Written by Patrick Jarenwattananon from National Public Radio
A little more than a year ago, pianist and composer Shimrit Shoshan was still excited about the release of her first album. It was an auspicious debut, a set of seven original pieces and one Thelonious Monk tune recorded with some of modern jazz’s most sought-after musicians. And it was her first personal document of nearly a decade in New York — the proud product of countless late-night jam sessions and the unending succession of day jobs which subsidized them.
But Shoshan seemed to acknowledge that it was just a start, a foothold on future things to come. Perhaps that’s part of why she titled the record Keep It Movin’.
“It takes a long time to release something very personal to you,” she told JazzTimes writer Aidan Levy. “A lot of mental work is, ‘Am I ready to do this?’ Now, it’s like, ‘I’m unstoppable! When’s the next project?’ Little things are happening and, hopefully, bigger things will happen.”
Like so many who come to New York City, Shoshan was determined to pursue a life in music. All indications suggested that she could have, and then some.
“She was just starting to be confident and bring out all the music that was in her,” said Ben Meigners, a New York bassist and friend of Shoshan’s since high school.
Recently, Shimrit Shoshan suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. After a week in a coma, she was pronounced dead on the afternoon of Sunday, August 19. She was 29.
The child of Moroccan-Jewish parents who ran a fishing tackle shop, Shimrit Shoshan grew up in Ramat Gan, Israel, a municipality near Tel Aviv. Like many of the country’s top artists, she attended nearby Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, a selective national institution. She started her freshman year with no formal musical training — she was admitted on the strength of her hearing exam. By the first day of her sophomore year, she was telling her classmates about transcribing tricky solos by pianists Bud Powell and Bobby Timmons.
Following a stint in the Israeli army, where she served with “Excellent Musician” distinction in military jazz ensembles, Shoshan moved to New York City. Meigners, who had preceded her to New York, helped her find her footing in the city, though not without hiccups. He relayed the story of one night they went to Cleopatra’s Needle, a venue popular for jam sessions, where attendants included jazz heavyweights like Roy Hargrove and James Carter. While working though Bud Powell’s “Celia,” a tune with a common chord progression, Meigners lost his place on the bridge — “it was totally my mistake,” he says — and Shoshan panicked. Mortified, she jumped off the piano bench and ran out the door.
It got better. In 2004, Shoshan enrolled in the jazz program at the City College of New York. In 2006, she started at the New School, where she found mentors and collaborators like veteran drummers Billy Kaye and Charli Persip. She also found work, notably leading a band on Monday nights at the small West Village club Fat Cat (among other opportunities). She began composing in earnest, and in 2010, she released Keep It Movin’, featuring saxophonist Abraham Burton, bassists John Hebert and Luques Curtis, and drummer Eric McPherson.
Several fellow musicians praised her depth of study. On his blog, pianist Ethan Iverson wrote, “She was into not just Monk, but Horace Silver, Herbie Nichols, Randy Weston and Andrew Hill — 1950s piano madness, the blacker and weirder the better.” They also noted her emerging personal voice, as both stylist and composer. “I feel like I have a Bud Powell left hand and a Moroccan-Israeli right hand,” she told JazzTimes.
Her talent was no guarantor of performing opportunities. To make ends meet, Shoshan took many odd jobs. She taught often — in schools, outreach programs and private lessons. She babysat. She modeled clothing. She danced in music videos. She sold real estate. She sold jewelry.
But the “little things” that Shoshan talked about — things like positive mentions in the press, or bookings at international jazz festivals, or qualifying for elite competitions — were becoming “bigger things.” Shoshan had made progress recording her second album, and earlier this year, she collaborated with saxophonist Greg Osby, decades her elder, on a program of music for jazz quartet. In an interview with the online publication The Revivalist, Osby spoke about his fellow bandleader.
“And in her, I hear something that is very unique,” he said. “It’s born of her experience, of her identity, of her ethnicity and the locale where she grew up. … Somebody that really arrives at something that firmly identifies as them — she has with her all those values. That’s what I like.”
Funeral services for Shimrit Shoshan were held Wednesday in Israel.
“She had a huge heart in music, and in everything she did,” Gilad Hekselman, a New-York-based guitarist and high-school classmate, said Sunday. “She was all about giving.”
The New York jazz community will gather as well, at 5 p.m. this Sunday, August 26 at Smalls Jazz Club. It’s another venue where she led late-night jam sessions.
As with Shoshan’s career when she died, more events are in the works.