Friday, April 30, 2010

The Geneology of Jewish Rock

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The Diaspora Yeshiva Band is one of the legendary bands of the Jewish music scene. Founded in the early 1970's by Avraham Rosenblum and Ruby Harris, it was, arguably, the first Jewish rock band. This afternoon, while looking for something else, I ran across an article by Ruby Harris about DYB.
"Almost parallel to the first Rock’n Roll stars and their society, the union of Rock with Jews didn’t come so smoothly, it was a rocky road at first, particularly in the years roughly from 1973-1982. Jewish music didn’t catch up with the rest of the world so fast. I remember one time we were doing a concert at the Jerusalem Theater and after the show someone comes up to us and emotionally expressed his disapproval of the Holy words being fused with rock sounds (Elvis and Ray Charles got the same reaction)."
In addition to his version of the history of DYB (which is a bit different than Roensblum's version) it includes this fantastic "Genealogy of Jewish Rock."

Genealogy of Jewish Rock
It's a bit idosyncratic, but hey...it's good fun none-the-less. I haven't been able to find a video of DYB playing, and Ruby Harris's videos focus on his other music interests. But here's Avraham Rosenblum, father of Jewish rock, in action.

Avraham Rosenblum. Tzadik

Mark Bloom's Jazz Shabbat Suite

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Mark BloomShabbat Shalom, everyone.

Whew. I'm looking forward to Shabbat. It's been a long week. I was a bit of a gadfly at the Music Fest meeting, but they kindly didn't run me out on a rail. (Afterwords I was referred to as "Perchik". I was assured it was a compliment. I'm not quite assured. Ah well.)

I haven't had a 'get into to the Shabbat groove' video in a while. But in that spirit, here's a SoundCloud player loaded up with Mark Bloom's Jazz Shabbat Suite. Bloom is a musican and bandleader, as well as a cantorial soloist and liturgical music writer. This is pretty easy listening for me, but well done and just what I needed this afternoon.

Jazz Shabbat Suite by MochaJuden

By the way, Bloom's based in Plymouth, MN, and is a working musician. Give him a yell if you've got a private party, religious program, or educational workshop.

Hat tip to my buddy, MochaJuden, for uploading the track and tweeting about it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Celluloid Closet of Yiddish Film: "A yingl mit a yingl hot epes a tam?"

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Like the Jewish punks I mentioned in my last post, Jewish lesbians and gays have a similar set of challenges in defining themselves on their own terms and redefining the terms of the larger society. Eve Sicular, drummer/bandleader of Metropolitan Klezmer and Isle of Klezbos, presented "The Celluloid Closet of Yiddish Film: "A yingl mit a yingl hot epes a tam?" Lesbian & Gay Subtext from a Cinema of Diaspora" at at Haverford College today, April 28, 2010. I wasn't there, though I wish I could have been. Even having missed the presentation, I wanted to make sure I got the word out about it. The richness of the Jewish community is lessened by not having all the stories told, and Sicular is doing a great job telling this story. And it's a story that wraps around and through the Jewish music tradition, not just in the form of Sicular's Isle of Klezbos band, but in the form of a long list of contemporary and historic Jewish musicians and music. As Sicular describes in the abstract for her presentation....

