You Can Be Whoever You Want!

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I moved to… NYC 9 years ago

Before that I lived in Israel, in a tiny neighborhood near Tel Aviv, where I was born and raised.

The reason for moving here was… be part of the NYC jazz scene and perform as a jazz singer. NYC has always been the center of the jazz world. The talent level and motivation is so high. It’s a city with a lot of history. Many of the people who crated this music lived and performed right here. I’m very fortunate to be here at a time that I can still hear some of these jazz greats.

With the great Annie Ross

With the great Annie Ross

If I were to describe my current city in one word, that would be… This city is crazy busy! There’s always something going on. You always feel like you are missing out on something, and you probably are…. There’s an overwhelming amount of things to do, see and  hear.

The first thing a new expat needs to know when moving here is You should know what you want to do and what you want to get from living here. One should focus her interest and goals before coming here or else it can be very confusing.

The language issue… very easy. I lived in Canada as a kid for 2 years. And, besides, in Israel, we watch TV in English and you start learning English at a very young age in school.

With the great Sheila Jordan

With the great Sheila Jordan

Since I moved here I stopped driving everywhere. You really don’t want to own a car when living in NYC. The subway or even walking is probably your fastest way to go anywhere.

Since I moved here the new thing I stared doing is eating out. In Israel, you eat out mostly on special occasions; birthdays, anniversaries etc. Here, eating out is a very casual thing. Maybe it’s because the kitchens are usually tiny. My kitchen at home can fit only one person at a time and I don’t even have a full size refrigerator!

Also, I started going out much more. Part of being a jazz musician is that you have to be involved in the scene. Every night, I go out to hear live music. It can be in a bar, a restaurant or a jazz club. Most times, I “sit in” with the the band, which means I will sing a song or two. That makes every night a new, exciting adventure!

My biggest lesson learnt was that you can be whoever and whatever you want. In NYC, people from all different backgrounds and from all corners of the world live together, work together, struggle and live side by side in peace.

You can hear 20 different languages, see people praying on the street, you can pass a church right next to a synagogue. It’s beautiful!

Some weird habits at the locals People talk to themselves – and not only the crazy ones…. It’s completely normal to walk down the street or ride the subway and hear people talk to themselves. I got used to it and I think it’s great!

What I miss the most from home is… the weather!!! The winter here is really hard. People say you get used to it the longer you live here – I say they are wrong…. Summers in NY are really beautiful too but even then, you have days of heavy rain (one of the weirdest things I had to get used to…..).

People don’t understand that there’s nothing like enjoying the desert sun almost all year long…. even in winter, the sun in Israel is the most beautiful thing.

Singing at Zeb's

Singing at Zeb’s

Whenever I get home sick, what I miss is… the holidays. Although I have some family here, it’s not the same. In Israel, holidays (as well as Friday night and Saturdays), have a different feeling. It seems that everybody is taking a break from their every day worries and get together to celebrate.

In NY, I need to create that atmosphere even though people around me are going on with their lives. I’m happy to say that I do manage to do it and celebrate almost all holidays here with my family and friends!

I go home as often as... every 3-4 months. I am teaching at the “Bi-Communal Jazz Futures” program in Cyprus (sponsored by the US Department of State). This program was created to bring together Greek and Turkish Cypriots through jazz music. The island of Cyprus is divided in two; the Turkish side on the north and the Greek side on the south. They had a war in the 70’s that ended up with a seas fire and the devision of the island. The program, which happens every 3-4 months for 4-5 days, allows Cypriots from both sides to meet, play and learn jazz music together. We can really see how new friendships were made and the difference in their attitude towards each other.

So, every time I go to Cyprus, I stop in Israel for a visit. I’m very lucky and thankful for that!

Recording session

Recording session

I keep in contact with my friends and family… mostly on the phone (I have a special plan with unlimited calls to Israel…..) and Skype. If possible, I also use FaceTime (which I love) and I recently discovered the beauty of WhatsApp.

My favorite places in town are… many! I love the Hudson River boardwalk. The view is so beautiful and you can see some really amazing sunsets. In general, I love seeing water and being near it – it relaxes me.

I also love Central Park. The park is the middle of the city and it’s huge! After you enter and start walking around, you might get lost. Once you are deep inside the park, you don’t feel like you are in a big city anymore. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can see people walking their dogs, running, playing baseball and in the summer, people actually sunbath in the park – in bikinis!

I also love Smalls Jazz Club. It’s a very famous jazz club that features the best musicians in the city. You can hear well known people as well as upcoming artists.

Smalls is located in my neighborhood and so it also became like a local bar for me and my friends to meet.

I get around the city by subway and A LOT of walking.

Street fashion? Well, this is NYC. You can find any style/ fashion in the street. From high-end suits, dresses and high heels to punk and hippie styles.

My view on people: People think that New Yorkers are cold but I don’t feel it. I find it’s easier to make friends and meet people because you are surrounded by immigrants. My group of friends (who are mostly jazz musicians) is a very diverse group.

I have friends from Italy, Armenia, Japan…. We meet almost everyday and we share a lot of the same interests. I call them my jazz family and I’m very grateful for them!

Being an expat is sometime hard but it’s also very special. I never felt like a stranger in this city. Facing different challenges, you constantly learn new things about yourself. 

In 5 years, I see myself living… New York city.

Singing at The Plaza Hotel

Singing at The Plaza Hotel



Yaala Ballin

Yaala was born and raised in a small town in the center of Israel.

Culture and especially music was a very important element in her upbringing. When she was about 5 years old she followed by older siblings footsteps and joined the local conservatory where she studied music theory, recorder and later on piano and flute.

Singing has always been a big part of her life - she studied privately, sang in a choir and was always chosen for the solo parts in school's events.She think her parents always knew she will be a performer.

If she wasn't a jazz singer, she would loved to be a photographer!

Feel free to visit her website for more info, pictures, videos and music samples.

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