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Rotem Sivan’s New Album, Dream Louder



JGT contributor Joe Barth talks to Israeli-born guitarist Rotem Sivan about his influences and his latest album, Dream Louder.

Beginning his career in Tel Aviv, Israel, Rotem Sivan came to the United States to study at the New School in New York City. He has performed all over the world as well as teaching as a guest lecturer in the major universities of the world.  Downbeat magazine has called him a “gifted guitarist (who) combines energy, ideas and undeniable chops.”

JB:  I assume you grew up in Israel.  What inspired you to play jazz guitar and what was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?

RS:  I was always into guitar and remember asking my parents at an early age to start studying. Finally, when I was about 10 or so, I started taking lessons. 

The two most helpful things in my development were understanding the importance of ear training and harmony as an integral part of music and guitar (I took weekly lessons as soon as I got more serious about music) and the second thing is that everything takes time. And we have to let things happen, while still doing the actions (and they will) 

JB:  To you, what is one of the most influential jazz guitar albums and why? 

 The first one would be Wes Montgomery Smokin at the Half Note. For me, that is the epitome of jazz and music. This album swings SO hard it’s insane. The interaction, the dynamic, and the creativity are just out of this world. When I just started playing I remember hearing Wes playing an F7#9 and Wynton Kelly repeated it with his left hand and I thought wow, how amazing. Now it seems easy to do but still, that interaction is golden.  

JB:  Tell us about your goals in making your new album Dream Louder.  I know that you composed songs in honor of your wife, and her family.

RS:  This album means a lot to me and the first goal was to try and make a few people I care about happier. The music itself was morphed with the idea of the people. It is a beautiful thing to notice someone and see how they respond to that awareness. We all want to belong so writing music for people I care about brings them more into my world and visa versa. 

JB:  You do wonderful renditions of Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird,” the folk song “West Virginia Mine Disaster,” and Weill’s “Mack the Knife.”  Talk about what led to these three songs being included.

RS:  “Blackbird” was a favorite song of mine for many years and I was trying to find a way to express that intention for a while. There is something very beautiful about this music that is hard to find to my taste. “West Virginia Mine Disaster” is a remarkable melody that struck me so hard when I heard that I was really tearing up. The story is so sad and I wanted to add chords and time to that acapella rendition I found. Not having the lyrics was challenging but I feel we found a way to connect to that essence. With “Mack the Knife”, I really liked the dichotomy between the sound and the lyrics! The story is about a mobster of sorts that kills a lot of people but the feel of the song is happy and somehow uplifting. 

JB:  Drummer Miguel Russell and bassist Hamish Smith are a great rhythm section.  What do you appreciate most about them as players?

RS:  They are great people and absolutely stellar musicians. I feel at home to play with them but they also push me and the music so I better be always on my toes, listening and alert. 

JB:  What influence does Israeli folk music have in your compositions?

 RS:  It’s a part of the sounds I heard so it’s there in the sounds. There are some simple folk harmonies that feel very “right” to me and I like hearing them. Maybe it’s hard for me to describe it exactly but there’s some longing sound in there that I like a lot. 

Rotem Sivan – photo by Dani Barbieri

JB:  What do you appreciate most about the Gibson guitar you play?  

RS:  I like the warmth of it, the sound feels “real” to me. there’s some true intention within the guitar somehow! Hard to explain… But I guess I just like the feel and color it has. 

JB:  Tell us about the amp that you use.

RS:  I use a Fender Deluxe amp. I feel the tube amps give a little more warmth and character to the sound of the guitar. 

JB:  As a gigging musician, talk about the jazz scene in the places you play and how you stay gainfully employed. 

RS:  I’m based in NYC and will say that the scene here is great and super strong.  I feel New York really kicks your ass, in the best possible way. It pushes you to learn and discover because the competition is so big.  At times it’s not easy but you get to hang and play with the heroes of this music.. so, it’s really worth it!   In terms of making a living music can be definitely challenging at times but I feel the consistency and the true intentions to create will always find a path and avenue to manifest itself.  

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