Born c. 1978 in Ramat-Gan, Israel; raised near Tel Aviv. Education: Attended Mannes School of Music, New York, NY. Addresses: Record company--Universal Music Group, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404. Website--Miri Ben-Ari Official Website: http://www.miriben-ari.com/.
Israeli-born violinist Miri Ben-Ari was trained as a classical violinist and then discovered jazz and hip hop when she was a teenager. It is this blend of musical styles that has influenced her work, allowing her to move with equal ease in classical, jazz, and hip-hop circles. She has recorded with many of the brightest lights in jazz and hip-hop, and is quickly on her way to establishing herself as a unique voice that is a blend of all of these styles, but confined to none of them. Her first solo album, Sahara, was composed mostly of original pieces of her own composition.
Miri Ben-Ari grew up in Ramat-Gan, a small town near Tel Aviv, Israel. She showed a gift for music early on, first studying classical violin at the age of six. Over time, lessons proved more expensive than Ben-Ari's family could handle. But good fortune smiled on her in the form of famed classical violinist Isaac Stern, who recognized her talent and helped her obtain a scholarship to continue her studies. And, perhaps even more important, he gave her a violin. Ben-Ari was also able to study with Stern, as well as with renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin.
Ben-Ari got hooked on jazz as a young woman, while serving in the Israeli army. After hearing a recording of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, she fell in love with the form. She immediately began to add jazz to her repertoire, and soon decided to study it formally. After she finished her mandatory army stint, during which she played for the Israeli Army String Quartet, Ben-Ari relocated to the United States in 1993 to study jazz, both at the Mannes School of Music and in private lessons. She also wanted to pursue a career as a concert performer.
Settling in the New York City area, Ben-Ari found that the city was a center of musical innovation and an invigorating blend of musical styles. She attracted the notice of celebrated jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and renowned jazz singer Betty Carter, both of whom assisted her in getting a start playing at jazz venues in New York City.
Ben-Ari released her first album, Sahara, in 1999, on the Half Note label. An eclectic mix of classical and Eastern-inspired tracks, the album featured all original work, most composed by Ben-Ari herself. In 2000 she released the album The Song of the Promised Land on the Mirimode label. This jazz album featured Wynton Marsalis's trumpet on two of its tracks. In addition to her recording efforts, Ben-Ari continued to play concert dates around the country in a variety of styles, including jazz, pop, classical, blues, Latin, and world music.
Further demonstrating her versatility, Ben-Ari released a live album in 2003 called Temple of Beautiful, for Half Note. Recorded at a famous New York City jazz club called the Blue Note, Temple of Beautiful featured Ben-Ari playing jazz standards, backed by a pianist, bassist, and drummer. In addition to pieces by Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, and others, the album included a trio of original pieces by Ben-Ari.
While living in New York City, Ben-Ari discovered hip-hop through listening to the music of Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. This music became a new inspiration to her. "I love things that groove," Ben-Ari told Leslie Katz in the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California. "I'm a big freak of rhythm." And hip-hop provided grooves in abundance.
After incorporating hip-hop and rhythm and blues sounds into her concert gigs, Ben-Ari attracted another well-known performer, this time from the hip-hop realm. "My first hip-hop performance was at Carnegie Hall with Wyclef [Jean]," Ben-Ari told the CNN website. "I got a little feature and he announced me as the 'hip-hop violinist.' The next night I played the Apollo." During a taping with Jean of the TV show Showtime at the Apollo, Ben-Ari drew a standing ovation from the Apollo's notoriously tough audience.
Ben-Ari continued to find steady work as a studio musician on the concert tours of such acts as Manhattan Transfer and Luther Vandross, and in the orchestra pit at Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters, playing orchestra music for musicals. Her highly acclaimed performance with Wyclef Jean at Carnegie Hall came in early 2001, where Jean set out to show that good music is good music, no matter the source of its inspiration, or in what style it is played. The concert featured, in addition to Ben-Ari's violin, performances by high profile recording artists such as Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, Destiny's Child, Macy Gray, and Mary J. Blige. Ben-Ari's Hebrew-inspired hip-hop violin was singled out as a highlight of the evening by Jim Farber of the New York Daily News. The concert was a benefit to support a Jean-founded charity that funds music education for young students, and may have marked the first time that hip-hop was performed at the prestigious New York City concert hall.
Following the concert Ben-Ari appeared on the BET network shows Rap City and 106 & Park. Hip-hopper Jay-Z invited Ben-Ari along on his 2001 Summer Jam appearance. This cemented Ben-Ari's standing in the hip-hop world, and she became an in-demand performer on the tours and albums of other artists, including Twista and Kanye West.
Ben-Ari has also built a name for herself as a hip-hop performer working on the albums of other artists. Kanye West recruited Ben-Ari for his album The College Dropout, released in 2004. Ben-Ari's violin playing, arranging, and compositions were an integral part of the album, and Ben-Ari accompanied West on a concert tour following the album's release. Album sales soared to the multi-platinum level within a few months. Ben-Ari was praised by the music press during the album tour, with Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times calling her "extraordinary." The tour also gave her a chance to perform solo; in addition to playing tunes from The College Dropout, she covered hits from pop star Michael Jackson and pioneering rapper Kurtis Blow.
Ben-Ari has resisted definition, playing jazz, hip-hop, and classical music with equal grace. "I do music," she told Seth Rogovoy in the Berkshire Eagle. "Violin is my voice and I'm from Israel. That's it." She has left it up to the critics writing about her music to "call it names." Categorizing music, she says, fosters the raising of barriers between people, and she wants her music to instead foster communication between people of different backgrounds.
by Michael Belfiore
Miri Ben-Ari's Career
Studied classical violin beginning at age six; served in the Israeli military, where she played on the Israeli Army String Quartet; moved to New York City, 1993; played concerts throughout the U.S., 1990s; released first solo album, Sahara, 1999; released Song of the Promised Land, 2000; released Temple of Beautiful, 2003; composed music for and performed on the Kanye West album The College Dropout, 2004.
- Selected discography
- Sahara Half Note, 1999.
- The Song of the Promised Land Mirimode, 2000.
- Temple of Beautiful Half Note, 2003.
- Berkshire Eagle, November 3, 2000.
- Chicago Sun-Times, November 12, 1998, p. 34; February 13, 2004, p. 59.
- Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, December 4, 1998, p. 6B.
- Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2003, p. E3.
- New York Daily News, January 22, 2001, p. 34.
- Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), January 26, 2001, p. 2.
- Syracuse Herald American, January 28, 2001, p.3.
- Washington Post, November 17, 2000, p. N9.
- "Hip-Hop Violinist infects Billboard charts," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Music/04/26/hip.hop.violinist/index.html (April 27, 2004).
- "Miri Ben-Ari," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 26, 2004).
- "Miri Ben-Ari Experience to Kick off Saturday Night Jazz Series at the Clark November 4," Clark Art Institute, http://www.clarkart.edu/make_a_visit/press_releases/content.cfm?ID=67 (April 26, 2004).
- Miri Ben-Ari Official Website, http://ww.miriben-ari.com (April 26, 2004).
- "One Mind. Two Million Voters," Village Voice, http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0404/allah.php (April 26, 2004).
- "Violinist Miri Ben-Ari Enlists Mya, Fabolous, Kanye West for Hip-Hop Debut," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1485394/20040227/index.jhtml?headlines=true (March 2, 2004).