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Apr. 29, 2019

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Shortly before the Passover holiday, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev hosted the first Israeli performance of The King David Suite, written by legendary jazz composer Lionel Hampton as a tribute to Israel's first chief rabbi, Yitzhak Halevi Herzog and commemorating the emergence of Israel. 

The composition was performed by the Itamar Borochov Quartet in a gala concert to open the Israeli Jazz and Hebrew Culture conference, which was held at The Center for Israel Studies at the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism on BGU's Sede Boqer campus. 

Borochov, a New York-based trumpeter who was born in Jaffa, has emerged as a prominent soloist whose music blends Jewish themes with a performance style closely resembling that of Miles Davis.  

The King David Suite stems from Hampton's meeting with Rabbi Herzog during a visit to Israel in 1953. He entertained IDF troops, was inspired by his visit to the Tomb of King David in Jerusalem and even met with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Hampton recalled that while meeting the rabbi, he wanted wanting to discuss the Bible, but the rabbi first wanted Hampton's insight into the “boogie-woogie" style of jazz. 
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The suite combines jazz and classical elements in a symphony that was performed by orchestras in 19 countries. 

The only copy of the score was thought to be lost in a 1997 fire that completely gutted Hampton's New York apartment. It was rediscovered several years ago in the possession of Hampton's arranger, Frank Como, with Hampton's original notes and comments, and donated to the Ben-Gurion Archives  in 2015 by San Francisco residents Maurice “Mo" Levich, and Como who are co-directors of The Big Band of Rossmoor

"The significance of this concert is two-fold," says Dr. Aryeh Tepper, a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Israel Studies and a co-organizer of the conference. "First is the music itself. In addition to the King David Suite, the second half of the concert will focus on Jazz and Piyut [traditional wordless Jewish melodies]. Jazz enables those outside Israeli society to see the creativity and the deep cultural roots we have here. 

"The second point of significance is that Lionel Hampton was part of the first integrated cultural group in the United States, when he performed with Benny Goodman several years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. That was important in-and-of itself, and it created a relationship between Hampton and the Jewish community that never waned," Dr. Tepper added.

Located on BGU's Sede Boqer campus, the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism is home to the Ben-Gurion Archives, the equivalent of a Presidential Library in the United States. The Archives house Ben-Gurion's extensive collection of personal papers, diaries and letters. Over the years, other important collections have been added from the Israel State Archives, Jabotinsky Archives, Labor Archives and more, providing scholars with a unique window into Israel's past and the early days of the Zionist movement. 
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Media Coverage:
The Times of Israel