Since moving to New York in 1997, Israel-born tenor saxophonist, composer and educator Ofer Assaf has performed with a veritable who’s who of the jazz world and beyond. With a deep respect for and noticeable influence ranging from such legendary tenors as John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Michael Brecker, Steve Grossman, Billy Harper (a former teacher) and George Adams – Assaf’s C.V. includes work with keyboardist Adam Holzman (Miles Davis) and bassist John Lee (Music Director for the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and Dizzy Gillespie AllStars) as well as with George Clinton and several of Clinton’s P-Funk and Funkadelic alumni bands (including with bassist Bootsy Collins and in the horn section of keyboardist Bernie Worrell’s Orchestra). He has also played with drummer Francisco Mela, guitarist David Gilmore, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, bassist Ron McClure, Living Colour’s Will Calhoun and Vernon Reid and the Latin group KAMAFRA with Tania Maria’s percussionist Edmundo Carnero.
While in Israel Assaf attended the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts dividing his time between his two passions: music and dance (he actually began training as a professional ballet dancer at the age of eight before switching over to a full-time jazz career!). As a member of the Air Force and IDF Orchestras of the Israeli Army he had the privilege to perform at monumental events for such world leaders as former President Bill Clinton and former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He also played for Jerusalem’s 3,000th anniversary celebration with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, in addition to a diverse array of national TV and radio shows, going on to perform with leading Israeli musicians as a prominent instrumentalist and member of the Tel Aviv Big Band in the mid-1990’s.
After his decisive big move to New York City, he immediately entered The New School University’s jazz program. While pursuing his degree he would go on to study with two of his idols in tenor saxophonist Billy Harper (Randy Weston, Art Blakey, etc.), who Assaf credits as being “very inspiring… helping me capture the significance of sound as the ultimate reflection of my inner voice.” With bassist Reggie Workman (John Coltrane, Art Blakey, etc.), who he studied and played with, Assaf gained “the importance of daring and exploring in new directions, and the concept of fearless statements.” His other New School professors included pianist Richie Beirach (Dave Liebman), trumpeter Jimmy Owens (Charles Mingus, Bill Barron) and percussionists Bobby Sanabria (Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Chico O’Farrill, Mario Bauza) and Jamey Haddad (Dave Liebman, Paul Simon). Upon graduation in 2002, a career highlight was performing with legendary jazz icons Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall as part of the JVC Jazz Festival.
Assaf’s music has been internationally recognized… He won the Israeli National Competition in Jazz and Contemporary Music for young musicians (1991); was recipient of scholarships and awards from the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute (1999-2001) and the America-Israel Cultural Foundation (1998-1992); was pre-nominated for the Grammy Awards in “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” category (2009) for his debut album Tangible Reality (Summit Records) with Jim Rotondi (trumpet), Don Pate and Essiet Essiet (bass) and Bruce Cox (drums); and with the Bernie Worrell Orchestra he was awarded “Best Funk/Fusion/Jam Song of the Year” at the 12th annual Independent Music Awards (2013).