Student Profile: Niv Toar
Niv Toar first set his sights on coming to Berklee after seeing Phil Wilson's Rainbow Big Band perform. At the time, he was a high school student attending the annual International Association for Jazz Education Conference in California.
"I was overwhelmed," the trumpet player says. "It was amazing. I decided that's where I wanted to be."
Two years later, Toar found himself performing in that very ensemble. And these days, he performs with the brass professor's Rainbow All-Stars.
Wilson is just one of the mentors Toar met before he even got to Berklee. At the Five-Week Summer Performance Program, he met Tiger Okoshi, who taught him private lessons. "He was the best teacher I've ever had," said Toar.
The Israel native traces his immersion in music back to age 8, when he started playing at a conservatory in Israel.
"I started playing a little keyboard and a little bit of flute, but after a year, they gave me a trumpet because I guess the conductor needed more trumpet players for the orchestra," he says.
A few years later, Toar began soloing and touring with the 60-piece orchestra. "I was one of the youngest and my parents said that when I played in the orchestra—we used to sit, 11 trumpet players in a row with music stands in front of us—they couldn't see me except when I went out to solo."
Toar played with the conservatory up until high school and grew to love the trumpet. "I didn't like it at first, but as I got into it, it got more and more interesting," he recalls. "Now, I think it's an amazing instrument. I love the sound. Each trumpet player has his/her own sound, so it's very flexible."
Toar began studying jazz in high school. "My dad started getting me all these jazz CDs: Louis Armstrong, Herb Alpert. I started listening to them and imitating them. I got into it, doing a salsa, big band, and all kinds of jazz ensembles."
While a student at the Thelma-Yellin High School for the Arts, Toar managed to get some impressive gigs under his belt, playing a few nights a week at a salsa club in Tel Aviv with a his teacher Rony Iwryn's Jerusalem Salsa Band, as well as in a band composed of Israeli and Arab musicians with saxophone player Arnie Lawrence. When Toar goes home during breaks from Berklee, he continues to play in salsa and jazz bands, as well as at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat.
Given his experience before he got to Berklee, Toar had his sights set on majoring in performance. And by playing in an average of four ensembles per semester, he has certainly taken advantage of performance opportunities at Berklee. One ensemble Toar is most passionate about is the Concert Jazz Orchestra, directed by Greg Hopkins, professor of jazz composition. Toar plans to stay with the ensemble until he graduates.
"That's what I'm here for, to play and play and play," he says.
Outside of coursework, he's been working with Berklee professor Oscar Stagnaro, the bass player for Paquito D'Rivera. He got accepted to participate in a workshop at Carnegie Hall in New York with D'Rivera's group, which also features Berklee professor Mark Walker on drum set.
He doesn't stop there. Toar also writes a lot of his own music, and music for other students.
Through all his performing, Toar enjoys meeting other musicians. "There are all levels of musicians here, from people who just started playing to those who have been performing professionally for years," he says. "There are so many people here from all over the world. Everyone's doing music, having fun, and learning."
After Berklee, Toar will head back home to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, where he anticipates he will work as a musician. Toar was able to defer his service, a requirement for Israeli men and women over 18, for four years to come to Berklee, and was granted special musician's status, which will allow him to serve two years instead of three and be granted leave to perform elsewhere. "They don't want to hurt my career," he says. "They'll let me go whenever I need to, to festivals or other performances."
Niv's Top Five Trumpet Players
- Chet Baker
- Avishai Cohen
- Clifford Brown
- Diego Urcola
- Roy Hargrove