Sarel River

His love affair with music started in Haifa, Israel where he grew up listening to European classical music and opera. Sarel was a violin player and spent his time learning from radio and recordings. Sarel became obsessed with the Beatles’ simplicity and lyricism when the pop revolution began to reach Israel from England. He became interested in almost every kind of music and learned how to play guitar at age eighteen. His first teacher introduced him to jazz after he had completed his military service in Israel. This fortuitous incident instantly shaped Sarel River’s musical path. River says, “After that it was all jazz, every time.” River left Israel to study at Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 1989. It is one of the most prestigious musical labs in the world. Sarel believed that learning something is best done by going to the source. This was the reason River moved to the U.S. Sarel started a close relationship with Jerry Bergonzi at Berklee. He was a private teacher who helped to develop Sarel’s improvisational abilities. Bergonzi is described by River as an “unbelievable player and personality”. River used to show up early for class to listen to Bergonzi’s teachings to the other students. Along with the influence of Larry Bione, Sarel, and other teachers, Bergonzi laid the foundation for Rivers philosophy as both a performer and teacher. River says, “What I learned from Berklee was almost as important as anything else was that music was a language that evokes moods.” It is necessary to create sentences. These are phrases that have a beginning, middle and end. Masterminds such as Montgomery and Scofield have the ability to play fancy licks because they are able to use the basic principles of melody and phrasing. River started to make a career out of Berklee while still studying at Berklee. He performed solo at concerts at The Boston Afro-American Artist Association Festival, Copley Square, and the Lawrence and Alma Berk Recital Hall. Sarel, who graduated in 1994 from Berklee, moved to Budapest with the wife of his doctoral studies. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern Europe’s jazz scene was still underground. People spoke very little English at the time. But Budapest was gradually becoming a popular destination for festival-goers. Sarel started to write, teach and play in the harsh winter 1995. One of the results of his experience was “Budapest 95,” which is featured on 2 In One. After a year, Sarel returned home to Boston and moved to NYC within months to continue his career. His wife, however, continued her studies abroad. River was quickly a sought-after musician on the Manhattan jazz scene. He gigged on every session and live date, whether he was paid or not. River has remained true to his promise of performing his original compositions, including gigs at Small’s Cafe and The Garage Cafe. River was part of the big band arrangement for The Brooklyn Conservatory of Music’s tribute to James Spaulding in 2001. River, now a well-known performer, looks back at his first decade in New York and stresses the importance of the ideas that he believes are crucial to an artist’s growth. River says, “Everyone needs to eat. But if music becomes a grind and you play things you don’t like to play with people who don’t interest you, then you might as well become a plumber.” Your edge will disappear or you may never develop it again. Your mind must be free from limitations and forms. It is important to note ideas and then develop them. It is important to find your voice and to play with your personality. It’s not about learning fancy licks but expanding ideas. River said that his experiences and environment influence how he expresses himself. Sarel River can confidently make this statement about his new album, Mr. Blue Eyes. The Mr. Blue Eyes in the title refers Sarel River and Daphne Sack River’s eight-month-old son Ethan who died from cancer in June 2004. Sarel had just two weeks to compose the title song when he was watching his baby die from sudden illness. His first child was the reason he started his project. Each title and composition is a tribute to that baby’s innocence and joy. The record is both ebullient, brooding, complex, and easily accessible. This recording reflects the talents of an artist who has transformed tragedy into a beautiful homage. Sarel River has simple career goals: To learn how to write better and play better as a musician; secure a distribution deal with Mr. Blue Eyes; continue performing at select gigs that showcase his original compositions. For inspiration, he listens to jazz vocalists and instrumentalists. He listens to pop music when he drives, but he has been switching to jazz lately. Says Sarel River, “Sometimes simple things have a greater impact than all that complicated stuff.” from

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