Speaking from her New York home, clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer Hillai Govreen says while jazz is not a natural part of Israeli music, “Israel has been fruitful in the international jazz scene,” adding that “some great jazz musicians are coming out of Israel and working internationally.” In a one-on-one interview with jazz journalist and radio host Yotam Ziv, presented by the Cultural Diplomacy Bureau of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Jerusalem Post, Govreen relates how she got her start in music, her shift to jazz, and how she composes music.
Govreen began playing classical piano at the age of six and started playing the clarinet when she was twelve years old, explaining that the switch was partially triggered by her love for musical partnership. “With classical piano, I didn’t get a chance to play too much with other people,” says Govreen. “I enjoyed that experience. I really enjoy collaborating with other people.”
She initially played classical clarinet and was awarded musical scholarships throughout high school from the American Israel Cultural Foundation. Govreen played first clarinet in the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (YIPO), Israel’s national youth orchestra, was awarded “Outstanding Musician” by the IDF and was accepted with a full scholarship to study at the “Barenboim Said Akademie” in Berlin. She graduated with honors from The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in 2020.
Govreen gradually moved from classical clarinet to jazz and says that jazz “is very much about people you are surrounded with and different influences.” She says that the process of musical composition is one of self-discovery and that she assembles different musical experiences and integrates them, similar to how a chef combines ingredients into a tasty dish. “Jazz,” says Govreen, “is an inclusive art form. What is beautiful about it is because the forms are open, you can compose whatever you want. You can write for any instrument you like.”
Her debut album “Allusions,” a duet with pianist Nitsan Kolko, was released to wide acclaim. She has played venues in New York such as Birdland, Mezzrow, Ornithology, and Dizzy’s and has toured in Europe, Israel, and the US. She is also an endorsing artist for P. Mauriat, the renowned manufacturer of saxophones, flutes, clarinets, and trumpets.