At Ronny’s – Israel’s top jazz club right now

Jazz record labels (source: author)

Somewhere off Allenby or Natanzon Street, down a dimly lit side alley, you’ll find it. The entrance can be identified by the subtle blue of the flickering neon sign. It’s easy to miss, as if only for the initiated. The understated exterior bestows upon the visitor the feeling that she or he is amongst the privileged few, the in-crowd who attend this place. This is Ronny’s jazz club, Misaviv LeHatzot – or Round Midnight in English.

But you don’t need membership. Round Midnight is not an exclusive club; you only have to like Jazz ‘and more’, as Ronny puts it.

There’s no queue and there are no bouncers. You descend into the basement and push on through some heavy velvet curtains. There’s nothing Freudian here; you just can’t have a jazz club without moth-eaten red velvet curtains. It’s the sound that hits you first. The place pulsates with the feverish, physical pleasure of live music. When your eyes get adjusted to the low lighting, the scene before you resembles one of those crucibles of hot jazz described in the better passages of On the Road.

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The crowd is truly mixed. Arabs are not confined to the kitchen but are part of the audience, and the act. There are no baying tourists; everyone’s here for the music. They’re listening to the band and the band is good. Exceptionally good. The standards here are high; Ronny has impeccable taste and engages only the best acts.

The decorative scheme is ‘down-at-heel’ yet with twenty-first century toilet facilities. It’s dark and smoky but no one seems to be smoking. The whole place has the aesthetic appeal of one of Herman Leonard’s photographs and the graphics of the drinks menu recall classic Blue Note LP cover designs. Ronny is a man of discernment.

You can sit at the bar which has clearly taken inspiration from Maayan HaBira in Haifa in terms of the selection of beers on offer. If you prefer, you can take a place at one of the small tables arranged around the stage, though ‘stage’ is perhaps too grand a word for a slightly raised platform that keeps musicians and audience at just about the same eye level. Ronny’s is an intimate space – it seems to exist mysteriously in a Corona-free bubble – and no one is so far away that he or she struggles to make out the beads of sweat on the drummer’s brow.

And what music! You can catch them all here: the cream of the vibrant local jazz scene and the very best from beyond. Every night you’ll hear something wonderful.

* * *

This, in my imagination, is how it might be to visit Ronny Wertheimer’s Round Midnight ‘club’.

It is, I must admit, a slightly idealised picture. For one thing, the place doesn’t exist physically, but I’m trying to do justice here to what broadcaster Ronny Wertheimer has created over the airwaves for those of us who need to hear improvised music on a regular basis. In these pandemic times, Wertheimer’s virtual club, or to be more precise, his radio show Round Midnight, is a life-saver in terms of getting one’s musical fix. It’s on-air most weeknights at 11.00pm on Kan Kol Musica and, if you’re not already a regular, it’s a highly recommended destination.

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It always begins in the same way with a recording of Sonny Rollins playing – no prizes – ‘Round Midnight’. It’s a sublime version of Thelonious Monk’s tune and it signals the start of proceedings – an hour of ‘jazz and more’. Wertheimer reads the roll call in a soothing baritone over the playing of Rollins and the hypnotic familiarity of this opening pattern has a meditative quality, readying the listener to indulge in the show’s carefully curated sounds. He knows his stuff and is therefore agreeable company. There could be a focus on a particular album, artist or genre, or there could just be good music. Good music is the bottom line.

Round Midnight is a virtual space but Wertheimer’s show has analogue values in a digital age. The accompanying Facebook site celebrates the integrity of the album, enabling LP cover fetishists to drool over artwork and pour over sleeve notes and track listings. You don’t even have to be a night owl to enjoy the show: there’s an app, boomer.

Jazz is not a dead art form, a beautiful museum with its final exhibits from 1959, as I used to think. It is alive and well, as Wertheimer’s radio programme confirms on a nightly basis. You can have your fill of the classics but there’s also plenty of contemporary international music and top-notch homegrown jazz from the likes of Avishai Cohen (both of them) and Omer Avital. There’s blues too, the recent fitting tribute to Peter Green an example. Round Midnight also offers a platform for all the lesser known but emerging musicians playing every night in ‘real world’ places like Tel Aviv’s excellent Beit HaAmudim – when conditions permit.

Jazz over here is thriving but musicians and those who work with them need to pay the rent. So, as soon as the real world allows, I intend to trim my goatee and get down to live music spaces like Shablul, Beit HaAmudim and others. They need our help and they’re not very different to the ideal described above. Maybe they’re even better. And in the meantime, there’s always Ronny’s place. Lila tov and hazana naima, man.

About the Author
Anthony Fulton is a member of a kibbutz in the Galilee and taught literature in the UK for over twenty years. He is currently taking a little break on the sofa.
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