He wasn’t particularly impressed the first time he heard a piano. Of course, it was an old, out-of-tune spinet at his school in Israel and Tamir Hendelman wasn’t quite 6.
“It wasn’t something very exciting to me,” Hendelman said.
That changed almost by chance.
“One of my earliest memories was walking down a street in Tel Aviv and passing by a music store,” Hendelman said. “The store salesman was playing a medley of songs on an electric organ. It sounded like an orchestra or a big band to me. I asked my mom to get me one of those instruments.”
For Hendelman, now among the premier jazz musicians, the piano became his ticket to touring the world — from Israel to Los Angeles, from Japan to New York, and on April 16 to the new Ravenscroft Hall in Scottsdale for a 7:30 p.m. Jazz Appreciation Month concert, presented by Tempe-based Lakeshore Music.
Mentored by the best in the business
Hendelman performed for years with a lengthy list of greats, including Barbara Streisand, Diana Krall, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole and the Jeff Hamilton Trio, before forming his own trio and performing his jazz compositions, as well as music of Brazil, his Israeli roots, blues and The Great American Songbook.
His Lakeshore Music audience will get a taste of it all on his set list, Hendelman says.
“Tamir is one of the truly great jazz pianists on the international scene today,” said Woody Wilson, longtime Tempe civic leader, who is founder, president and executive director of Lakeshore Music. “For me, the essence and elegance of jazz is the piano trio, and nobody does elegant better than Tamir Hendelman.”
After beginning his keyboard studies at age 6 in Tel Aviv, Hendelman moved to the U.S. at age 12 and won Yamaha’s national keyboard competition two years later with an original composition. Concerts in Japan and the Kennedy Center followed.
He then studied at the Tanglewood Institute in 1988 at age 16, and received a Bachelor of Music in Classical Composition from Eastman School of Music in 1993. He became the youngest musical director for Lovewell Institute, a national arts education non-profit organization.
Most recently, Hendelman joined Graham Dechter on guitar, Jeff Hamilton on drums and John Clayton on bass on the album Major Influence, released in autumn 2021.
Tales from home and jazz among his inspirations
Audiences worldwide enjoy Hendelman’s rhythmical, lyrical music, as he melds jazz, world and classical influences into exciting, heartfelt creativity. Classically trained and a practitioner of nearly every genre, it is jazz that really grabs him, he says.
“It’s the immediacy, the sense of surprise, the group collective, being able to feed off of each other,” Hendelman said. “It’s being able to take songs that have been done for decades and decades and inventing something new with them.”
Two of his original tunes, in particular, resonate with Hendelman from his youth.
“My grandmother loved to sing around the house, and she would sing old Jewish melodies and jazz standards,” he said. “I remember seeing some American movie musicals on TV when we’d get together for a nice family meal at her place on Friday evenings, Singin’ in the Rain, or My Fair Lady. She used to collect knickknacks and mementos from her travels. From a trip to Europe there’d be some plate that she bought there. Always something. She even had babushkas.
“So I was in Alaska, in a little village, and they had these little babushkas. It reminded me of seeing these things from her travels, and now I get to be the one traveling and collecting memories. ‘Babushka’ also is another name for ‘grandmother,’ so I wrote a song to her called ‘Babushka.’ We’ll be playing that.”
Before he and his wife got married, Hendelman took her to Israel.
“I wanted her to get a feel for the northern area, the more pastoral area, with its little kibbutzes, little villages,” he said. “We went on a hike and got lost. We managed to get through the coyotes howling at the moon and figured out a way to get back to the village. Everything was closed by then, and we needed a little help. I knocked on a stranger’s door, and they ended up inviting us to join their holiday dinner and stay the night. So I wrote a little song about the gracious spirt and openness of people in the north, ‘Israeli Waltz.’ We’ll play that, too.”
Hendelman’s trio includes bassist Alex Frank and drummer Dean Koba.
“We’re very excited about coming to the new venue (Ravenscroft Hall),” Hendelman said. “We hear great things about it from Tierney (Sutton, who performed Lakeshore Music’s February concert) and some other people who have been there.”
Tickets are $60 (all seats reserved) and available at theravenscroft.com.
Lakeshore’s 2021-22 season draw to a close on May 21 when it presents five-time Grammy winner Billy Childs and his jazz quartet at Ravenscroft Hall.