N i t a i
‘Hershkovits dances on the keys with the elegance of Fred Astaire and the melancholic wit of Charlie Chaplin’ ( Cem Akalin, General Anzeiger Bonn)
‘Nitai Hershkovits' Piano offers elegantly tuneful melodies and lean, impressionist chords’
( J.D. Considine, Downbeat Magazine )
Pianist and composer Nitai Hershkovits has been described as a “Genuine prodigy” by BBC music.
He is a charismatic performer with an incredibly strong voice and musical vision.
His dynamic playing crosses boundaries and genres thanks to a light, elegant touch that conveys a full spectrum of deep emotions and contrasts.
Nitai is an exception as a musician having done the opposite of what most do: he studied jazz as a foundation and came into classical later. This unique combination emboldens his eclectic playing style. “Reminiscent of a silky-toned old piano swinger such as the late Hank Jones” (The Guardian), intertwining bliss and melancholy with skillful freedom.
Born to a Moroccan mother and a Polish father, Nitai started playing the clarinet at the
age of twelve and simultaneously began touring with Weber's Clarinet Concerto.
At fifteen, Nitai discovered his love for the piano and began exploring the world of improvisation. By the age of seventeen, Nitai had won two consecutive years (2004 & 2005) of the competition Jazz Signs and moved to Tel Aviv to combine regular school with private music and piano lessons under the guidance of jazz educators Amit Golan and Yuval Cohen.
At this time, Nitai found himself deeply affected by Sonny Rollins' album Tenor Madness with John Coltrane. He busied himself transcribing all of Coltrane's solos, listening to his album on his way to Tel Aviv, commuting from the Galilee. “I was attracted to playing piano less in a pianistic way, I was more interested in the groove — like a saxophone player, which is one note at a time, but the way Sonny Rollins played was like a drummer swinging hard”, says Nitai.
During the ages of sixteen through eighteen, Nitai soon became interested in a rich variety of both classical and jazz music, writing arrangements for bands from the Israeli Conservatory in Tel Aviv that he was studying in, guided by teachers Omer Avital, Avishai Cohen, and Avi Lebovich.
These experiences led Nitai to studying classical music and theory with well-known Israeli composer and educator Dr. Menahem Weisenberg and classical piano educator Amir Pedorovits.
Nitai was awarded the highest scholarship given by the Israel-American Music Foundation (AICF) four times between 2004 and 2010. Another highlight was his one-time prestigious Chase Scholarship award in 2009 sponsoring a Bachelor’s degree at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music. Nitai quickly realized that the institution setting wasn't for him. Private lessons and listening to records offered more focus and choice in his development of taste and repertoire.
In 2006, Saxophonist Daniel Zamir had just gotten back from New York and was playing a lot of odd meters, having been influenced and recording for John Zorn’s Tzadik label. This challenge greatly appealed to Nitai who would his first experience touring and developing with a band that had a sound and a setlist.
In the midst of 2011 Nitai got a phone call from bassist Avishai Cohen (known for his long time collaboration with Chick Corea as well as for his successful band leading career).
As part of Cohen’s Trio as well as of other symphonic projects, they recorded three albums together: Duende, a piano and bass Duet for the legendary label Blue Note, a chamber music project Almah for EMI and From Darkness, a trio for Razdaz Records. Nitai was Avishai’s musical director of his strings project and a few others along their five year collaborative work. Nitai has had the privilege of touring all over the world and performing at many different venues: Salle Pleyel, Vienna Konzerthaus, l’Olympia, Alter Oper, North Sea Jazz Festival, Village Vanguard, Antibes Jazz Festival, Jazz à Vienne, Montreux Jazz Festival, Barbican Center and Tonhalle, to name a few.
During this time period, Nitai dove into classical music. “Because most of [Avishai's] music was written, I had to find ways of being original. I felt like I wanted to find more color-tone varieties. I started taking lessons with Suzen Cohen who was involved with Juilliard in the 60’s and brought all this gold information. In her way of teachings, she wouldn't talk about technical aspects, she would talk about the inner ear and how to listen better to achieve tonal variety and dynamic. She taught how to listen to what you want to play before you play it and maybe after she would explain how to technically execute it.”
This period was a full commitment to the sound of a piano, rather than playing the piano.
In 2016, after five intense years with Avishai Cohen Group, Nitai decided to move to New York. His final tour with Avishai was with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and a few other musicians from New York Nitai grew up listening to, which gave him a taste of the pivotal musical collaboration New York seemed to offer. “With friends living here already, I was introduced to many musicians, sessions, and shows. I began playing with the Ari Hoenig group, touring and recording. I met Oded Tzur and became a regular member of his tours and recordings.”
