On Israel’s independence day (God knows of who), Experimental Israel had the rare treat to meet with a true titan of improvisation in our parts – the clarinettist, Harold Rubin. Rubin, celebrating his 84th birthday a day after our interview, is hailed by several generations of improvisers and jazz musicians in Israel as a true inspiration and mentor.
A native of South Africa, Rubin is still more comfortable with communication in English, and so we have the rare opportunity of presenting to you, our listeners, the complete interview without summing up a thing. However, I would like to take this opportunity to simply share my personal thoughts on my meeting with this wonderful man.
As we planned our session, it became clear that Rubin was aching to simply get into the studio and play. It was my manager and friend, Daniel Meir – the executive producer of Halas Radio, whom at some point prompted me to finish the setup as soon as I can and simply get on with it, as it was clear that Rubin was getting restless. Not being an improviser, I approach this practice with a feeling of trepidation, and yesterday was no different. I was not intending on playing at all that day, but at a certain point, realising that Rubin would very much like to play in ensemble, invited Daniel to join me and together create a makeshift trio for our show. In an act of chance, Daniel’s instrument simply didn’t work, and suddenly I found myself in a position where I am to improvise with Harold Rubin, on my own, right now!
On suggesting to Harold that we start playing, he simply picked up his instrument and got to it. He wasn’t interested whether I was ready, or whether the microphones were on – he simply started playing. It was a true lesson in jovial freedom. Immediately I understood why so many musicians love playing with Harold – he simply wants to play, and as soon as he seems to have finished a substantial musical moment that could potentially call the session to an end, he started initiating the next moment. This was a true lesson at “taking it easy”. It’s as if his entire approach was “who cares if everybody listens or no one at all – we’re searching for something together and having fun. If it comes, great, if not, great! During our short interview I too noticed that Rubin, albeit answering my questions politely, was actually waiting for us to continue playing. It was so wonderfully strange to see an 84-year-old man aching to get back into it as if on the brink of an imminent discovery, vis-à-vis a 37-year-old man trying to postpone that moment as much as possible although the greater opportunity was obviously mine!
At the end of our second improv session and the conclusion of our show, I asked Harold how he manages to be so cool about playing? I mentioned that coming from a very stuffy classical tradition, I still find it very hard to let go and accept the fact that in improv I have no control over the outcome. I mentioned that I feel this fear, in some ways, confines me. Rubin’s simple response was: “This is who you are right now, so try to use the fear”. One simple sentence, containing so much truth, and probably the most useful lesson I have received regarding improvisation to date.
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