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Yotam Silberstein Releases New Album “Standards”



JGT contributor Joe Barth talks to guitarist Yotam Silberstein about his new album, “Standards”.

Above photo credit: Ana Yatskevitch

In my opinion, one of the best guitar players on the planet is Yotam Silberstein. Growing up in Israel he moved to New York City in his twenties and quickly became an “in demand” guitarist with the “who’s who” of jazz.  Seven years ago, bassist John Patitucci, when he wasn’t playing with Chick Corea or Wayne Shorter, invited Yotam to be part of his trio.  Yotam has just released a new album of great songs from the American Songbook that features John on bass and drummer Billy Hart.

JB:  Let me ask a few questions about you and your approach to playing.  Growing up in Israel, what inspired you to play jazz guitar, and what was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?

YS:  Jazz attracted me from my very early experience with music.  I was attracted to its rhythm and harmony.  As a high school student, I had some great teachers who introduced me to the tradition and history of jazz. I found that listening to a lot of this music, transcribing it, studying it, and trying to play it on my guitar was most helpful.

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

YS:  First would be Wes Montgomery Trio The Dynamic New Sound with Mel R— on organ.  Wes is still the “gold standard” that I look up to.

Second is Grant Green’s Grantstand.  This is still a very historic album to me.

Third is Jimmy Smith’s Standards which has Kenny Burrell playing on it.

JB:  Talk about how saxophonist James Moody impacted you as a musician.

YS:  I first saw James Moody in Israel at the Red Sea Jazz Festival as a high school student. That concert was a very moment for me.  I then fell more deeply in love with this music and dedicated my life to learning and performing it.  His stage presence and command of his instrument deeply moved me.  After I relocated to the States I had the opportunity to meet him and perform with him and that is something I will always treasure.

JB:  Talk about how you met bassist John Patitucci and how, after years of working with him, it has impacted your playing.

YS:  Though from a younger generation than James Moody, John is another musician who has deeply impacted me and it has been a privilege to have played in his trio these last seven years.  The first thing that struck me about John is to see how serious he is and how professional he is about music.

JB:  Tell us about your overall goals in making your new album Standards with drummer Billy Hart and bassist John Patitucci.

YS:  Throughout my career, I have always loved playing Standards.  Looking at my discography, I haven’t recorded many.  So, I wanted to do a whole album of just Standards.  Doing it with John and Billy is the best because they are such great players.

JB:  You open with orchestrator Leroy Anderson’s “Serenata.”  Was it his Boston Pops version that drew you to the song? Of course, Harry James, George Shearing, Cannonball, Benny Golson/Art Farmer, and others have covered it.

YS:  It’s the version on the Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays album with those lush orchestrations by Ralph Carmichael that I love.  Though not a guitar album, though Al Hendrickson is the guitarist on it, it is one of my “desert island” albums. 

JB:  You have a very fresh acoustic guitar sound in your rendition of Richard Rodgers’ “If I Loved You.” Tell us about coming up with this rendition.

YS:  That’s a song that hasn’t been covered very much.  There is something special about the sound of playing a ballad on the steel-string acoustic guitar that I love. So, I wanted to do it.

JB:  I especially like saxophonist George Coleman’s work on both Jay Livingston’s “Never Let Me Go” and the Crusader’s Joe Sample’s “Lo-Joe.” Talk about working with George Coleman.

YS:  Playing with George is another “dream come true.”  What a privilege to play somewhat regularly with him over the past five or so years.  He is one of the best ballad players that I know and judging from the frequency he plays “Never Let Me Go” I know that he loves the song.

JB:  I love the bossa nova version of “Stella By Starlight.”  How long have you been doing “Stella” that way?

YS:  I’ve been doing it as a bossa for about ten years.  When I studied the original harmony that Victor Young used in his soundtrack for the 1944 film The Uninvited the harmony led me to hear it as a bossa nova.

JB: In your video of “Serenata” with John and Billy, you are playing a Stratocaster-style guitar. What do you appreciate most about this guitar you are playing?  

YS:  That is a custom guitar built for me by my friend luthier Pablo Valle in Chile. When people ask me about it I tell them to close their eyes.  It doesn’t sound like a Strat.  It sounds like a warm jazz guitar.

JB:  Last December you did a three-guitar trio with Peter Bernstein and Larry Koontz in Los Angeles.  Talk about that experience.

YS:  That was a wonderful experience.  Both of those guys are modern masters of the guitar.

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