‘Jazz icon’ Chuck Israels visits Eastern Tuesday

Ryan Meyer, Multimedia Reporter

A student plays a saxophone at the jazz concert alongside Chuck Israels in the Dvorak Concert Tuesday night. (Tyanna Daniels)

Dubbed a “jazz icon” by Eastern jazz professor Paul Johnston, Chuck Israels took the stage with students and faculty on Tuesday night to perform sets of his own arrangements.  

The evening began with a two-song set by Eastern’s Jazz Ensemble that featured renditions of “Home Cookin’” by Horace Silver and “Hi-Fly” by Randy Weston.  

Israels then joined Johnston and fellow jazz professor Jamie Ryan to perform four songs as a trio, including Israels’ arrangements of two traditional pieces, “Frankie and Johnny” and “Shenandoah.”  

Five students and Jazz Ensemble Director Sam Fagaly would join the trio for three more songs to be performed as a nonet, which included two more Horace Silver pieces.  

Andrew Powell, a junior audio recording technology major, said he appreciated the opportunity to pick Israels’ brain. 

“It was a great experience talking with Chuck Israels,” Powell said. “…He has a lot of experience and basically every single tip, tidbit of advice that I’ve heard tonight or my friends have heard that I’ve talked to is just putting it right to practice because it’s definitely something that’s worthwhile.” 

According to the concert’s program, Israels collaborated with Billie Holiday, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, among others. Powell said a reputation such as this made it easy to be intimidated by him.  

“I feel like because of his status and just the work that he’s done, everyone’s been kind of a little timid around him, so it was a great experience to get to talk personally with him,” Powell said. “He’s a great guy, and I can’t imagine anybody else to be able to do this.” 

Johnston said he was familiar with all the songs Israels selected, and he picked the folk tune “Shenandoah” as his favorite of the evening. 

“I’ve heard all of these pieces, but it was fun to see what Chuck brought to the music and little twists and some surprises that made it interesting,” Johnston said. “I specifically love that arrangement of ‘Shenandoah.’” 

Speaking to Johnston, Israels said the piece was also his highlight of the night and that it came by way of Johnston’s piano playing.  

“You showed me that, and I was just sitting there listening to you play it and thinking, ‘Boy, I wrote some beautiful stuff,’” Israels said. “…I wrote something that showed, that communicated the inherent beauty to this guy sitting at the piano looking at dots and lines on the paper that mean to him, play this gorgeous music, and that’s an enormous satisfaction to a composer.”  

Johnston appreciated being able to play with someone of Israels’ stature, noting the rarity of such an occasion.  

“It’s not often when you live in Charleston, Ill. that you get to play with someone who played with Bill Evans and has had such a distinguished career, so this was a treat for me,” Johnston said.  

Speaking on what Johnston referred to as an “extra level of precision” brought to the music by Israels’ presence, Israels said it provides for an emotional connection.  

“And what that does is connect you more emotionally,” Israels said. “They’re not values in themselves, they’re values for what they do for the music and for how music reaches people. And we want to have it be as effective to others as it is to us when we’re playing. We’re pretty emotionally involved.”


Ryan Meyer can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].