Guitars: Steve Stevens
The Guitar Wizardry of Oz Noy
Feature by: Derek Davodowich
Photos by John Abbottlr
As with most great artists, there is usually a fire burning deep within fueling the need to follow our passion and need to create music. In the words of jazz fusion great Oz Noy, “You must first master it, and then make it grow.”
Oz Noy is without a doubt one of the most prolific jazz guitarist on the New York City (and national) scene today. With a new solo album, high profile studio work, and a regular gig at one of Manhattan’s premiere jazz clubs, if you don’t already know his name, it’s only a matter of time before you do. Noy’s vast vocabulary of Jazz and Bebop melodies combined with his creative harmonic structure and coloration contribute to his ability to “make it grow” and take jazz to a whole new landscape.
We had the opportunity to speak with Oz and learn about his adventure as a musician. No ruby red slippers here, but listening to Oz Noy’s recordings and live performances, there is no doubt a level of wizardry within his creative powers.
Oz Noy, born in Israel, first became interested in playing the drums at an early age of ten. As with many young adolescents, drums are always intriguing. And let’s face it, with sticks in hand you can bang on anything to create rhythms. A friend of Noy’s, who was taking guitar lessons at the time, took him to meet his guitar teacher. “I can’t recollect what exactly was said or what happened, but from that day forward, all I wanted to do was play guitar.”
Oz began taking private lessons and could remember learning very quickly. Aside from basic reading studies and chord voicings, he began to focus on playing Beatles songs giving him a solid foundation for harmony. Having been exposed to jazz at an early age due to his brother listening to jazz in their home, Noy decided to solely pursue jazz lessons after a year or two of beginning lessons. The jazz compositions that most inspired his early interest at home were that of Joe Pass and George Benson. “I always had people around me that provided some sort of musical influence and a foundation to learn from.”
By age thirteen or so, Noy began playing professionally with live bands and recording sessions. His very first studio sessions came about because the music director of the band in which he was performing began recording albums and asked Oz to play guitar. That was the beginning of his professional career as a musician. By age fifteen, Oz had already played on records. By age eighteen, Oz recorded on some major Israeli artists records. And at twenty, Oz was playing on a popular Israeli television show comparable to New York’s The David Letterman Show.
As with most jazz musicians, musical icons and influences help in the development of the art. Oz began to share with us: “At age fifteen or sixteen, it was the first time I heard Pat Metheny’s ‘Still Life Talking’ and Chick Corea’s Elektric Band. It completely changed my life. That’s how I wanted to sound. I wanted to play jazz rock.” Oz turned to his guitar instructor, telling him he wanted to play fusion. His teacher stated that was fine, but that he needed to learn the roots, taking him through basic chord structures and modal scales. From there Noy went to another teacher to learn bebop. During that period, the most influential tool in his learning was the Barry Harris Method. “To this day, that’s how I think and arrange my thought process in jazz.”
By age sixteen, Oz was playing straight ahead jazz. His influences included Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Munk, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell and his favorite, Wes Montgomery. “At age twenty-one, I was playing exactly like Wes (thumb style) and listened to a lot of Jim Hall too. I remember playing at a gig, and afterwards saying to myself, ‘All right, I got that idea down. I don’t need to play like that anymore.’” That goes back to his belief, “Master it and then make it grow.” Oz played like Wes for two years – using his thumb instead of a pick until he mastered that style.
Oz couldn’t really pinpoint any life-changing event in his career. “Everything happened gradually, but steady. There wasn’t one big gig that put me over the top over night — not even in New York. I have to practice at everything I do. Nothing comes naturally. Everything comes from commitment and dedicated practice.”
In his early twenties and still in Israel, Oz realized that as a guitar player, if you don’t have your own thing going on, you’re kind of limited as a sideman. “I wasn’t getting enough jazz gigs, so I was doing my own band thing. I wanted to do some blues, so I put a trio together and we played Robben Ford, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, but instrumentally – no vocals. After a couple of months of that, I got bored and did some funk stuff [again instrumentally] like James Brown and Stevie Wonder. Then I got bored again, so I started to play all my jazz licks over the funk stuff.” This was the starting point for Oz developing his individual style. As things got quiet again, Noy made the decision to move to New York City.
Oz always wanted to move to New York. “People said that’s where it’s all happening. All the music I listened to, jazz, blues, rock – it was all based in New York or L.A.” Oz knew he had to go to New York — not only as a jazz musician, but a studio guitarist as well. New York was the center of it all, and that was where his heart had to be. “Israel was a small scene, but very good and very positive. It built a great foundation for me. There are a lot of great players coming out of there.”
