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April 5, 2012 11:45 am

A Saxophonist Inspired on the Kibbutz

avatar by Matt Robinson / JNS.org

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Benny Sharoni in concert with legendary pianist John Coates, October 2006 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Photo: Courtesy Benny Sharoni.

Born in Israel to Chilean and Yemenite parents, saxophonist Benny Sharoni had diverse influences at play in his life from the start.

During his childhood on a kibbutz, Sharoni’s father was “an amateur harmonica player” and his mother played the accordion. His sisters were also musically inclined.

“There was always a variety of music playing in the house, from Latin/South American (from my mom), to Yemenite/African based (from my dad) and classical,” Sharoni tells JointMedia News Service.

These days, the Boston-based saxophonist tours the world imitating the sounds of jazz greats—while incorporating his own style.

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Though his parents initially influenced him to play flute (which was originally one of the few instruments available on the kibbutz), Sharoni soon found his way to the saxophone. “I started playing saxophone a couple of years before I was exposed to jazz,” he says. “Someone handed me the instrument and I fell in love with it.”

A few years later, Sharoni’s mother returned from a trip to the U.S. with albums by such saxophone colossi as Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt and Zoot Sims records. Sharoni’s path to jazz was set. “I love the sound of the tenor saxophone and the versatility,” he explains. “To me, it is the sound of the nightlife, which I love.”

Though he was originally classically trained, Sharoni found his true voice through jazz. “Because of my extreme free spirit,” he reasons, “I sought out a musical form that broke beyond the constraints of classical music. It was there that I found jazz the freest and most expressive music out there.”

After serving in the Israeli army (where he says music often saved both his life and his soul), Sharoni found his way to America, where he studied at the Berklee College of Music. On the way to Boston, Sharoni made a few stops in Europe. “I got my first taste of international performance representing Israel on a 1978 European tour of Israeli folk music and dance,” he explains.

In 1986, Sharoni emigrated to the U.S., where he has continued to study and perform with some of the best in the business. Among his most profound influences, Sharoni counts Steve Grossman, Bob Berg, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, and his wife.

“I am a very expressive and rhythmic musician,” Sharoni observes. “Therefore, my performances are very emotional and from my heart.”

Though his love for Latin, African and Israeli music endures, Sharoni also includes many pieces from the Great American Songbook in his sets and on his albums. On his latest album, “Eternal Elixir” (Papaya), Sharoni offers his takes on Donald Byrd’s “Pentacostal Feeling,” Jimmy Heath’s “The Thing To Do” and “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” as well as original tunes like “Bernstein” and “Senor Papaya.”

“I include many standards in the repertoire, with our band’s own spin to them,” he says. “Also, I like to include a few of my own originals to keep things fresh.”

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