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Musician’s hard work starts to pay off

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Itamar Borochov

Trumpeter Itamar Borochov’s signature sound grew out of his passion for jazz, his love of the blues and his exploration of the musical traditions of the Arab world.

Borochov is following in the footsteps of his father, Yisrael, who’s been merging western and eastern musical concepts and rhythms with the Israeli band East-West Ensemble for nearly 35 years.

Borochov, 34, grew up in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of Jaffa, Israel, in a home without many toys, but with lots of musical records and several musical instruments, including a set of drums and a piano, as well as the sound of his dad rehearsing.

“That was what I grew up with – not only the traditional music, but also the idea of musical multiculturalism. I was born into a family that had an eclectic sort of taste,” Borochov said over the telephone from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he’s been living for the past 10 years.

Piano and guitar were Borochov’s first instruments. He learned how to play guitar when he was in Grade 3. A youngster with an affinity for the blues, he also began listening to artists like John Lee Hooker, B.B. King and the Blues Brothers.

Borochov got his first trumpet when he was 11, thinking of it as an additional instrument for the rock band in which he played guitar. At the time, Borochov’s mother gave him the albums Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by master jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Borochov was unaware of the hard work that lay ahead.

“The trumpet is a physically challenging instrument,” he said. “I was talented enough that I thought I didn’t need to work hard. Practising scales sounded like the dumbest idea to me. I wanted to just pick up the trumpet and play jazz. I learned piano and guitar, but neither of those were at the level of challenge, physically, as playing the trumpet. Because I was lazy, I didn’t practice. By the time I was in high school, it really showed. I started to get serious only in my 20s, practising every day for several hours to really get it together.”

Hearing him play trumpet on his two albums, Outset and Boomerang, it’s obvious his practice has paid off. He’s a passionate player of sublime and, at the same time, melodic and accessible music.

Borochov got his first lesson in playing maquams, Arabic scales, from his father (western music scales are divided into 12 notes, while Arabic scales have 24 notes – notes between the notes that Borochov plays on trumpet). In fact, he’s one of the few musicians in the world who can play microtonal scales on the trumpet.

READ: EXPLORING THE JEWISH WORLD AT HOT DOCS

In his explorations of Arabic music, Borochov has collaborated with highly regarded Moroccan Jewish hazzan Rabbi Haim Louk, and he contributed to an album of Iraqi Jewish music made by Israeli rocker Dudu Tassa.

Borochov is best known in the world music scene for his work as a trumpet player, arranger and co-producer with the band Yemen Blues. After recording three albums with the group, though, he decided to call it quits. “For me, it started as a very artistic project. The band became very successful very fast and the script kind of changed. It felt like it became more about fame. That’s something that’s exciting in its own way, but I lost interest in it pretty fast,” he said.

Recently, Borochov collaborated with Innov Gnawa, a band that explores Morocco’s Gnawa musical tradition – spiritual music with roots in Islam– and he’s going to produce the group’s next album. Innov Gnawa, which received the American Sephardi Federation’s Pomegranate Award, are guests on Borochov’s new recording, Blue Nights, to be released in September on the Laborie Jazz label.

Borochov’s quartet, featuring pianist Rob Clearfield, bassist Sam Weber and drummer Francesco Ciniglio, is scheduled to perform in Toronto at the Israeli Jazz Showcase at the Rex Jazz and Blues Bar on May 6. The show, which begins at 7:30 p.m. with singer Aviva Chernick as the opening act, is presented by the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation and Toronto Downtown Jazz as part of Spotlight on Israeli Culture.