JERUSALEM, 9 October
2001 - Professor Emeritus of the New School Jazz and Contemporary
Music Program; Artistic Director of the Center of Creative Music
founded in Jerusalem, four years ago in cooperation with the Queen Nur
Music Conservatory in Amman, Jordan; veteran of Doc Severenson's
Tonight Show band; composer, librettist, educator; manager and star
attraction of Arnie's Jazz Undergound, Arnie Lawrence was marching
along Hebron Road playing "The Saints Go Marching In" on his
saxophone between his new club and the Jerusalem Cinemateque next
He was followed by a camera crew from a Saturday night
prime time TV news magazine. The opening of a jazz club in Jerusalem,
even a small one like Arnie's Underground, is an event.
knows how to unite promotion and musicianship as well as when to keep
them apart. For a year, quietly, with no publicity, he worked with a
young Israeli band (all of them his students) every Thursday night in
the Flamingo restaurant in Ramallah, in the Palestinian territories.
The round trip entailed, as he put it, "a certain amount of risk."
It quietly ended when violence increased during the second Intifada.
Trying to bridge the cultural distance between Israel's
Arab and Jewish communities makes people increasingly nervous.
Although not a mass happening, the Festival of Alternative Israeli
Theater in Akko, an essentially Arab town on the coast north of Haifa,
was considered symbolically important. For some years, the festival
took place during each Sukkoth holiday, bringing together Arab and
Jewish artists, musicians and performers. Last year it was cancelled
after the start of the second Intifada. This year's resumption
presented "a multi-media event including a musical response in
the jazz tradition."
Several layers of checkpoints
circled the town. The police were polite but firm. Traffic was backing
up, horns were honking. Recognized credentials of some sort were
required. Those carried by Lawrence were apparently insufficient and
he had to use all of his considerable charm in order to get through
one barricade after another. For a minute, he considered taking out
his horn and playing "The Saints Go Marching In." It turned
out that his guitar player could not get through at all, and he sat on
his amplifier by the side of the road for two hours.
expending admirable energy and restraint dealing with police at
roadblocks, Lawrence finally entered the festival grounds - a
picturesque garden by the sea behind dramatically lit restored-ruin
walls. About 250 unthreatening bi-cultural people were calmly eating
and drinking at tables on a lush lawn outside a room that had been
renamed the "Normal Café" for the evening, a Bob
Dylan record providing ambiance.
Being in this jumpy country
is like going through the looking glass. "Maybe we are no longer
us," the writer David Grossman recently said on TV. A poster
showing two women in a suggestive pose advertises an erotic movie
called "Ex (o) dus" being screened as part of the Haifa Film
Festival. Arnie's Jazz Underground opened on the infamous September
11, 2001. Wearing a cowboy hat with a Lion of Judah pin, a gift from
the mayor of Jerusalem, on the crown, Lawrence performed on the small
stage of the Normal Café with three young Arab musicians -
percussionists Elias Habib and Wisam Aram and oud player Naizar
Francis - all students of his. The same band toured China a few months
ago, sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Their mélange
of jazz and Arabic folk music was effortless and ecological. They were
followed by the renowned Israeli Arab author Salman Natour reading
from his works, telling stories about his life and commenting on
current politics, in Hebrew.
Two nights later, Lawrence led
a modern quartet in the Hemdat Yamin, a cozy chalet perched near the
peak of Mt. Meron, a 1 ½ hour drive northeast of Haifa. The road
passes Afula, where three people had been shot to death at a bus stop
sometime during the short life of the Normal Café. Just before
reaching the top, a family of seven wild boars crossed the road in the
headlights. This time his guitar player arrived safely, though
murmuring something about Lawrence's remote gigs. The band played with
swing and organized abstraction. The remote room remained surprisingly
crowded with interested, interesting looking people until one a.m. You
might almost have been in the West Village. While one thousand meters
down below, the lights of Tiberias twinkled peacefully on the shores
of the Sea of Galillee.
Arnie's Jazz Underground is on Mt.
Zion slope across from the old city. In the Ben Hennom valley ("Valley
of Hell") in between, a Christian rock band had been singing "Hallelujah,
Love The Lord" in the early evening. Around midnight, while a
convoy of flatbed trucks hauling tanks inched up Hebron Road in front,
Arnie's Jazz Underground was packed as Lawrence played "Getting
Sentimental Over You."
Zwerin has been jazz and rock critic for the International Herald
Tribune for the last twenty years. He was also the European
correspondent for The Village Voice. Mike Zwerin is the author of
several books on jazz and the jazz editor of Culturekiosque.