"Despite the taboo surrounding homosexuality, the topic was too intriguing to be left entirely out of the Yiddish picture. An exploration of lesbian & gay subtext in Yiddish cinema during its heyday, from the 1920's to the outbreak of World War II, reveals distinctly Jewish concerns of the time intertwined with a striking array of allusions to this highly-charged subject. From musical comedies such as YIDL MITN FIDL (Yidl With His Fiddle) and AMERIKANER SHADKHN (American Matchmaker) to classic dramas DER DIBUK (The Dybbuk) and DER VILNER SHTOT-KHAZN (Overture To Glory), queerness reached the screen in various guises, emerging as an alternate take on themes of conflicted identity, passing and same-sex attachments. Discussion of these and other gems of the Yiddish screen, as well as such features as RADIO DAYS, COLONEL REDL, CROSSFIRE, and GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT, will be accompanied by clips from selected films and period home movies."To give us all a taste of what the full lecture covers, Sicular sent me the following video....
"Metropolitan Klezmer's "Yiddish Celluloid Closet" version of Muzikalisher Tango. Live band footage intercuts with pivotal revelatory moments in the nightclub scene of Yiddish screwball comedy "American Matchmaker" [Americaner Schadchen, 1940]. This bittersweet lyric from the film is revealed to have a coming-out subtext, and while onscreen text elucidates some of the film's wordplay and plot twists, the band plays fabulous horn section and accordion solos in the octet's arrangement of the same song. Leo Fuchs plays dapper closet case Nat Gold in the original soundtrack version, meeting his matchmaking client (Judith Abarbanel) at a swank New York nightclub. Director Edgar Ulmer and his cast enjoy plenty of onscreen in-jokes, even feygele triple entendres. The "musical" tango can be enjoyed on many levels... an homage to Vito Russo's original 'Celluloid Closet.' [Note -- Fuchs was known as the 'Yiddish Fred Astaire'... a different spin on the Hollywood formula.]"
Metropolitan Klezmer Muzikalisher Tango
Yiddish Celluloid Closet




If you're in NYC next week, be sure to stop by for Sicular's show, "Music from Yiddish Celluloid" at the 92nd Street Y (NYC) on May 7, from 2pm - 3pm in the Warburg Lounge.

Got Sheckles and an Attitude? Help kickstart "Punk Jews"

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Traditional is paradox. We use terms of solidity, "tradition anchors us" and "grounds us," to describe something inherently fluid. Tradition has always subtly shifted, experimented, expanded, and retracted. The moments we remember, the way our father did or our mother did, were just that...moments out of many. It's the accretion of these moments that give the illusion of solidity. We remember the present as if the past justified it.

Except when we imagine the future.

Tradition is therefore a DIY business, working with the raw materials of our past and our imagination to create our future. For some, on the ragged distopian edge of tradition, it's a desperate business too. They don't remember the present in the same way, or can't remember their place in it. They need to create a space for themselves and in so doing, they create spaces for those who follow and the tradition flows onward.

Which is a long way around to saying that some Jews are punks, castouts, rejects, and alley-cat howlers. I've written about them (us), and their (our) music in particular, a number of times. And now I'm asking that you cough up some filthy lucre (I did!). You see, there's a documentary being made on Jewish punks and it needs a bit of a boost. Here's the pitch...

"My name is Jesse Zook Mann and I’m the director of Punk Jews. For the last two years my partner, Evan Kleinman and I have been following a community of Jewish musicians, artists, and activists, who are creating a sexy, new, unconventional culture around their heritage and religion. Originally we were going to produce a full length documentary but along the way we heard so many amazing and moving stories from the likes of fashion designer Levi Okunov, MC Y-Love, mixed-media artist Rivka Karasik, punk band Moshiach Oi!, and author / philosopher Yoseph Leib, that we realized that we couldn’t fit them all into a single film – so we want to produce a series of mini documentaries in a blog format where we will be able to bring all of these one of a kind Jewish stories to you every week."
Mann and Kleinman, an Emmy award winner and a Emmy award nominee, are raising money using the Kickstarter system. They've put out a target date (Jul 6, 2010) and an amount ($10,000). If we donate and they meet the target, they get the cash. If not...nada, zippo, zilch. Our donations are only collected if the project can be completed.

The graphic below shows their current progress. Clicking on it will take you to the Punk Jews kickstarter page, which has a great video full of Jewish punkiness. C'mon folks. Cough up.


And while we're on the subject...go check out the amazing Punk Torah website, if you want a taste of how the punk ethos and Judaism are enriching each other.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Israeli Cowboys. In Elton John Glasses. And the Real Thing.

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As my long time readers know, I have a serious thing for Jewish cowboys, and, by extension, Israeli cowboys. This weekend I stumbled across a fantastic video that was posted to the 4Law Israeli Music History website. It's got it all. Cowboys. Mustaches. and Matti Caspi. Who could ask for anything more. Dayenu!

The First Israeli Hebrew Cowboys Movie "The Red River Valley" - "Emek HaNahar HaAdom"


I got a little additional information about this jem from YouTube user Boazgu2, the maintainer of the site. According to him...
The video is part of 50 minutes video. Made by Dan Biron a man today in private sector. As he worked in officially Israeli TV1 during the Eighties. His wife Sari Raz still works also today in TV1. Between the actors and singers in this clip.
I would still love to know more about the context of the film. Was this a TV show? And who's idea was it to mix the quasi-period outfits with the weirdly new-romantic band outfits? Love it.

Zeitgeist being what it is, this morning I also ran across a great short clip about Jews in the American west (including Jewish cowboys). It's part of a new documentary produced by the Jewish TV Network called "The Jewish Americans." It aired on PBS back in 2008, but you can pick up the DVD on the JTV website.

Hattip to Yiddish dance instructor Steve Weintraub for emailing the KlezmerShack mailing list about the 4Law website. I'd already linked to it, but hadn't visited for quite a while. And hattip to the 4Law site, which is weird, clunky, and filled with enough Israeli music history to keep me busy for weeks.

For more of my obsession with Jewish Cowboys, see... Lil Rev: Fiddler on the Roof Meets Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Jewish Cowboys Part 6: Bucky Goldstein, Jewish Cowboys Part 5: Shir HaBokrim, the Song of the (Israeli) Cowboys, Jewish Cowboys Part 4: Harold Stern, Manischewitz Cowboy, Mare Winningham's "Refuge Rock Sublime", Jewish Cowboys Part 1: Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, Jewish Cowboys Part 2: Scott Gerber, Jewish Cowboys Part 3: So Called's "You Are Never Alone")

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Demonic Anarchy. For Children. A Tribute to Barry Polisar.

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Somehow I missed out on Barry Louis Polisar when I was a kid. Which, I think, explains certain mental imbalances in me as an adult. Polisar has been entertaining children for three decades with albums titled "I Eat Kids," "My Brother Thinks He's a Banana," "Naughty Songs for Boys and Girls," and the wonderfully misnamed "Songs for Well Behaved Children." It was this last album that earned him a letter that read "This is demonic anarchy and I've added you to the top of my prayer list." Which, of course, means that Polisar and the listener both truly understand childhood..which is mostly demonic anarchy, punctuated by times tables and naps.

Polisar wrote to me recently about a tribute album that was just released, called "We're Not Kidding: A Tribute to Barry Polisar." The album is the result of his song "All I Want Is You" appearing, 30 years after it's first release, in the open title sequence for the hit movie Juno. This got Polisar a lot of media attention and reconnected him with a generation of fans who's grown up on his albums. It turned out that his fans started a LOT of bands, who came together to record 60 covers of his songs for the 2-disk album.

It also turns out that a lot of his fans are Jewish, as is Polisar who's also written his own Haggadah. (Which, it turns out, I happen to own). The result is that there are an entertaining number of Jewish-music influenced recordings on the tribute album. A quick scan turned up:
  • Sephardic indie-rockers, DeLeon, covering "My Brother Thinks He's a Banana" and "My Name is Hiram Lipshlitz.
  • Deborah Berman and the Nogoodniks, performing "Shtek Nit Dayn Finger in Der Noz," their own Yiddish translation of Polisar's "Don't Put Your Finger Up Your Nose."
  • Kid Kazooey and His One-Man Klezmorkestra Band, performing "I've Got a Teacher, She's So Mean and He Eats Asparagus, Why Can't You Be That Way?"
  • The Brothers (Boaz and Moshe) Vilozny performing a When the House is Dark and Quiet. "
That a whole lot of other great bands doing spirited renditions. If updated, rollicking, versions of some wonderful and seriously demented kids songs are your thing...definitely check out the tribute album. You can hear clips of most of the tracks on the website. And while you're at it, check out Barry Louis Polisar's original albums and stories. Like a fine whine, they've aged very well.

For the record, I recently introduced my (happily demonic) 5 year old daughter to his song "I Used to Have A Sister." She's been wandering around the house all weekend singing it to herself and imagining her elder sister turned into an apple tree. Yeah. He gets kids.

For a final treat, here's a truly awesome video. It's about a minute of Polisar making his first TV appearance, on the "Bozo The Clown's Wide World of Wonder" show in 1975, singing "He Eats Asparagus, Why Can't You Be That Way?." According to Polisar, his "little sister was watching TV with her friends when he came on singing. They all got very excited and said, "Emily, isn't that your brother on TV?" She said, "No."

Barry Louis Polisar in his first TV appearance: Bozo the Clown, 1975

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Torah Hero - B&T wants you to be a "Bar Mitzvah Bad-ass"

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Torah HeroIn a great post, B&T of the Bridge & Tunnel Crowd blog, imagines the game Torah Hero. The game riffs on Guitar and Band Hero, but focusing on Jewish music. As he says...
"Hey kids, ever wanted a cool way to practice your Bar/Bat Mitzvah prayers and Torah portions? Then Torah Hero might be just what you need. Here's how I'd design the game as a parody of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band videogame franchises. Neither the people nor companies nor places mentioned have endorsed or agreed to the game...yet. And as you know, now that it's posted here, I own the copyright to the idea...suckas!"
It's not just the concept I love, it's the detail that he put into it. 4 difficulty levels (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Chassid), 12 game tiers (including Shabbat, Passover, and Debbie Friedman), and create-a-shul. Each of the 12 game tiers is linked to 8 to 10 well chosen YouTube videos. You could spend an hour just listening to the tracks he links to. In fact you should. Get going....

(I promised B&T I'd come up with a list of Orthodox and Chassid videos for him, but I haven't had time. Sorry)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Teruah on the radio Thursday!

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Radio 613Hi everyone. Shameless publicity time. Avi, of the fantastic, Radio 613 / Semitic Soul radio show on CFRC 101.9 FM Kingston Ca, has invited me to sit in tomorrow night at 10pm Eastern Time. The show will be live, on the air, classic community radio. It'll be a hoot. Avi's going spin some of the tracks I featured in my recent talk, "The Silver Age of Jewish Music is Happening Now. And We're Missing it!" I'll be calling in and attempting to sound coherent and entertaining. Which on the best of occasions is a challenge, but after catching a red eye back from San Diego tonight? Oy.

Shabbat ResouledI'm not going to give you a playlist in advance..this is live radio, right? I'd just be guessing and it would spoil the fun. But I will say that we're going being covering a lot of musical territory in an hour. We're also going to do the world premiere broadcast of the brand new Shabbat Resouled album. Shabbat Resouled is England's answer to Craig Taubman's "Friday Night Live."
"Shabbat Resouled - the Musical Project - has evolved out of the highly successful eponymous Kabbalat Shabbat service held on the third Friday of each month at the FINCHLEY PROGRESSIVE SYNAGOGUE in North London, which has been attended by over a thousand people since its inception in April 2007. With new music composed by DEAN STAKER (9½ Incas, Asylum Nation) and performed by a live band of talented musicians. Whilst acknowledging the contribution of the pioneers of Jewish contemporary music such as JEFF KLEPPER and DAN FREEDLANDER (KOL B’SEDER), DEBBIE FRIEDMAN, SAFAM and CRAIG TAUBMAN, SHABBAT RESOULED takes its inspiration from mainstream British artists such as THE BEATLES, CAT STEVENS, PINK FLOYD, THE MOODY BLUES and JETHRO TULL, giving the project a ‘British’ feel and establishing the ‘Anglo-Jewish sound’! With a full-length album scheduled for completion in 2010 and a burning ambition to take the project beyond British shores, Dean is currently working on new songs, demo versions of which are featured on this website. The band is also available to perform for services at synagogues throughout the UK – please contact us for details (rabbi@fps.org)."
Well, the album is out. The track's I've heard are great. And we'll be playing one live on air.

To get warmed up, here's a great stage performance of the Shabbat Resouled arrangement of Adon Olam. As good as this stage show is, remember that this is inherently liturgical music. Imagine singing this with a group of 100 at the Finchely Synagogue. Makes me want to fly to London and join in.

Adon Olam - Shabbat Resouled live at Limmud 2009


Show Details: Thursday, April 15, at 10pm Eastern US Time.
  • Option 1. If you're local to Kingston, Canada, listen the proper way: 101.9FM.
  • Option 2. If you're not local, like me, listen to the streaming broadcast off the CFRC Radio website. Go to the website and click the Listen Live button. Make sure you have a streaming media player software installed first. If you don't have one, get Winamp. It's excellent and free.
  • Option 3. Avi podcasts all the shows, using his Radio 613 blog. I'll let everyone know when he's posted this week's show.

Sold Out...Missing Elizabeth Schwartz and Yale Strom in San Diego

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Have I mentioned recently that I'm an idiot? Last week I noted on Facebook that I'm going San Diego and the wonderful vocalist Elizabeth Schwartz pops up and says hey come see us perform. But I'm an idiot. And I'm there on business. And I'm only there a day and a half. And I'm flying in late. So I don't reserve a ticket and then I change my mind, because, after all, this is Elizabeth Schwartz, and Yale Strom's playing too, and some great flamenco musicians. So I drive like crazy, and finally find parking, and stand there outside the SDSU music hall, looking at a line 100 people long (actually 290) and THE SHOW IS SOLD OUT.

AARRGGGH!

sigh. Did I say I was an idiot?

Right. So the only thing to do to console myself was come back to my hotel and watch Elizabeth Schwartz and Yale Strom videos on YouTube and be thoroughly disgusted with myself.

Here's clip of Elizabeth and Yale playing a few years ago.


In addition to a number of concert clips, I found a whole series of videos from the Radu Gabrea documentary "Rumenye Rumenye". I don't have a clear sense of what the documentary was about, other than it seemed like Elizabeth and Yale on a road trip through Romania meeting people and making music. Here's clip 1 of 10...



Oh..and while I was on Yale's website, I ordered two of his books "A Wandering Feast: A Journey Through the Jewish Culture of Eastern Europe" and "The Book of Klezmer: The History, The Music, The Folklore - from the 14th Century to the 21st." I'm a sucker for klezmer books and was re-reading "Seth Rogovoy's The Essential Klezmer" on the way here. In addition to loving klezmer and wanting to learn more about it, I'm fascinated by what does and does not get lumped under the term klezmer and how the story of Jewish music in American becomes equated with klezmer in may places. I've got a longer essay brewing and will try to get to it soon.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ink Stains and Broken Glass. Two small thoughts about Yom HaShoah

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Today is Yom HaShoah. The Day of the Holocaust remembrance. We all find our places to anchor our thoughts on this day. Something to bring it a scale we can comprehend. For my wife, it was the story of Anne Frank that captivated her as a kid (and still does). She, my wife, switched her Facebook picture to Anne Franks this morning and posted a link to this video of Regina Spektor talking about Anne Frank and playing her song Ink Stains.



For me, it was Kristallnacht. The night of broken glass. Here's the pivotal moment from John Zorn's album Kristallnacht, which captures it about as well as anything can.



Hat tips to YouTube users moiabxl and franckygodmund1 for posting the Spektor and Zorn videos, respectively.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Fugs - And on Shabbos...Nothing.

3 comments:
The Fugs in actionGot a call from my wife at work yesterday. "DID YOU HEAR THAT?!" Sure did. She was talking about the NPR radio spot on the seminal political beatnik rock band The Fugs. (I told you my wife was a radio junkie. And an alternative music queen. And a fantastic interior decorator. Love my wife. Oh. back the Fugs...) Here's Steven Lee Beeber's description of The Fugs from excellent his book "The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's, A Secret History of Jewish Punk"
"Still far from the hipster paradise it would become, the East Village (of NYC) - especially the Bowery area.....-had been growing steadily since Warhol had decamped in the late 1960s. It had seen initial settlers like Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, who, along with the rest of his beatnik friends in the band, performed radical political songs as informed by Yiddish melody as by Jewish humor"
Specifically, the Fugs were settled (Ed Sanders) into the Peace Eye Bookstore, which he housed in a decommissioned kosher market, and (Tuli Kupferberg) over Lifschutz wholesale egg market.

The NPR spot was in honor of a new (!!!!) Fugs album, The Final CD part 2. The clip that got my wife's attention was from the classic Fugs song "Nothing." In addition to the distinctly Yiddish melody, my wife had immediately gotten the joke the NPR commentator had missed. The lyrics, a nihilistic assessment of the times, followed the pattern of a classic Yiddish joke "Monday: potatoes. Tuesday and Wednesday: potatoes. Thursday and Friday: potatoes. But on the Sabbath, something different: a lovely potato kugel!" But there's no kugel in the Fugs version. No Shabbos. Nothing special. Just potatoes. Just nothing.

Here's a wonderful video of Coby Batty of the Fugs performing Nothing, which was written by Kupferberg.
The Nothin Song

Hat Tip to YouTube user jadeDragon1351 for posting the video.

* By the way, the irony of me writing posts titled "I could not run from God" and "And on Shabbos Nothing" back to back isn't lost on me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I could not run from God - Girls in Trouble in Michigan

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Girls in TroubleI just got back from Cafe 1923 in Hamtramck, MI. Hamtramk is an ethnically diverse, seriously hip, blue-collar industrial town just north of Detroit. Cafe 1923 is about my favorite kind of place in the world. It's a small indy coffee shop, with a barrista who knows her trade and a book and couch filled back room. Just right for hearing one of the best new Jewish bands in the world doing an intimate 'parlor' concert.

So what do I mean by "one of the best new Jewish bands in the world?" I'll get to that in a moment. First, let me set the stage. Alica Jo Rabins, the band leader and songwriter, was up first singing over intricate and lovely looping violin and gently strummed guitar. Rabins has a gorgeous, heartbreaking voice and the rare ability to give her songs individual narrative voices. The girl singing Snow is not the girl singing Mountain, even if both are Alicia. Rabins was joined by her touring bandmates, Aaron Hartman on upright base, Elaina Morgan on electric guitar, backup vocals and xylophone, and Jonathan Vincent on accordion. (I think this was the line up. Someone correct me if I goofed.) Together, they created a lovely pop sound that evoked American folk and British pop.

Again..so why the "one of the best new Jewish bands in the world?" Because in 10 years the songs I heard tonight will be part of the American Jewish songbook. Sitting on the couch a few feet back, listening to Rabins and Morgan sing the stories of girls in trouble in the Torah, I suddenly knew what Debbie Friedman's first audiences must have felt. Strip away the talented musicians. Strip away the lovely harmonies. Strip away even Rabins voice. What's left are lyrics that give immediate, visceral life to people who's pain, joy, and faith was written down between three to four thousand years ago. Miriam. Hannah. Judith. What's left is a simple, memorable, and singable melody that captures those emotions. I can imagine arrangements of these songs sung to a solo guitar at a campfire, sung a cappela by friends holding hands, sung on stage or even on a bimah. These aren't Debbie Friedman's liturgical anthems, they're way to intimate. But they have that resonance.

Lucky for me, anyone who sees them live, or can grab their album, we don't have to strip away anything. We get the songs wonderfully performed. Here's a video from a recent concert of one of my favorite of Rabins songs, "Snow." Sorry, the performance I went to tonight was even better than this one. Hey, don't complain. You were invited.

"Snow / Scorpions and Spiders" by Girls in Trouble


The title of this post, by the way, comes from the Girls in Trouble song "Mountain." I couldn't find a video of Mountain that came close to the performance I saw tonight, but this one from their album release party is ok.

For more more info on Girls in Trouble check their Myspace page and JDub Records page. Also check out Rabins other band, the klezmer punk band Golem! and Aaron Hartman's other band Old Time Relijun. There are still a few East Coast dates left on their tour and they'll be heading south in a few months. See them live. That way you can say you were there when it happened.

Update: Check out a second review of last nights show by Detroit writer Des Cooper.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

When you can't find a friend you've still got the radio

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The Jewish radio landscape is constantly shifting, as new shows light up the airwaves and veteran shows go dark. And yeah, I'm talking radio. AM and FM. Broadcast towers and 'on air' lights. DJ who are Disk Jockeys, spinning songs and making snappy patter.

If it sounds like I'm getting romantic about this, it's because I deeply love radio. There's nothing like driving along in your car on a dark night or a sunny afternoon, listening to your buddy the DJ chattering away, knowing a great song is about to spin up. My wife, also a lover of radio, and I have gone on lots of road trips just to get out, get some air, and listen in to a favorite show.

And Jewish radio is stronger now than it's been in a long time. There are community radio stations hosting Jewish programming all over the country. See this blog's left column for the ones I know about. There's probably one near you. And if there isn't, many of them broadcast live via the internet or podcast their shows.

Washington Jewish RadioWashington Jewish Radio. I've recently run across two fantastic shows that are worth calling attention to. The first is Washington Jewish Radio, which is a 2 hour show that broadcasts every Sunday (10am?) and airs on 4 stations. WKHZ/1590 - Ocean City, MD; WCTN/950 Potomac, Washington DC; WYRE/810 Annapolis, Baltimore; and WEMD/1460 Easton, MD. The show is co-hosted by the father and son team of Larry and Ben Shor. As Ben described it to me in an recent email....
"We try to have a diverse mix of US and Israeli music as well as a weekly comedy feature. My Co-Host and Father is Larry Shor, who is the owner of one of the largest Independently owned collections of vintage and modern Jewish Music In the USA. He was also the host of a show called "The Jewish Music Hall" which aired in DC for over 25 years. We are both DC natives, In fact, I am a 6th Generation Washingtonian! Larry is 53 and Is the Mid-Atlantic regional sales manager for Globex Kosher Foods, in Brooklyn. I am 19 and a student At The University of Maryland, College Park."
I've listened to a number of there recent shows, and am a big fan. Partly because of the music mix. Larry is deeply knowledgeable about the history of Jewish music and spins a range of liturgical, comedy, Yiddish pop, and Israeli music recorded over the last 100 years. He digs deep in the bins to present some great stuff. Ben has a good ear for new Jewish music and has already turned me on to a new band (Hello Sid). The other reason I love the show is the patter. Larry has a classic radio voice, pacing, and patter. This is the kind of voice that I want to hear on a road trip, getting me through the miles. I've got a stack of their shows queued up on my iPod just waiting for my next trip. For more info or downloadable podcasts, hit the Washington Jewish Radio website or their facebook fan page.

Radio 613Radio 613's Semitic Soul. The second show I've gotten excited about is Radio 613's Semitic Soul. Coming down from the college town of Kingston, Ontario, Canada....
Radio613 is a collective and radio broadcast dedicated to Jewish politics, culture, and religious life. Diasporic tones find auditory homes through featured interviews, music, readings, discussion, and documentaries. Each week radio613 presents Jewish perspectives on religious/spiritual thought and practice, race and racism, gender and feminisms, anti-semitism, identity politics, colonialism and resistance… and more! Tune in on Mondays from 5-6pm on CFRC 101.9fm in Kingston (www.cfrc.ca)

Semitic Soul is the musical branch of the radio613 collective. DJ Grenadier presents a weekly set of Klezmer/Roma/Balkan/Arab dance and soul music. Tune in on Thursdays from 10-11pm on CFRC 101.9fm in Kingston (www.cfrc.ca)

This is classic freeform college radio. The Semitic Soul set list focuses on great contemporary Jewish and related music, with an emphasis on hot instrumental music of all kinds. Their recent shows have include Teruah favorites Enrico Fink and the Sherele Jazz Band Innovators (Italian and Mexican klezmer jazz bands, respectively), Balkan horn band Boban Markovic and Israeli pop band Balkan Beat Box. They've also opened my ears to arab musicians including Arab Summit and Ali Hassan Kuban. And that's just in one recent show. I have a fantasy of getting these guys down to Ann Arbor to DJ a killer party.

For more information or to download their recent shows, check out the Radio 613 website.

Friday, April 2, 2010

For Realz. Why Jewish music is and isn't camp. A response to Rokhl Kafrissen

12 comments:
I've just read Rokhl Kafrissen's Jewish Currents article "Yiddish American Music: “Camp” or For Real?" (Update..Rokhl just put an updated and expanded version on line.) and am a bit annoyed. The premise of Kafrissen's article is that the eclectic choices that the Reboot Stereophonic label makes are based on a criteria other than what they claim. They claim important moments in Jewish American musical history...they deliver camp, music that can only be loved with a certain conspiratorial giggle. Hey look...the Barry Sisters are singing "Raindrops are Falling on My Head" in Yiddish and wearing fur capes. Yick!

Our Way album cover
In the article, Kafriessen's foil for Reboot Stereophonic is Henry Sapoznik's Sony Legacy reissues, with the rerelease of the klezmer classic "Tanz!" showing up Reboot's re-release of the Barry Sisters "Our Way". Kafriessen spends a good chunk of the article demolishing any possible reason for releasing the Barry Sisters album. It wasn't their best album. It wasn't the best Yiddish interpretation of American pop. It doesn't live up to Reboot's record jacket utopian hype. It can be associated with "anti-klezmer backlash among a certain kind of Jewish hipster." Tanz! on the other hand (quoting Sapoznik), is "fueled by a unity of overall construction that gives Tanz! a thematic coherence years ahead of its time. It is arguably the greatest klezmer record ever issued.” This argument, though, goes unscrutinized both in its detail and in its relevance. I'm not about to challenge Sapoznik about the brilliance of Tanz!. But I am going to challenge Kafriessen about it's relevance to this discussion. The bottom line was that Tanz! and The Barry Sisters 'Our Way' were both released. Arguing that one is a better album is amusing, but ultimately a waste of column inches. They will last or vanish based on their relevance to their audience over time.

More importantly, I see Kafriessen's denigration of Our Way as not a critical victory showing us we don't need camp, but as a fundamental mis-read of American Jewish musical history. Ever since the 1970's, with the wonderful flowering of the klezmer revival, there has developed a foundational myth that klezmer some how exclusively represents legitimate Jewish popular music, with it's deep ties to the pre-war Yiddishkeit culture and it's wonderful, talented, musicians. This is a lovely myth, but it is a myth none-the-less. The musics now categorized as klezmer have every inch the pedigree and musicianship claimed for them, but they do not represent an exclusive flowering of Yiddiskeit musical culture. There is a wide range of musical types ranging from chazzanes (cantorial) to folk songs to Yiddish theater with equally old pedigrees. Secondly, all of these musical forms were mingled with (and helped create) a dizzying array of American and Jewish American forms the moment the musicians hit the shores of the US.

And yes, some of all that was klezmer, but a lot wasn't. And a lot of it was funny, off-kilter, off-color, and theatrical. I adore the "hot licks" of klezmer as much as Kafriessen, but spend a a few minutes in the bins of your favorite used record store (yes, LPs) or with Reboot Stereophics wonderful blog and then book "And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl: The Jewish Past as Told by the Records We Have Loved and Lost" and a very different picture emerges. American Jewish music was, and is, adventurous, exploratory and genre-busting. And, sometimes, to an American Jewish community that struggled to hold on to its identity while rapidly assimilating, it was (and still is) campy...

In my opinion, the Reboot Stereophic re-releases celebrate this. Their release of the Irving Fields Trio's Bagels and Bongos is a window into the lost world of the Jewish Latin music craze. "God is a Moog" may be "unclassifiable" as Kafriessen notes, but it was a brilliant experiment and was inspirational to current generation of electronica artists. And even Our Way is a fun listen, a reminder that our grandparents were pretty much like us. Jewish and American, trying to make sense of both. And they wore leisure suits. Yick.

Kafriessen would have done better to use the wide range of musical styles on Sapoznik's compilation album "From Avenue A to the Great White Way" as a foil. Or to celebrate Micky Katz comedic releases instead of moaning about his unappreciated instrumental recordings. The bottom line is, Kafriessen and other writers about Jewish music would do better to skip the hand wringing, admire klezmer, but knock it down from it's place of privilege in our collective lore, and celebrate the richness and diversity of Jewish music in general, and Jewish American music in particular.


Update...Just for fun, here's a one of my favorite Barry Sisters tracks, recorded in with the extraordinary Cantor Moishe Oysher. I saw it performed recently by some marvelous local Michigan cantors. It was as sexy and wild on stage as it is on record.

HALEVAI - Moishe Oysher and The Barry Sisters