Right before his move to New York however, an auspicious encounter with a group of musical friends occurred. These friends were from Raw Tapes Records in Tel Aviv where the soundscape revolved around beats, jazz electronics, and analogue keyboards as well as all kinds of jazz and world music. The owner of the label and producer Rejoicer (Yuvi Havkin) had offered to make an album with Nitai. “We spent the month before moving to New York writing and recording together in the studio. We would invite friends to play throughout the three days and released my first album. Sampled, keyboards, drum programming, all these methods of sound producing were new and liberating for me“. This union began the development of a unique sound-print that both Nitai and Rejoicer were looking for. Nitai began and continues to visit Israel for this special collaboration.
Nitai’s debut album I Asked You A Question (Raw Tapes Records) was released in February 2016.
The album, co-produced with Rejoicer, features Nitai on vocals, Piano and synths.
Los Angeles based singer and Brainfeeder artist Georgia Anne Muldrow and acclaimed guitarist
Kurt Rosenwinkel joins Nitai on two of the tracks ( Satellite Dish and My Turn).
Exploring the realm of analog electronics, samples and beats, I Asked You A Question is an eclectic, empirical yet genuine attempt of blending improvised ideas and through-composed music.
A collaboration with Stones Throw's Mndsgn in Los Angeles, led to creating Flyin' Bamboo, a track that would be featured on Netflix and turned into an artful music video with Millions of views made by Melbourne artist Felix Colgrave, epitomizing the true nature of Nitai's collaborative musical spirit.
Nitai's sophomore album New Place Always (Enja/Yellowbird) was written especially for solo piano and released in September 2018. Eight of the tunes were written in the studio together with Rejoicer.
“Before the recording, I had all kinds of ideas, though we wanted the music to fit the piano and the room, so I wrote most of it there. The rest of the tunes consist of songs that were composed in New York and hand-picked renditions of music by people who inspired me at that time. The orientation of the music in this album inhabits a plethora of influences one of such is my oddly infused heritage: My grandfather’s tales from his weekly visits to the king’s palace at the illustrious Dâr-al-Makhzen in Rabat where he was singing together with Rav Haim Louk, his field trips to the desolate mountain sceneries of the Atlas, transmitting regional hymns that they learnt on the way. On the other hand, it was my grandmother who shed light on Israeli folkloric myths — which originated in East-Europe while listening to her man playing old Polish country songs on his Harmonica“.
In 2018, Nitai Hershkovits and Rejoicer — a newly signed Stones Throw recording artist and one of Buttering Trio’s musician — founded Time Grove which had its debut release in January 2019 under Tel Aviv's Raw Tapes Records:
“Writing and compiling the melodies, lines and harmonies for this album had a pure, natural symbiotic progress. We couldn’t ask for a better variety of people to play with. Being influenced by each other, yet coming from a very different musical background, we managed to find a strong mutual idea of a new sound, in only three days in the studio. This music is a pure reflection of all of us at once. It felt effortless to sit around a piano together, unfolding the next tune, spearheaded with drums and synths to set the exact right scenery we were looking for.”
In July 2018, Nitai and his newly formed band of longtime musical collaborators, drummer Amir Bresler — who played in Avishai Cohen's trio— and bassist Or Bareket, were booked to play a two-week long tour in Japan. This trio would form the soundscape of his forthcoming album.
Nitai's third album as a leader, Lemon The Moon, marks his second release with Enja/Yellowbird Records. Lemon The Moon features Amir Bresler and Or Bareket. Like in his previous albums, Nitai teams with Rejoicer to produce this ten-track braid of music; an abundance of musical terrains ranging from the cinematic Invite Me, Dance through the exploratory Bridge Under Water and marbling Ethio-Jazz Bonfire Wiggle to the mischievous Goat, the listener finds proof of true teamwork.
Nitai's next collaborative work is Apifera (Stones Throw Records/2021). Apifera is Yuval Havkin – aka Rejoicer – (keys), Nitai Hershkovits (keys), Amir Bresler (drums) and Yonatan Albalak (bass). Named after a variety of bee-attracting orchid, Apifera create organic-sounding structures, harmonies and arrangements intended to reflect the rich variety and equilibrium of the natural world. Their influences range from the folk music of their home country Israel, to Impressionist composers Ravel and Satie, traditional music from Sudan and Ghana, and the transcendental jazz of Sun Ra.
Working intuitively, the quartet wrote and recorded Overstand mostly live in just three days, and the final album includes minimal overdubbing. “Orchestrating is a big part of our sound,” says Nitai. “We paid a lot of attention to the textures, discussing timbres and temperatures in detail throughout the recording process.”
Each of the ten free-flowing pieces on Overstand evokes an intricate scene or story: on the title track, a fanfare-like melody builds in an echo of a crowd marching across city streets; “Lake VU” sets the scene of an evening stroll across the lake, and “The Pit & The Beggar”, moves like a spiral staircase into a wide abyss, revealing new colors on every turn — at once ethereal and electrifying.
Drawing on real-life spiritual and psychedelic experiences, often intertwined with nature, as a springboard for their music, Apifera showcases a sound “more like a lucid dream than reality”, as Nitai puts it — free, improvisatory, and live.