By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
While walking down a Tel Aviv street, a dark-haired child passed a music store. The slender, inquisitive, six-year-old boy heard a man demonstrating an electric organ. That boy was Tamir Hendelman. Captured in that unexpected moment, the child found himself intrigued by the music he heard. To his ears, it sounded like a full orchestra. Young Tamir ran home and begged his mother to please buy him an organ. Thus, began his love affair with music, and later the piano and jazz. The rest is history.
Tamir’s family is not particularly musical except for his grandmother. Two stories below their apartment, his grandmother was always singing. Tamir explained:
“My parents didn’t have a passion for music the way I did. But my grandmother did. She always sang around the house: standards, popular melodies, opera and traditional Israeli songs. Every Friday night, she hosted Shabbat. Sometimes the TV would feature an American film musical. That’s where I first heard some of those Great American Song Book standards. She was a world traveler, bringing home little souvenirs. One snowy night, on tour in Alaska, I stumbled on a Russian shop with a nest doll display. Looking through the window, I recalled grandma’s nest dolls and suddenly I heard a melody, which became “Babushka,” a song I recorded on my Destinations CD.”
Tamir’s organ lessons as a child led to a deep love of classical and jazz music. A Count Basie cassette was an early gift from a teacher. He then heard Chick Corea in concert and watched Bobby McFerrin weave his charms on an audience, performing acapella in Tel Aviv. He also enjoyed a group called the Swingle Singers. They vocally performed music by Bach, Mozart and even music by The Beatles.
Hendelman quickly became enchanted with the rich expression of Jazz and classical music and with writing and arranging music that blended these sounds. Here is Tamir’s rendition of the prelude from Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin.
At the tender age of twelve, Tamir’s family moved to the United States to explore new horizons. He found himself smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles’ creative energy. His first U.S. teacher, Vilma Maramba, used the Yamaha method, encouraging improvisation. Playing an original piece, he participated in Yamaha’s National Electone Keyboard Competition. As fate would have it, one of the judges was pianist, arranger, composer and conductor, Joe Harnell. To his esteemed credit, Harnell has conducted for Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald. Tamir took third place in the competition but impressed Joe Harnell enough that the iconic pianist/conductor approached young Hendelman after the contest. His encouraging words and belief in Tamir’s talent led to their lifelong friendship. As his mentor, Harnell suggested Tamir attend Tanglewood Institute, in Western Massachusetts, to study classical composition. Tamir later discovered the beauty of the acoustic piano and studied further with Clare Fischer and Billy Childs, both harmonic innovators.
Next Tamir received his Bachelor of Music Composition degree from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He then became the youngest musical director for Lovewell Institute of the Creative Arts. Moving back to LA, he attended jam sessions at Billy Higgins’ World Stage, while composing and soaking up the music of Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis.
Life in California was his oyster and there were many pearls to be found. As his career blossomed, Tamir began to get session calls and gigs accompanying singers. It’s one thing to be an incredible pianist, but it’s quite another thing to also be an incredible and sensitive accompanist. Tamir Hendelman could do both. While performing as part of vocalist, Sandra Booker’s band, the iconic drummer, Jeff Hamilton, heard Tamir play. A few months later, Tamir received an invitation to become the new pianist in the Jeff Hamilton Trio and of course, accepted enthusiastically. Soon after, he also joined the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz orchestra and has been touring internationally with both groups ever since.
At twenty-nine, Tamir met bassist Sherry Luchette and he was smitten. They soon married and that began a new chapter of his life. They are now the proud parents of two lovely, little girls. His career exploded in great ways. He found himself recording and touring with legendary artists like Barbra Streisand, Natalie Cole, Bill Holman’s Big Band, Roberta Gambarini and was a guest soloist with the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra. On recordings conducted and arranged by John Clayton, he performed alongside John Pizzarelli, Diana Krall and Paul McCartney. He also became a bandleader of his own trio. In 2009, Hendelman recorded his debut album, “Playground” with Jeff Hamilton and John Clayton. You can’t get much better than that. 2010’s “Destinations” trio CD (on Resonance Records) followed, featuring Lewis Nash and Marco Panascia. Tours with his trio have taken him across the US, as well as Europe and Japan.
