Over the past few years I've been fortunate to interview many well-known musicians, most often in New York City, or Los Angeles. Occasionally the opportunity to interview a subject in-person arises, and I always try and jump at the chance to conduct an in-person interview. Before my most recent re-location to California, Oz Noy called while on tour with Oteil Burbridge and Keith Carlock. In need of a replacement pedal, and perhaps a change of scenery from the airport Holiday Inn, Oz asked if I could give the band a ride to a local music store. A Sunday morning after a weekend of shows and my church gig is usually a race against exhaustion, however I agreed to act as chauffeur in return for an interview. Here's what went down.
Ben Scholz: So, Israel. Just a couple questions. Was your family living in the middle east in '48?
Oz Noy: No. They were in Europe.
Ben: So, why did they move to Israel?
Oz: Second world war. Nazis, the whole deal. They were running away from the Nazis. My grandparents are all from Poland. But they started to move around. My parents were born in Russia. My Aunt was born in Germany, you know they had to move around Eastern Europe.
Ben: Did you move straight to New York from Israel?
Oz: Straight from Israel to New York. In August of '96.
Ben: Why did you choose New York other than for the obvious reasons? Why did you choose New York as opposed to, like anywhere else in the world?
Oz: It was the obvious reason. There's really no other reason.
Ben: Something I've noticed about Israeli musicians is that they tend to settle in NYC. Why do so many Israeli musicians move to New York, and why do so few move elsewhere?
Oz: Because, it's very simple. It's simple. New York is pretty much the center of the jazz scene, musically speaking. If you're immigrating to another country you might as well be in the right place you know? There's really only three centers of music in America. There's New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. If you wanna do jazz you need to be in New York. If you wanna do studio work, or country you live in Nashville. And if you want to do pop stuff, movies etc., Los Angeles. In general it's kind of a waste of time going to a city that is not totally central. At least in terms of the music scene.
Ben: Do you find yourself going to Nashville and Los Angeles a lot?
Oz: Just to play, yeah. Most of my sessions are in NY and I've been fortunate enough to live in Manhattan in the same apartment since I moved to NY in '96.
Ben: So you have rent control or something?
Oz: Yeah, rent stabilized. It's a great place and I'm never gonna leave it. There's no chance in the world that that's gonna happen. I just got lucky you know? It's interesting. When I moved to New York I landed on the Upper West Side with a good friend of mine. It was so friendly, it kind of reminded me of Tel Aviv in many ways. So, it kind of felt like home in a way. Right away, it didn't feel like that different.
Ben: What do you think of the other boroughs? What are your perceptions on, the "scene" in Manhattan?
Oz: What, like Williamsburg, Queens and such?
Ben: Well, Brooklyn and Harlem.
Oz: Brooklyn? Well, there are a lot of really nice areas all around Manhattan. Brooklyn and Williamsburg, Queens and Long Island and Westchester. If you're close to the city then you're fine. If you get a little farther away, travelling becomes a little problematic. Especially now when it's so congested in NY. So, I don't know. I think some of those areas are way overrated. Living in Brooklyn? Way, way overrated. I don't know why this is the case, but it is. That's just my opinion.
Ben: I'm just kind of curious. How did you get hooked up with The Bitter End? How did that whole thing evolve?
Oz: Well, when I moved to New York there used to be a jam there every Sunday. There's still a jam there, but now it's every other Sunday. At the time, it was a pretty happening jam. And before I moved to NY, I had friends of mine, Israelis that were already here. They told me about the jam and I went there and before long, they hired me to be in the house band. That was the same time that Keith Carlock moved to town. We used to do those jams together. I played there a bunch, and I made a tape with friends of mine. Just a trio. I gave it to the guy and I said "Hey can I play here once a month?" He was nice, he gave me a gig you know? After a couple of years a friend of mine convinced me to do a live record. He was like "man, it's got like a real vibe, you should record it." So the first record I did was "Live at the Bitter End." That was the in 2001 or 2002. Somewhere around there. Then after that, I started to play every week. That's the story, really.
Asian Twistz the latest album from Oz Noy, featuring Etienne Mbappe and Dave Weckl is now available.