A year and a half ago, when he was only 24, Tom Oren won the 2018 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition. One of the judges in the competition, American jazz pianist Jason Moran, praised Oren’s willingness to take risks and told DownBeat magazine: “When he first started his intro on his first tune, you could hear that he was actually going to try something new but wasn’t sure if it was going to work out. But his ideas seemed to keep working out, you could hear him on the edge. He just kept taking these unexpected turns.”
Indeed, originality and the courage to try something new characterize Oren, whose mother is a musician and composer so he has been since birth a permanent resident in the worlds of sound and melody. At age six, he began studying classical piano, and at age 11, he entered the jazz realms. A graduate of the Thelma Yellin high school of the arts, the Israeli Conservatory of Music, and the Rimon Jazz Institute, this year he graduates from the Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship, and is currently a member of the Eli Degibri Quartet.
From the beginning, Oren has explored the connections between the worlds. “I understood how classical music influences jazz and vice versa,” he says. “Much of the vocabulary of harmony and melody of romantic and post-romantic and modern classical music can naturally integrate into jazz.” He started to perceive Improvisation as composing the moment, and the vital force of spontaneous creation has influenced the way he plays classical materials. However, there came a time when a decision was made, his direction was clear: “I realized that I am focused on jazz. It gives me the perfect platform. It is open to absorbing a variety of influences into it.”
Oren’s performance in Eilat is absorbed with multiple influences, just like that. His trio has concocted a jazz evening with the songs of Georges Brassens (1921-1981), one of the greatest chansonniers, the French troubadour of the 20th-century. As a child, Oren listened a lot to Brassens as well as to Yossi Banai singing renditions of Brassens. “Something about his warmth and the simplicity of the tunes felt right,” he says. When he understood the lyrics, he detected plenty of rebellion, humor and courage, and the challenge of the jazz trio adaptation was to convey the meaning of lyrics even without singing. The lyrics are supported during the Red Sea Jazz Festival concert with two special guest artists, acclaimed singer-songwriters Korin Allal and Eran Zur. They both own an exceptional stage personality and their own unique way of interpretation and song presentation.
Challenges, inventions and risks faithfully describe Oren’s path, the young Israeli musician who received one of the most important honors of American jazz establishment. For him, winning the competition was “a kind of blessing, a confirmation that I can continue to research and learn and express myself.” This year, his debut album with Concord Music Group is due out, however on his part he intends to remain true to his path. “Knowledge, respect and love for the tradition of jazz are essential,” he says, “the fantastic thing about jazz is the freedom to explore all materials while implementing your own sense of innovation and truth.”
Tom Oren Piano
Shay Zelman Drums
Gilad Abro Double Bass
Guest Artists: Korin Allal, Eran Zur
Photo by Josh Wool
Duration: 75 minutes