really fast and that impressed me,” he said.

Though Noy was performing with Israel’s top musicians when he was in his mid-20s, he noticed many of his Israeli contemporaries were moving to New York. He felt like he needed to move there, too, to pursue jazz.

“When I was growing up and doing gigs, everyone was always like, ‘You gotta go to New York, you gotta go to New York,’” said Noy. “That was always at the top of my head, but it took me until I was 24 to get the guts to do it.”

He has since become a fixture in New York’s jazz scene, performing in rooms like Iridium Jazz Club, The Bitter End and the 55 Bar, and on larger stages with jam bands Gov’t Mule and Umphrey’s McGee. 

A Downbeat critic wrote in 2015 of Noy: “Aside from his obvious chops on the instrument—from his blues-inflected single note lines to his accomplished chord melody skills—Noy has an uncanny ability to rapidly shift from clean to dirty tones, sometimes from bar to bar, to give the impression of two distinctly different rhythm and lead players on the same track.”

For his part, Weckl said, “Playing with Oz is a lot of fun and sometimes very challenging….[He’s] capable of a lot of different styles and amazing textures with his effects pedals and the way he plays. We have a great time with interaction, groove and dialogue in a jazz sense that I don’t experience with too many other players.”

Noy now only makes it back to Israel once or twice a year, but the jazz scene there has gained an international reputation to the point where National Public Radio ran a story in 2010 with the headline, “Why Are So Many Jazz Musicians From Israel These Days?”

He also listens to Israeli pop musicians like Ivri Lider, who have remained in Israel. He doesn’t feel like it’s necessary anymore for musicians in other genres to leave Israel in order to become successful.

But as for jazz, he still says, “New York is the center of jazz — there is no other place in the world like that — so if you want to hear the really great players and play with them, it’s one of the only places you can do that.”

Hopefully he will also find a receptive audience across the river from Miles Davis’ hometown, Alton, Ill.