66 Years After Being Composed, Jazz Suite Inspired by Israel Visit Comes to Life

April 16, 2019 by TPS
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Ben-Gurion University on Sunday hosted the first Israeli performance of the King David Suite, written 66 years ago by legendary jazz composer Lionel Hampton as a tribute to Israel’s first Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog and celebrating Israel’s emergence.

Photo: Dani Machlis

The composition was performed by the Itamar Borochov Quartet in a gala concert to open the Israeli Jazz and Hebrew Culture conference at the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism at BGU’s Sede Boqer campus.

Borochov, an Israeli New York-based trumpeter, has emerged as a prominent soloist whose music blends Jewish themes with a performance style closely resembling that of Miles Davis.

The King David Suite was inspired by Hampton’s meeting with Rabbi Herzog during a visit to Israel in 1953.

During his visit, Hampton entertained IDF troops, visited the Tomb of King David in Jerusalem’s Old City and met with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

Hampton, a devout Christian and an enthusiastic Zionist, recalled wanting to discuss the Bible while meeting with Herzog, but the rabbi first wanted Hampton’s insight into the “boogie-woogie” style of jazz.

The suite combines jazz and classical elements in a symphony that was performed by orchestras in 19 countries. Hampton considered it his magnum opus.

The only copy of the score was thought to have been lost in a 1997 fire that completely gutted Hampton’s New York apartment. A copy was discovered several years later in the possession of Hampton’s manager Frank Como, with Hampton’s original notes and comments. It was donated to the Ben-Gurion Archives in 2015 by San Francisco residents Maurice “Mo” Levich, and Como who are co-directors of the Big Band of Rossmoor.

“The significance of this concert is two-fold,” says Dr. Aryeh Tepper, a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Israel Studies and a co-organizer of the conference. “First is the music itself. Jazz enables those outside Israeli society to see the creativity and the deep cultural roots we have here.”

He also noted that “Hampton was part of the first integrated cultural group in the United States, when he performed with Benny Goodman several years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. That was important in-and-of-itself, and it created a relationship between Hampton and the Jewish community that never waned.”

Located on BGU’s Sede Boqer campus, the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism is home to the Ben-Gurion Archives, the equivalent of a Presidential Library in the United States. The Archives house Ben-Gurion’s extensive collection of personal papers, diaries and letters.

Over the years, other important collections have been added from the Israel State Archives, Jabotinsky Archives, Labor Archives and more, providing scholars with a unique window into Israel’s past and the early days of the Zionist movement.


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