Born: May 3, 1978 Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
Born and raised in Israel, saxophonist Eli Degibri first began playing the mandolin at age 7 in an after school music program at the Jaffa Conservatory of Music. Three years later, after attending a jazz concert, he became enamored with the saxophone and switched his studies to that instrument.
At 16, Degibri has already worked professionally with some of the major names in the Israeli music scene establishing himself as one of the leading musicians in Israel. That same year (1994) Degibri was selected to receive a full scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music’s Summer Performance Program. The following year Degibri was again awarded a full scholarship, and participated in the Berklee College of Music program for a second summer.
In 1997, at 18, Degibri received a full scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music and relocated to the United States. After a year at Berklee College of Music, he was one of only six musicians from around the world to be selected, with a full scholarship, to attend the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance program, where he studied and performed with jazz legends Ron Carter, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath and Clark Terry.
After graduating with honors from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance in 1999, Degibri was asked to join The Herbie Hancock Sextet and toured the world, playing the music of Herbie Hancock’s three-time Grammy Award-Winning Album – Gershwin’s World. Degibri performed with Herbie Hancock for 2.5 years, touring in the world, and was featured on Hancock’s 2002 “The Jazz Channel Presents Herbie Hancock” DVD special.
In 2002, after relocating to NYC, Degibri formed his first quintet featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel, Aaron Goldberg, Ben Street and Jeff Ballard and performed regularly in New- York’s best jazz clubs. That same year Degibri joined legendary drummer Al Foster’s band and was an integral part of the Al Foster Quartet until 2011.
In 2003 Degibri released his critically acclaimed debut album – “In the Beginning” – under the Fresh Sound label with his quintet. That same year Degibri was chosen as one of the first artists of the Israel Cultural Excellence Foundation. “IcExcellence” chosen artists serve as Israel’s best cultural ambassadors throughout the world, give back to the community, and expand the excellence effect.
In 2006 Degibri released his second and third albums – “Emotionally Available” – under the Fresh Sound label with his quartet featuring Aaron Goldberg, Ben Street and Jeff Ballard, and “One Little Song” – a duo collaboration with pianist Kevin Hays. Degibri also received in 2006 the honorary Israeli “Prime Minister Award for jazz composition”, recognizing his great talent as a melodic composer and a song writer.
In 2007 Degibri founded the “Degibri’s Project for Excellency of Young Jazz Musicians”. An ensemble of talented Israeli high school students who are carefully chosen, and awarded a full scholarship, to work closely under the guidance of Degibri during his visits to Israel. Degibri composed and arranged the music for the project which cycled three times: 2007, 2008 and 2010. That same year Degibri was featured on Al Foster’s critically acclaimed release “Love, Peace and Jazz!”, a live recording at the legendary New York club – Village Vanguard.
In 2008 Degibri was featured on Foster’s 2008 full length DVD entitled “The Paris Concert”. That same year Degibri formed his exciting new organ trio featuring Gary Versace and Obed Calvaire and released his fourth album – “Live at Louis 649” – under the NYC label – Anzic Records.
In 2010 Degibri released his fifth album – “Israeli Song” (Anzic Records). In this album, Degibri brought together two of his mentors and jazz legends that he was blessed to be around with in the past decade, bass player Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster, and today’s most influential pianist – Brad Mehldau.
In 2011 Degibri received the prestigious Israeli “Landau Award for Jazz Performance”, recognizing his great talent as a performer and band leader. That same year Degibri was chosen as the successor to bassist Avishai Cohen as co-Artistic Director of the Red Sea Jazz Festival, Israel’s most important jazz festival for the past 27 years.
On April 30, 2012 Degibri was invited to be a part of UNESCO’s first International Jazz Day at the UN General Assembly in New York alongside many of the finest jazz musicians in the world.
In 2013 Degibri released his sixth album – “Twelve” (a collaboration between Plus Loin Music and Degibri’s own new label, PiLi Records). In this album, Degibri brought together two of his former students at the Degibri’s Project for Excellence Young Jazz Musicians, piano prodigy Gadi Lehavi and young drummer Ofri Nehemya, and the great bassist Barak Mori.
With a career of twenty years, saxophonist, composer and band leader Eli Degibri has established himself as one of today’s leading musicians in the jazz world, gaining a large fan base worldwide. Along the way Degibri has shared the band stand with Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Clark Terry, George Mraz, Fred Hersch, Eric Reed, Avishai Cohen and the Mingus Big Band.
Above all, Eli Degibri remains a composer and band leader, strongly committed to leading his own band and playing his original compositions, playing music which appeals not only to the traditional jazz audience, but reaches a wide range of listeners as well.
A very talented composer, arranger, and performer… the caliber of which is a rare ﬁnd in jazz today. Degibri’s music treads uncharted waters...” —Herbie Hancock
“Degibri knows how to tell a story, lots of feeling, lots of thought, he’s a wonderful melodist. I don’t hear these qualities in other young musicians. In fact, Eli is the only young saxophonist that I know that his playing gives me joy.” —Al Foster