Israeli born pianist Ido Spak, aka The Jazz Traveller, discusses the creative process and tales behind his latest album, Epidemic Adventures.
Ido Spak’s work concentrates on jazz fusion with heavy influences of classical techniques and Middle Eastern music. Travelling the world in search of new sounds and rhythms, Ido’s latest album, Epidemic Adventures, guides listeners on a global journey through cultural and musical influences.
Hi Ido! What’s the story behind Epidemic Adventures?
There are actually several stories behind this album, but one particular night in 2019 – between performing a string of concerts in Berlin – I fell from a height of three meters off my bed and through my desk. The accident injured my back, ribs, and knees, leading to a blood infection and three surgeries. I continued the tour immediately after leaving hospital, travelling to the UK to perform in a wheelchair and crutches. The whole experience struck me to start writing while I was recovering. My landlord, Wolfgang, was the one who rushed me to the hospital, and so the album’s opener, Song for Wolfgang, is for him.
I also had to keep away from concerts, studio productions, and teaching during the pandemic, and worked on a lot of video sessions in collaboration with a lady who would later become my girlfriend. This triggered another wave of inspiration to continue writing music for the album, including the pieces Epidemic Love Song and Sookie, named after my girlfriend’s cat.
What musical influences did you draw upon to create the album?
I worked on nine piano concertos to prepare myself with before composing the album’s main pieces, including those of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Edvard Grieg. I always wanted to arrange a piece of traditional Kurdish music, so also looked a lot into this genre. The album largely draws upon the many experiences of travelling with my girlfriend across Western Europe, including Holland, the Ardennes, and the Harz mountains. Encountering new people in different landscapes and getting away from the familiarity of my surroundings can usually energise my creativity and unlock new ideas.
Have your travels always influenced your creativity over the years?
Of course! Every trauma or good experience has a major influence on your song direction, whether it makes your music more melancholic, more optimistic, or gives it more groove. The memories of places I’ve spent time in have all inspired my playing. Growing up in the Middle East led to some profound experiences, including listening to the sounds of chants coming from the synagogue or the Moazin across Arab villages. These moments have become a fundamental part of my style, along with the many years of my life spent in Europe studying classical music.
Tell us about your inspirations?
Franz Liszt will always be my greatest inspiration and I always try to implement his textures in my improvisation. I also worked hard practicing the solos of American pianist, Bud Powell, while living in Israel and Amsterdam. He was the one who brought me into the world of jazz. Amsterdam also introduced me to some important mentors, including Amit Golan, who was a former pupil of the late Barry Harris. Amit introduced me to Barry and taught me his bebop scale concept which is widely used in jazz improvisation. I also owe a lot to my classical piano teacher in the UK, Matthew Shipton. He showed me to place emphasis not just on the notes, but on how to play them and how to choose the right dynamical shape when playing a phrase.
Finally, what’s next in store?
I am now completing my Epidemic Adventures tour which will end in November in the German state of Nordrhein Westfalen. An Austrian tour is also in the pipeline, but it’s important to be very careful of potential pandemic restrictions during the winter. Despite my love of performing live, my main goal is to keep preparing for my next album, which will be titled Desert Prince. I’m working on the second piece of the album which should be completed as soon as I find the time between everything else to breathe!
Epidemic Adventures is now available to stream on Spotify.