Gilad Atzmon - Not strictly kosher

Larger than life, with an extraordinary view of jazz, philosophy and politics, the Israeli saxophonist Gilad Atzmon tells Stuart Nicholson about his new creation Artie Fishel, a Jewish Jelly Roll Morton with his own theories about where jazz was created. Atzmon explains why he turned his back on his Israeli heritage, after serving in the Israeli army, diagreeing with the political aspects of the Jewish state and instead actively supporting the Palestinian cause. It’s a stance that has caused his critics to accuse him of being a “self hating Jew” something which Atzmon in this remarkable interview faces head on.
Gilad Atzmon - Not strictly kosher
It’s a bright, clear September morning. Golders Green in the London Borough of Barnet is a buzz of activity as shops and cafés prepare for another busy day. For those who’ve never been there, Golders Green is a cosmopolitan area that has had a Jewish community since the 1900s. There’s plenty of kosher food restaurants, plus several Japanese, Turkish, Korean and Italian eateries and well over a dozen coffee bars. I’m heading towards one of them near the Golders Green-Finchley Road crossroads to meet the Jewish bandleader Artie Fishel, a brilliant but mad saxophonist from the ghettos of Eastern Europe who is now living in the area.

As I open the shop’s glass door, Fishel’s voice booms out: “Come over here and sit down!” I join him in a booth near the back of the shop. He’s an unmistakable figure. Tall, thickset with a mop of curly black hair and a huge pair of huge horn-rimmed glasses that frame his mad, flashing eyes. He’s drinking coffee and is just finishing a breakfast of bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon. “Hoy vey, Uri,” he says, beckoning a waiter lurking nervously in the background, “Get this gentile a coffee.”

We exchange pleasantries – well, he tells me how busy he is, how he hasn’t really got time for an interview, but since I’m here he will give me 10 minutes, but no more, and since he doesn’t give interviews anyway this will be a world first, so I am a very lucky man and maybe I should be paying him for the privilege? I quickly switch on my tape recorder.

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