Gilad and All That Jazz is an outstanding documentary by G. Kolahi, which presents in only a little over one hour Gilad Atzmon’s evolution as a jazz musician, thinker, writer, humanist, ethicist and, frankly, phenomenon that in a relatively short time has managed not only to become known as one of the best saxophone players on the jazz scene today but also to stir passions and heated debates all over the world on the subjects of Palestinian rights and Jewish identity politics.
There are great jazz musicians and there also are well-known writers and advocates of human rights, but not in one package and not with the quality of a lightning rod that Gilad seems to have. His book “The Wandering Who?” in which he develops the concept of Jewish identity politics and dissects the inherent problems for Jews and the cultures and groups they interact and collide with has attracted praise from distinguished academics and intellectuals like Mearscheimer, Falk, Pilger, Boyle, Mezvinsky, Qumsiyeh, Bricmont and others, but also activated a vilification response of rarely seen aggressiveness on both sides of the Atlantic, including the accusation of “anti-semitism.”
The film does not quote the by now well-known accolades of the former but does give plenty of footage to the latter, which amounts to giving them enough rope to stridently hang themselves. Some of them provide a measure of comic relief, like the self-professed pro-Palestinian rights BDS zionist who says Gilad’s ideas are “dangerous for young Palestinians” and that…
We are in a position to say what criticism of Israel is kosher and how Israel should be criticized.
The interviews with his parents, his wife and his close musical collaborators, and in particular Gilad’s own poignant reminiscences of his road to ethical awareness and growth create a very moving and intimate portrait of the complex and powerful personality of the artist and thinker.
What the film does exceptionally well, by seamless juxtaposition of concert scenes and interviews (all the credit goes to R. Ribeiro for superb editing), is to to convey the sense of the organic whole that the music and the ethical quest represent for Gilad. The idea is introduced from the first images: the Palestinian children wounded and the cleaning of the saxophone. It was music that led Gilad on his road, and his obvious happiness while he plays is infectious.
The scoring of the movie — Gilad’s pieces with middle-eastern influences as well as classic Charlie Parker standbys — is jazz at its best and a delight throughout the film. He reminisces that in his adolescence, having first heard the Bird on the radio and then discovered that he was black, he thought to himself:
Black?! Maybe he is a Black Jew.
Perhaps somewhere up there the Bird hears Gilad’s sax and wonders:
A Jew?! Maybe he is a Black Jew.
One of his detractors, a British “anti-zionist zionist” (a category Gilad has pinned with precision like a bug in a display case), or maybe a zionist, they are hard to tell apart, says at one point in the film something to the effect that “he could have just been a famous jazz musician but it wasn’t enough for his ego. He wanted to be larger than life.” Indeed, why wasn’t it enough? He misses a major and paradoxical difference between Gilad and himself, namely the significance of Gilad being a sabra. Born and raised in Israel in a family of devoted zionists, raised to be a proud jewish warrior, Gilad acquired the kind of total self-confidence in his “chosenness” that admits no vacillation, no subterfuges or hypocritical manipulations. His self-confidence was such that he was not afraid to peer inside himself and to examine the culture around him with a critical eye, question the given dogma and even upend it, without fear of dissolving. “Larger than life?” I like one of the Blockheads’ description of him as a musician better, and it applies to all his other work as well, as the panicked reactions of his detractors show:
A colossus of a player, quite frightening in a way, really.
A movie to see more than once and recommend to one’s friends as well.