In 1997, then twenty-four, Oz moved to New York. “It was a heavy move for me – very hard. I already had some friends here from Israel that were doing very well in the jazz scene. [But] to be honest, they didn’t really get me anything. I got everything myself just by hanging out and meeting people… It’s hard work in the beginning. The good thing about New York, at the time, was that there were a lot of jam sessions. There was a lot of music going on which is now absolutely not even half of what it used to be – it’s really sad. There was a lot of opportunity to just go and jam with jazz or funk jam sessions. One well-known club, Smalls Club, would serve as a home base for a group of artists just coming in to hang out and jam. Superstars like Josh Redman and Steve Bernstein built their career at the Smalls Club by just hanging out and jamming. The Smalls Club was a place to actually see the development of the new generation of jazz in New York. Now, I don’t know what people do when they get to New York.”
To this day, The Bitter End is home for Oz Noy who performs there most Monday evenings. We asked Oz about how he became a steady performer at The Bitter End. “When I moved to New York, a drummer friend of mine played at The Bitter End every Sunday. I went and jammed with him a few times and eventually was called to do gigs every once in a while. At that time, it was a happening place – you knew you could go there every Sunday to jam and meet people. Now it just happens twice a month.”
Noy quickly realized he had to do something to show his face and make his mark as an individual. Having done a trio in Israel, Oz wanted to put a trio together to perform in NY. He already had a bass player friend of his knew some of his tunes. His friend introduced him to a great drummer, Robert Rodriguez. From there, Oz took the trio into a rehearsal studio and recorded a bunch of jam tunes on tape and gave it to The Bitter End as an audition tape. From that point on, he began to play The Bitter End once a month as an artist.
Oz also met Frank Canino a couple of months after moving to New York. “Frank opened up a lot of doors for me to meet people. He called me to sit in with his band.” The owner of the bar liked how Oz played, so he offered him a paying gig playing there once a month. “Having a paid gig was king of unheard of.” It was at this club where he was introduced to drummer Anton Fig, and their gigging relationship began. Being that it was a paid gig, it enabled Oz to hire Anton and other great players to sit in with him. Again, it didn’t get him much additional work at the time, but got his name and face out there.
At this point in his career, it was time to make an album. “A friend of mine, Mark Schulman, was kicking my butt telling me I had to go into the studio and put a record out on my own. I didn’t think I was ready – I didn’t think I could pull it off.” So, Oz decided to do a live recording at The Bitter End. “We recorded a bunch of nights and made the live record . After that, I started playing regularly on Mondays at The Bitter End.”
“After the Live album, I got my record deal for Ha. I thought, ‘Alright, I think I could pull it off in the studio.’ But I didn’t know what to expect or if it would be as good. My approach was, ‘I’ll do what I can and see what happens.’ I had a concept of playing live with two drummers. We just played live in the studio and did some edits to make it work. It was definitely less planned and a little wilder compared to the latest CD, Fuzzy. On Fuzzy, the compositions were more defined. I had a clear idea of what I was going to do right down to how I wanted the effects to sound.”
If you ever have the chance to see Oz Noy perform live, you will be amazed first and foremost by his talent as a jazz artist, but secondly, by his ability to squeeze every bit of color out of his effects setup in real time. Oz made it a point to share with us that everything is recorded as it is played live. There aren’t a lot of overdubs or anything he wouldn’t be able to pull off live. What you hear on the CD is exactly what he would do during one take live.
Among his most commonly used pedals you will find an Fulltone Octafuzz, two Line 6 DL4 Delay Modelers (mainly for the Loop function), a H&K Rotosphere, Fulltone Choralflange, and Boost. Noy’s favorite amplifiers are a 1973 fifty-watt Marshall head and a 1966 Fender Band Master. His guitar collection is well stocked to support his frequent studio work, but his main go-to axe is a Fender Stratocaster – one with a maple neck (for live performance) and one with a rosewood neck (for recording). For the most part, his Strats are stock with the exception of the bridge pick-up having additional windings for a hotter bite. Oz uses DiMarzio pick-ups, Sperzel Tuners, and big frets.
Most recently, Noy has performed and recorded with artist including Clay Aiken, Gaven Degraw, Chris Botti, Harry Belafonte, and Toni Braxton to name a few. He also plays on the television show Sexy, Dirty Money. During live performances, it would be no surprise to see him performing with musical icons such as drummers Anton Fig and Keith Carlock along with bassists Will Lee and James Genus. Oz makes it a point to surround himself with nothing but the best of musicians.
With work on another new album in place, Oz Noy continues to stay true to his jazz roots, but pushes the envelope to “Make it Grow.” His guitar technique and compositions will astound not only the average enthusiast, but the professional level musician as well. In short, you will find his jazz artistry and vocabulary, coupled with his exceptional coloration techniques in sound sculpting, take you to a whole new landscape. Be sure to check out our review of Noy’s current CD, Fuzzy.
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