Tamir Hendelman stayed busy recording with giants like, Teddy Edwards, Houston Person, Nick Brignola, Phil Upchurch, Rickey Woodard, vocalists Jackie Ryan and Barbara Morrison, Jeff Clayton and the Clayton-Hamilton orchestra. He performed Rhapsody in Blue with the Winston-Salem Symphony and participated on a tribute to Jobim with members of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Then along came the deadly Corona Virus. Musicians around the world found themselves at home, adjusting to a new and different pace and a challenging new way of life.
Now, since many of us are self-quarantined and stuck at home, Tamir decided to offer his friends and fans a weekly solo piano live-stream. It happens every Saturday evening at 6 p.m. (Pacific Coast time) on the Internet. Each week, he tributes various jazz giants and the Great American Songbook composers. https://gem.godaddy.com/p/a3deb01/
“Like many in LA, I’ve loved the tradition of house concerts, such as the long-time Jazz at the A-Frame series. The intimate setting and dedicated fans make these so special. When the A-Frame closed, I was invited to lead a series of solo and duo concerts at a home in Sherman Oaks as part of a series called the PQ Sessions. I featured guests like Rickey Woodard, Larry Koonse, Danny Janklow and Graham Dechter. We often dedicated our sets to a certain composer or musician. It seemed natural for me to take that approach with this new solo piano series from home,” Tamir explained his recent Zoom project.
“Each Saturday, I explore the music of a certain composer or musician, from Harold Arlen (5/23) to Miles Davis (5/30), Kenny Barron and Joao Gilberto (6/6), Chick Corea (6/13) and Cole Porter (6/20). This allows me to discover and share some hidden gems by these artists. My On-line workshops, feature the Great American Songbook and were also inspired by Barry Harris, who used to hold similar workshops for pianists and vocalists.”
Since 2005, Tamir Hendelman has been teaching piano, improvisation and harmony at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music, where instruction has temporarily moved online this quarter. He’s one of the brilliant professors at this newly renamed Global Jazz Studies program. Recently, the program was enhanced with the addition of Terence Blanchard and Arturo O’Farrill.
“As musicians and educators, I feel we’re here to bring people together and to lift them up. Especially now, when our students are immersed in technology, I encourage them to use those tools to musically connect with each other. They learn how to record together in ‘real’ time, accompany and musically support each other, and stay inspired together as a community. A few weeks ago, vocalist Tierney Sutton and I recorded a Hoagy Carmichael song, ‘I Get Along Without You. This was my first experience recording alone…together. I was glad to share this with our students and get them comfortable with the process. They paired up and recorded with each other in ‘real’ time. To me, that’s where the magic happens.”
The duo with Tamir Hendelman and Tierney Sutton came out beautifully. You can enjoy it below.
Not only is Tamir Hendelman an outstanding pianist, an educator and composer, he is an arranger of note. Many seek his creative arranging talents when they decide to record. He shared a funny story with me about an arrangement inspiration he once had.
“I often hear musical ideas while walking in nature. While working on an arrangement for vocalist, Joanne Tatham, she wanted me to create a new take on McCoy Tyner and Sammy Cahn’s ballad, ‘You Taught My Heart to Sing.’ While on my little walk, suddenly a garbage truck began backing up and beeping all the while. ‘Beep – beep – beep! Sure enough, that found its way into a bass figure repeating the same note, that came in and out of the song arrangement. I guess you never know where inspiration will strike,” he chuckled remembering.
If you want to hear more of Tamir Hendelman’s style and brilliance, I encourage you to visit his website www.tamirhendelman.com to discover and attend his latest Saturday streaming concerts and to learn more about his recordings. When live concerts resume and travel opens up, catch him in person or just dial him up on Youtube.com. From my perspective, not only is he an accomplished musician and educator, he’s also just a really down-to-earth and likeable person.