Cuban to classical
Alon Yavnai, as many of his fans say, is an accomplished jazz musician, but Yavnai himself might disagree.
About the jazz part, that is.
“I don’t describe myself as jazz musician,” the Israeli pianist and composer told the Chronicle. “It’s not possible; the music is going on in so many directions and not just mine, but many musicians.”
In fact, Yavnai, who will perform with a quintet of Israeli artists at the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild from Oct. 29 to 30, sees it as part of his mission to teach how all genres of music influence one another. He will take part in a workshop at Oberlin College from Nov. 2 to 4 to bridge perceived gaps between classical music and other styles not normally associated with it, especially Cuban and other Latin styles.
“They come from the same roots, close roots and they complete each other,” he said of classical and other styles.
But first in foremost, Yavnai, who has a new CD out, “Travel Notes,” is a composer, heavily influenced by Cuban and African styles.
“Travel Notes,” includes big band arrangements, a musical rendition of a love poem by Israeli poet Yonatan Geffen, Latin rhythms, and other Israeli-influenced ballads.
In other words, the music on the album can’t be pegged to any one genre, and that’s just how Yavnai likes it.
The son of an Argentinean mother and Israeli father, Yavnai grew up in a home where both parents played music, so it’s no wonder he started playing the piano at age 4 and performing professionally by age 14.
After his stint in the Israeli army, he moved to Costa Rica, beginning a period in his life that heavily influenced his music style.
“I heard Latin music in the house [back in Israel]; my mother is Argentinean, [so] I heard it and it kind of penetrated,” he said. “But in Costa Rica, I started to get this concentration, and it really stayed with me.
While there he formed a trio called Orpheous. The band toured and recorded for three years.
And it was Costa Rica where Yavnai met Paquito D’Rivera, the famous Cuban-born jazz artist who would have a profound effect on Yavnai’s career. Yavnai soon joined D’Rivera’s Latin Jazz Quintet in 2001 and became an integral member of the ensemble, playing with the likes of cellist Yo-Yo Ma and performing works by Brahms and the 19th century Cuban composer Ignacio Cervantes. The band, including Yavnai, won a 2008 Grammy Award for its album “Funk Tango.”
Of Yavnai, D’Rivera said, “among all the pianists I’ve worked with, Alon Yavnai is the most versatile musician.”
Want to go?
What: “Alon Yavnai Presents Jazz & World Rhythms”
When: Saturday, Oct. 29, 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 30, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, (412) 322-0800, mcgjazz.org.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)