Innovative Guitarist Discusses Fusing Styles & the Future of Jazz

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 11:17

An Interview with Oz Noy

by: Casey Pukl 

Guitarist Oz Noy has always straddled many musical lines. Is he blues? Pop? Rock? Jazz? All of the above?

I’ll take all of the above.

Since he started playing guitar in Israel at age 10, Noy was always fascinated by all different types of music. In his twenties, he put all of his influences together to gain what is now his signature sound. Guitar Player Magazine has awarded Oz the title of “Best New Talent” as well as “Best Guitar Riff on a Record”. Noy is now bringing his trio featuring Dave Weckl and Darryl Jones to Anthology for what’s sure to be a fantastic show. Read on to find out what Noy defines as jazz, what he thinks the future of jazz will be, and his surprising comments on the torturous writing process.

CP: Tell me a little bit about your musical background— I know you grew up in Israel and started playing professionally at a really early age.

ON: I grew up in Israel, and I started playing guitar when I was 10. I got into the Beatles first and started playing their songs. My older brother started playing bass, and he got into jazz, so there were some jazz records in the house also. SO I always had both. I had the pop stuff, the Beatles, some Israeli pop stuff that I liked, but I also had jazz around. That’s kind of how I started.

I think the first year when I started playing guitar, I developed really quickly. Within two or three years I started to study jazz, which I guess was still pretty young, I was about 13.  And then from 13, I started to play in some bands and stuff and do some recording for some people. Israel is a small place. You don’t have to be the greatest guitar player in the world to play there. I was kind of lucky from that perspective, just because I was able to not be that great, but still get the experience. 

By about 16 I started to get really professional. I was there until the age of 24, and then at 24, I moved to New York. The main thing about my style and playing though is that I always played both. It was kind of hard growing up doing both because I couldn’t really focus on one thing. I was always into rock and blues and funk, but at the same time really deep into jazz. It took many years for it to just gel. For many years it was just heavy metal and be-bop (laughs).

CP: (Laughs) Of course the two extremes.

OZ: Exactly. So that’s kind of in general what it is. When I moved to New York, it took a while just to get it all in. I think one of the things that made a big difference for me was that I actually started to do my band in Israel. I was doing a lot of pop gigs when I got to New York, and for a while, people just stopped calling me to do jazz gigs— I don’t really know why, it just kind of goes in cycles and periods. Plus, I’m a guitar player, so there’s less work for me than drummers, bass players, you know, so I had to kind of start my own band. I was a Wes Montgomery clone for a very long time, and then I stopped. After that I couldn’t get any jazz gigs for a very long time. I had one bar in Israel where I used to play jazz, and I said to the guy you know, what if I wanted to do some other stuff like funk or blues, so that’s how my trio started there playing this blues night. Then after that I got bored, so I started to do the same thing with more funk and R&B tunes like Stevie Wonder stuff, but I’d play it instrumentally. And then I got bored from that after a while, so I figured I’d see what happened if I started to play my jazz licks over the funk and R&B tunes. That’s still to this day the concept of my band really.

That’s that. But when I moved to New York, I moved with my hollow body guitar and my Fender, so I really still had those two personalities going on at the same time. I started to do my trio here, but at the same time, I started working with Gavin DeGraw, the singer. I played with him really from the beginning when he just started. We used to do this steady Monday night gig here in New York until he got signed, well, for two years really. So I ended up needing an acoustic guitar, so I sold my hollow body, and that was the best thing I’d ever done in my life at that point. I only had my Stratocaster and at that point everything really came together. I started using that guitar for everything, you know? It really hit quick.

CP: Did you always write?

ON: Yeah, I really did. Once I realized that I had to start my own band, I did start writing. I don’t know why, because it’s not really an enjoyable process for me to write. It’s not fun at all (laughs).

CP: (Laughs) That’s a first! You really don’t sound like you enjoy it at all!

ON: No! It’s kind of torturous! It’s cool when an idea comes, but I’m not one of those guys like Paul McCartney who wakes up in the morning and completes “Yesterday” in his head, you know? When things come to my mind, it’s great and all, but then you have to work to develop it. With some songs, it can take me months. There are certain ideas I’ll have in my drawer for years. I’ll get to them when I have to make another album and figure out what I’m going to go for, and then I can see what will work and what won’t. But no, I don’t think it’s fun at all (laughs). I’ve got other things in my life that are more fun than that! 

