The normally industrial port of Eilat was filled with thousands of revellers and the sound of Israeli and international jazz in the last week of August. Hard luck if you missed the Red Sea Jazz Festival — but never mind, a winter festival will soon take place.
On opening night, the stage belonged to Christian Scott — the American jazz artist who had the guts to say musical instruments are the wrong shape, and design his own trumpet.
He merged sounds of jazz with rock, hip-hop and R&B and presented some mellow sounds and some really high-energy music. His “whisper technique” for trumpeting is innovative for emphasising breath over vibration at the mouthpiece.
It is a measure of the clout of this tiny Israeli town in the world of entertainment that a pioneer such as Scott would head there.
This winter, as well as another Red Sea Jazz, there will be the Eilat Chamber Music Festival, the Eilat Red Sea harmonious events. And this is just part of Eilat’s sporting and cultural calendar, which also includes the Desert Marathon in November and the Eilat Birds Festival in March.
Eilat’s year-round performances make quite an impression too. Wow is the variety show at the Isrotel Theatre and the latest edition is Wow Splash 2 because, you guessed it, there is lots of water on stage.
It is a bit like going to the opera, in that you certainly do not head there for the storyline, which is tenuous and serves merely to bind together the show. But some of the acts that make up the show are awe-inspiring, especially the acrobats, trampolinist sailors and the pair who are so strong they dangle each other from their mouths, taking their entire body weight in their jaws. The Wow show uses 3D animation to complement a cast drawn from around the world, with a range of talents, from dance to mime.
The big festivals bring a buzz of excitement to Eilat. During the summer jazz sessions, you could see the festival complex from far away in the city. It covered a large area, with a pumping heart of food stalls and bars, right next to the sea, with great views to Jordan.
Surrounded by performance areas with walls constructed from shipping containers (the winter festival will be indoors), the theatricality was enhanced by clouds of special-effect smoke.
Eilat events have the knack of being inclusive, with producers understanding well that couples and families attend together as part of their holiday and different people will have different tastes. So Wow casts its net wide and some parts of the spectacle are perfect for kids, while others delight adults.
Similarly, festival producers are well aware that audiences contain a mix of mildly interested visitors and committed fans, dedicated to the pure art form they are showcasing. Alongside icons such as Scott and Brian Blade who played the White House last year, the jazz festival line-up had a tribute to mainstream American group Earth, Wind & Fire, as well as Kobi Oz, an immensely popular Israeli artist whose music is rarely defined as jazz. Oz’s performance was called Footsteps of a Dream and featured songs by Israeli singers from previous decades, as well as some Jewish poets and composers who lived before the State of Israel was established. He brought together pop, rock, Greek and Turkish music and electronic music.
The members of his backing band looked like they were having so much fun, it had the feeling of an informal jam session. At Eilat festivals everyone seems to let their hair down — even the police officers were swaying with the music.