Eli Degibri creates romantic evening in Cistern Yard

Eli Degibri

When saxophonist Eli Degibri was catching his flight from Tel Aviv to Charleston for Spoleto Festival USA, he realized he forgot his wallet. He called his girlfriend, who had dropped him at the airport, to look around the house for it. She couldn’t find his wallet in the house. But just before takeoff, Degibri’s girlfriend called him to say she found it. It had gotten stuck behind the seat of the car.

“She spent all that time looking for it,” Degibri explained to the crowd gathered at the romantic Cistern Yard at the College of Charleston on Sunday night. “I was touched,” he said, “so this is a love song for her.”

Degibri took his time across his saxophone’s keys while his band bolstered him with bongos and a thoughtful, meandering bass. He worked through his love song, “Leora Mi Amor,” the way Slowhand would have if Eric Clapton played saxophone. Degibri has been playing the sax for the past 25 years, since he saw his first jazz concert in Jaffa, Israel, where he was born.

But this slowhand technique was very different from the spikey textures Degibri is known for, and which he peppered the rest of his set with. The faster the better for Degibri. And why not? The audience ate it up, bursting into spontaneous applause at each extended solo.

Degibri is a generous performer. Minutes into the show, which he played without intermission, Degibri introduced his band with hearty affection: Aaron Goldberg on piano, Reuben Rogers on double bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Five times, Degibri unhooked his saxophone and walked stage right to give his band the floor. “Yea!” he shouted from the side.

“Thank you for the great energy and vibes we receive from you Charleston!” Degibri said, sweat dripped down his forehead. In a beautiful, economical 80-minute set, Degibri certainly put on a show.

Paige Cooperstein is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.