I first met the quietly soulful drummer Doron Tirosh in August 2016 at a gig with guitarist Felix Lemerle and string bassist Murray Wall at a now-closed Greenwich Village restaurant. I admired him immediately as an inventive, thoughtful musician and congenial person. I will say more about my first impressions of Doron at the end of this post.
Earlier this year, Doron was ready to release his debut CD, SIMPLY BECAUSE IT’S WINTER (Gut String Records) — featuring pianist Michael Kanan, string bassist Neal Miner, and Doron. I looked forward to this disc because those three musicians form an ideal trio, but even more because three of the six compositions were Doron’s originals — the title track, WHY WOULD YOU TREAT ME THAT WAY?, and FOR W.B. The three classics show a deep immersion in the best American songs: IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS, I GOT PLENTY OF NUTTIN’, and THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC.
Doron asked if I would write something for the CD, and this came very easily:
Many listeners eye even the gentlest-spirited drummer with suspicion, and we have reason. Drummers HIT things while the band is playing. But Doron is no musical bully-boy. His melodic lyricism is the equal of heroes Michael and Neal. If you want a gorgeous example of lyrical democracy in action, savor WRITTEN IN THE STARS.
Doron has a light touch — metaphorically as well as sonically. He varies the sounds he gets from his kit with a deep intuitive intelligence, and he swings irresistibly: hear his solo introductions to PLENTY and W.B. Like my percussive deities Jo Jones and Sidney Catlett, Doron dances in our heads. His playing is crisp but never mechanical, delicate but never timid. And his originals come from the same place: they are blossoming interludes, not just chord changes tied up with twine. In 2018, beauty is not always easy to find, but Doron, Michael, and Neal show us what it is, can be, and will continue to be.
The subtleties of Doron’s playing and his gentle approach to the life of a New York jazz musician fascinated me, so we did an informal interview by email, and I find his answers candidly intriguing. (My questions are in italics.)
Where did Doron Tirosh, musician, come from?
I was born and raised in Israel. I have loved music since I can remember- I used to carry vinyl records to kindergarten (and drop them because they were bigger than I was) – their presence made me feel good. My brother hipped me to music – he played guitar, piano, sang, and had very musical ears, and still does today. He could have been a great musician if he had chosen to do that for a living. My father is very musical as well.
I started studying classical piano at the age of 6, but I didn’t take it seriously. Only when I started playing the drums at 14 I began practicing devoutly, when in high school I joined the jazz department and that was it – I knew I wanted do nothing else but playing music for a living. I met a lot of great musicians during my high school years.
The role of the drums in the jazz ensemble is constantly changing. What do you see as your role when you play?
First and foremost, I want to make the other musicians I play with FEEL good. I try to keep a steady time and groove, but I do not think my role is to “keep” anything, meaning, to play with a stiff beat in order to keep the tempo. I want to bounce and swing together. I am learning how to do that (which is a life-long process) from playing with people who have a good beat. They could be bass players or other kinds of instrumentalists. Let me say that grooving together is the most wonderful feeling in the world. It’s addictive, and that feeling I get when I play with those musicians is the reason I am still staying in New-York.
Nowadays, due to the obvious change the world has been through, although the role of the drums is endless, I still find that playing in 4/4 time with good groove and phrasing is becoming a unique art. Then I ask myself how it could be that not so long ago, playing in 4/4 time with a great feel and musical taste was only entry level for any instrumentalist, a drummer included. Now, I respect any good music no matter of genre. I am aware of how important it is to be a well-rounded musician and open to anything, but I must say it is becoming hard for me to enjoy a lot of the music labeled “jazz” I come across. The jazz musicians I love the most are not stars, although some of them do tour around the world constantly. My heroes are down to earth people who want to play and keep passing on the tradition and knowledge they got.
I try to play what feels good to me, what I hear, and not pay attention to the passing fancies in the so called jazz music. I believe that if I want to be worthy of the title ”jazz drummer” I have a lot of responsibility, so I personally can’t play Balkan music and be a DJ on the side while at the same time I have a gig and I have to play a Thelonious Monk or a Charlie Parker composition. Playing such music demands my full dedication. That is just how I feel; there are a few that can pull that off though.
What does it feel like to lead a group from the drums?
Basically it’s the same, but I would say the main difference is that I have to be very clear about the material and arrangements that are played. The person who helped me realize that small but crucial point was Michael Kanan. Besides being a true friend and always helping me in everything and anything, he let me know from the beginning of the project that I have to be clear in conveying what I want to him and Neal.
As a shy person, I hate to be in the front and I hate telling people what to do. Sometimes I think I should have played piano and not drums because of that reason – but too late now, I guess. Anyway, when Michael asked me “What are we going to play?”, I gave him my typical Doron answer, “Whatever you want – songs that you like to play.” That made me seem hesitant and unclear so I learned I have to actually lead the session. I was still trying to be considerate by choosing material that I believed would fit best, and I must say I am content with the result. It was a wonderful learning experience for me recording with those two giants.
Few drummers are also composers of lyrical melodies: where does your inspiration come from?
Studying classical composition in Tel-Aviv University had a huge impact on me as a musician. I concentrated 4 years, which is far from enough, on playing piano, studying counterpoint, harmony, reading and transposing music, ear-training, and composing music for classical performers. The individual composition lessons helped me the most because I got a chance to investigate a real composer’s world. I was bad at conducting and some other subjects, however. You see, every field is a world of its own, one can devote his or her whole life to it – music has no end to it. My teachers influenced me a great deal; they are incredible musicians.
The other influence is unfortunately heartbreaks. Most of my tunes or compositions were a way for me to use the energy of those experiences into creating a melody, hopefully a beautiful one.
You told me, “I feel like a New Yorker!” What does that feel like? Have you adopted us or have we adopted you?
Well, both. Although I have no family here, I made some really great friends who I consider as family. When I am ill or when I am desperate, I know I have friends to look after me. I would do the same for them – we take care of each other.
The music and the musicians make me feel at home. There is a strong feeling of a jazz community. I feel as the music that I love the most is in its natural surroundings here, and it is a feeling I will never experience in my home town.
Living the life of a jazz musician seems possible here, more than anywhere else in the world. Where else can I go and hear jazz music every evening until the next morning played by my favorite musicians on the planet? Or even play with them? There is a feeling that anything can happen, that suddenly I could find myself sitting-in with the best musicians in the world, so I always should be on top of my game. I find that I practice more here, play more sessions and more gigs, and in general try to be at my best.
I am not saying living in New York is not hard. The loneliness and the emotional downs here can be frightening, but the music makes living here worthwhile for me, at least for now. I miss my family though, and the food.
Any good stories about being a working New York musician?
The thing in New-York is that anyone can show up at any given show at any given moment. It could be the worst gig with the worst musicians in the world in a dull bar with 2 people in it and then suddenly in walks a great musician and everything becomes exciting instantly. It happened to me numerous times when great musicians sat-in spontaneously, as well as me sitting-in as the band’s drummer for the gig within a few minutes notice. Only last week I came to hear Michael Kanan and Pat O’Leary at the 75 Club, and ended up playing the whole show with them. It was a special night, I will never forget it- playing trio with those gentlemen, not to mention when Gabrielle Stravelli came up to sing… I wouldn’t be any other place.
Here’s what I wrote about Doron when I posted videos from that August 2016 gig, and I believe it even more so now: I had known nothing of Doron except for the few words of praise from [guitarist] Felix [Lemerle]. And I confess that youthful drummers new to me arouse anxiety. I become Worried Elder: “Young man, are you planning to strike that ride cymbal with those wooden sticks? Why, and how, and how often?” But Doron and I bonded over dehydration and exhaustion, and I knew he came in peace. When he began to play, my spirits rose even higher, because he is a melodic drummer in the great tradition of the Masters, of Dodds, Singleton, and Catlett. Before each number, Felix would tell Doron the name of the song, and I could see from their expressions that they knew the melody and the lyrics as well.
Seeing Doron on the street, you would be unaware of the creative talent he has in his young self. But hear his compositions, see him lead a band from behind the drums, and you will know in four bars that you are in the presence of someone special: a melodic, creative gift to New York from Israel.
May your happiness increase!