CP: (Laughs) I think anyone who writes completely relates to it being a bit of a torturous process. It’s just so funny to actually hear someone say it! 

ON: The other thing is that I’m not one of those guys who just sits in my room and it will just come to me. I have to work for it. I don’t just sit there and the muse comes to me and just brings me the most brilliant shit ever. I have to really work for it and dig for it, then go back and work through it. 

CP: When you’re writing and developing a song, do you write primarily from being inspired by the myriad of sounds that you have on stage? I know anytime I’ve seen you, you’ve had a ton of pedals and tones to choose from.

ON: First of all, my gear set up got developed through writing music for my band. It sort of started the opposite way. I wrote the tunes, and then incorporated the pedals into that. It’s mainly to make the sound bigger, make it more interesting, and fill out the space since we’re only three people. That’s the main thing. But, it could happen the other way where a really cool sound inspires you to write something. So yes, but the purpose for having those pedals on the floor isn’t just to have them. The purpose is a musical purpose. I don’t sit at home and play with pedals. I could get bored really quick doing that. 

CP: So the pedals are more of an arranging tool for you at the end of the writing process?

ON: Yeah, but sometimes it happens that a sound can get you inspired. There is a part of that that is inspiring, but I wouldn’t count on that as a writing tool. 

CP: Who have you been listening to lately?

ON: Hendrix, you heard about him (laughs)?

CP: (Laughs) You know, I think I know the name.

ON: He’s this new guy, just got out (laughs). I try to listen to everything all the time. I like pop, rock, everything. I like really good songwriting— top 20 stuff on the radio I like sometimes too. Lately I’m more into old blues. I try to listen to whatever new jazz records are coming out, and sometimes more for the purpose of just seeing what’s out there. I’m kind of open. 

CP: It makes perfect sense that you’re open to all kinds of different music, and especially listening to your music.

ON: I think so. I enjoy life; I don’t want to get stuck in one area, although some people like that.

CP: The trio you’re coming out to San Diego with is pretty awesome— Darryl Jones and Dave Weckl. What has playing with those guys been like?

ON: It’s great. I’ve been with Weckl for a couple of years now, and he’s really the best drummer there is. It’s really great! Darryl has been in the band for the last two years, and it’s great! I can’t really complain. If there was anybody better, I’d try to get them, but I don’t think there is (laughs).

CP: Yeah, I’d say you’re at the top of the line there (laughs).

ON: I think it’s the top of the list. I love it though; they’re great. I’ve got what, five records now, so there’s a lot of music and a lot of different situations. I usually try to stick with the same guys that I play with just to get a real band sound. With Weckl, since we’ve been doing it a lot, it really gels nicely. It’s nice to be able to have the option to switch out the drummer or the bass player every once in a while because it changes things up and inspires you. Although the music doesn’t sound like jazz, it’s still jazz. You can interpret that in many different ways. Whether I’m playing with Darryl and Weckl or Vinnie Colaiuta or Keith Carlock and James Genus, it’s going to be the same tunes but completely different. That’s what I like about it.

CP: I think that’s finally starting to set in as the attitude of the genre— jazz can be so many different things that don’t sound like just standards.

ON: Yeah— there’s a tune, and we improvise on it. We don’t always swing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not jazz!

CP: Totally. Robert Glasper has been talking about this a lot lately too. 

ON: He’s the perfect example for that stuff.

CP: I think it’s neat to see this younger generation of jazz musicians try and update the genre.

ON: Jazz is a concept. It’s not only supposed to be swing. Jazz can be a lot of different things. It’s a form of improvisation.

CP: It’s more than “The Real Book” (laughs).

ON: (Laughs) Yes, just a little more than that— although I do love “The Real Book”, but yeah.

CP: It’s time for some new standards.

ON: I think we’ve got a lot of new standards; it’s just too early to detect what they are. A couple years ago, Herbie did this record with Scofield and Brecker where they did all these pop songs and called them the new standards, that was the beginning of it I guess. But it’s coming. They’re there, we just need some time to see what stands out.

Special thanks to Oz for his time! Don’t miss out on this ridiculously tight trio next Thursday! As always, take a listen to Oz at the Spotify link below, and pick up your tickets at the ticket link!
Oz Noy on Spotify

WHAT: Oz Noy Trio
WHEN: Thursday, April 12, 7:30 pm
TICKETS: $10-$39 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile