Friday, February 27, 2009

3 Niggunim

Shabbat shalom everyone. This week's "get in the Shabbat grove" video has three new niggunim composed by YouTube user Zitzen1, the proprietor of the website The site is interesting but rather confusingly laid out. If I understand it properly, Zitzen1 is an advocate of building a new Beis Hamikdosh (Holy Temple) right now in Israel. That's not a thought I'm comfortable with, at least not unless the moshiach comes really soon (which something I'm not holding my breath about either.) But each to his own.


Camp Rock -The Music of Reform Youth

Photograph of Cantor WallyI was recently pointed to a great article on the history of Reform Jewish youth camp music. According to the author, Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin, the Reform youth camps movement "began with the founding of the National Federation of Temple Youth in 1939 ... to foster and maintain a network of temple youth groups, which stresses both religious and educational programming." Hitting it's stride in the early 1950's Reform camp music incorporated a blend of American popular folk (Weavers, Kingston Trio) and protest songs, Yiddish folk songs, Israeli "hialutznik" songs, along with "some hymns from the old Union Songster." The music was embedded in the daily life of the camps and was structured around singalongs led by older youth, often with guitar or banjo accompaniment.

According to Cantor Wally, from this start the music evolved to follow the style of the day, often with a bit of a time lag. In the 1960's it embraced protest music in the style of Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, and Woody Guthrie. In the 1970's it engaged the electrified pop-rock of Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle, and Joan Baez. The 70's also brought to the forefront the first serious professional camp songleaders and composers, including familiar names like Debbie Friedman, Jeff Klepper, and Michael Isaacson. As Cantor Wally notes, "Echoing the rise in Jewish ethnic pride, camp music nationwide saw a strong shift in the early ‘70s from what had been 80% brotherhood songs to 95% Hebrew (with "Sabbath Prayer", from the musical "Fiddler on the Roof", thrown in on Friday night)." The 1980's saw a decline in songleading and camp music, as the camps struggled with out-of-date songbooks and a generation of campers that were more used to rock concerts than folk music singalongs. This decline was addressed by the end of the decade and through the 1990's by a series of songleading workshops, new songbooks, and a new generation of professional songleaders such as Craig Taubman who could incorporate electric guitar, keyboards, and drums into their music.

Debbie Friedman - Lechi Lach

This Debbie Friedman video exemplifies the contemporary songleader approach, mixing participatory singing with rock instrumentation, Hebrew with English lyrics, and a stage presence that facilitates and instructs.

In addition to tracing the history of the camps in isolation Cantor Wally connects their development to that of the Reform synagogue liturgy, noting "the tremendous impact the participatory style of the camping movement." He quotes that "Synagogues tend to be "10-15 years behind the camps as far as change. Whatever was a trend in the camps, it takes a generation to find its way into the synagogue." That said, Cantor Wally is quick to point out that the contemporary Reform synagogue is not last decade's camp. In addition to the integration of camp melodies and styles, it also incorporates a mix a traditional Reform Hebrew hymns, Chazzanut, and art song. But "[t]he 'gap' between the worship style of camps and synagogues is shrinking."

My one frustration with the article, and this is a "great stuff, give me more" kind of frustration, is that it presents a picture of Reform camp music evolution as being disconnected with the similar evolutions in the other Jewish movements. For example, the camp service songlist that Cantor Wally provides includes a number of Chassidic songs from Reb Shlomo Carlebach. There is no discussion of however, of how Carlebach's music represented a parallel evolution in Chassidic music that had a similar impact on Chassidic and Orthodox liturgy. While completely chronicling the evolution in Jewish liturgical music across the wide spectrum of Jewish movement over the last century is clearly a much larger task than Cantor Wally was attempting to take on, it would have been illuminating to see where Cantor Wally felt these evolutions actually influenced each other.

As a quick final note, like the article "American Yiddish Instrumental Fusion Music in the 1950s and 1960s" I mentioned in my post "Recovering the Yiddish Cha Cha," "The Music of Reform Youth" represents an academic masters thesis and has, at times, a slightly academic tone. But that tone never gets in the way, making this a highly informative and highly engaging article.

Update: A blog reader just informed me that "The Complete NFTY Recordings: 1972-1989 (5 CD Set)" is available from URJ Books & Music. NFTY is the National Federation of Temple Youth mentioned above and at the core of the Reform camp movement. Here's the URJ blurb...
"The long-awaited collection of the seven original NFTY recordings is finally here! All original record albums have been digitized and remastered for superior sound in this 5CD set. Includes 28-page full-color booklet with complete album histories, a historical essay from NFTY-ite Elyssa Mosbacher and track/songwriter information. Discover the rich history of NFTY and URJ camp music - a little bit of Jewish liturgy, a little Israeli folk and some American folk music all mixed into one."
Hat tip to Jewish musician and educator Adrian Durlester for pointing me to the article.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jeremy Gimbel & Shira Tirdof: Let It Happen

Here's a fun video from the San Diego Reform song leader Jeremy Gimbel and his band Shira Tirdof. It's a cut from the lead track Salaam Achshav his new album "Let It Happen." Here's the official blurb for the album...
"Let it Happen, the second studio album from Jeremy Gimbel & Shira Tirdof, presents two meaningful sides of Jewish music. The first half -- "Side A" -- includes five songs that each tell a story. "Salaam Achshav" is about our need to stop merely talking about peace and working together towards our common goals. "Only Start" is a ballad of the possible unrequited love between Eliezer, Abraham's slave who finds Isaac a wife, and Rebecca, the future wife of Isaac. "Joe's Blues" is what Joseph would have sung if his brothers left him with a guitar after they abandoned him. "Make it Through" imagines what was going through Miriam's mind right before the Israelites crossed the sea out of Egypt. Lastly, "By A River" is a melancholy song of the Israelites' emotions after the destruction of the Temple. The second half -- "Side B" -- includes five songs that are musical settings of Jewish prayers. "L'cha Dodi," "Eitz Chayim Hi," and "Adon Olam" are upbeat and fun versions of classic prayers. "Sh'ma" and "Elohai N'tzor" are slower but bring out the emotion of the prayers. All of these melodies are easy to sing by yourself or with a group. Listen and try to open your mind to the possibilities these stories and melodies possess. Let it Happen."
Jeremy Gimbel & Shira Tirdof: Salaam Achshav

You can get more information about Gimbel at his website.

Klezmafour's Ten Numer

What do you get when you get busy and don't look at YouTube in a couple of weeks ...over 800 videos some how related to Jewish music to sort through. Whew. While some are mislabeled or of little interest, there's a lot of great stuff out there. And it just comes on coming.

Here's one video that caught my attention. It's the Polish Klezmer group Klezmafour playing "Ten Numer," a new composition by clarinetist Wojtek Czapliński, at DK ŚWIT in Warsaw. Enjoy...

Klezmafour's Ten Numer

You can find out more about Klezmafour at their website.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Yitzhak Yedid performs Bakashot of Shabbat in Australia

Hi folks,

Here's my weekly, get in the Shabbat groove, video. This week, I found a video of Israeli composer and pianist Yitzhak Yedid performing a bakashot. I'd explain what the means, but YouTube user AlanBreat provided an extensive description (see below).

Yitzhak Yedid performs Bakashot of Shabbat in Australia

UPDATE: It seems I have a short memory. I just realized I posted this video back in June. Sigh.

From the YouTube video notes....
"Acclaimed Israeli composer pianist & improviser Yitzhak Yedid who was born in Jerusalem as the son of immigrant Syrian Jews.

Yedid performances in Australia included Piyutim from the Bakashot supplication.

The Bakashot (or "baqashot", שירת הבקשות) are a collection of supplications, songs, and prayers that have been sung by the Sephardic Aleppian Jewish community and other congregations for centuries each week on Shabbat morning from midnight until dawn. Usually they are recited during the weeks of winter, when the nights are much longer. The duration of the services is usually about four hours. The Ades Synagogue, Jerusalem, is the center of this practice today.

The custom of singing Baqashot originated in Spain towards the time of the expulsion, but took on increased momentum in the Kabbalistic circle in Safed in the 16th century. Baqashot probably evolved out of the tradition of saying petitionary prayers before dawn and was spread from Safed by the followers of Isaac Luria (16th century). With the spread of Safed Kabbalistic doctrine, the singing of Baqashot reached countries all round the Mediterranean and became customary in the communities of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Rhodes, Greece, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Turkey and Syria. It also influenced the Kabbalistically oriented confraternities in 18th-century Italy, and even became customary for a time in Sephardic communities in western Europe, such as Amsterdam and London, though in these communities it has since been dropped. By the turn of the 20th century Baqashot had become a widespread religious practice in several communities in Jerusalem as a communal form of prayer.

In communities such as those of Aleppo, Turkey and Morocco, the singing of Baqashot expanded to vast proportions. In those countries special books were compiled (such as "Shir Yedidot" in Morocco), showing the tunes and maqamat together with the text of the hymns, in order to facilitate the singing of Baqashot by the congregation. In these communities it was customary to rise from bed in the night on Shabbat in the winter months, when the nights are longer, and assemble in synagogue to sing Baqashot for four hours until the time for the morning service.
In Aleppo, Syria this custom seems to go back about 500 years. Most of the community would arise at 3:00AM to sing Baqashot and to listen to the voices of the Hazanim, Paytanim, and Meshorerim. When they arrived at Mizmor Shir LeYom HaShabbat they would break to listen to a sermon by one of the Rabbis who discussed the Perashah of the week. When he concluded they would begin Mizmor Shir LeYom HaShabbat and sing all the rest of the Baqashot.

The Syrian tradition was introduced to Jerusalem by Raphael Altaras, who came to that city from Aleppo in 1845 and founded a Baqashot circle at the Kehal Tsiyon synagogue. In this way the custom of Baqashot became part of the mainstream Jerusalem Sephardic tradition. Another important influence was Jacob Ades (1857-1925), who immigrated to Jerusalem in 1895 and introduced the tradition to the Persian and Bukharan communities. The main centre of the tradition today is the Ades Synagogue in Nachlaot, where the leading spirit was Shaul Aboud, a pupil of Moshe Ashear.

The Aleppian Baqashot did not only reach Jerusalem. The Jews of Aleppo took this custom with them wherever they went: to Turkey, Cairo, Mexico, Argentina and Brooklyn, New York. Each of these communities preserved this custom in the original Halabi style without all the changes and embellishments that have been added to the Baqashot by Jerusalem cantors over the years. Though these communities don't perform the Baqashot on a weekly basis, nevertheless, they use the melodies of the Baqashot throughout Saturday morning prayers."

Budowitz documentary

Here is a short documentary about Budowitz, one of my favorite klezmer ensembles.

From Mojo.Com

"In this video discover Budowitz, the groundbreaking traditional ensemble of klezmer music. Since its founding in 1995, Budowitz has featured over 20 musicians in its performances and recordings, including the late Jewish cultural icons, Cili Schwartz and Majer Bogdanski. They have won a number of awards including BBC's Critics Circle award for best CD and the British Songlines Magazine's "Top of the World" award. For more information click Here"

"In this video we learn about the music of Budowitz, which features kaleidoscopic renditions of folk music molded into the unique personal group style from the regions of Bessarabia, Galitsia and Bukovina."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Recovering the Yiddish Cha-Cha

I'm currently reading Matt Temkin's fabulous masters thesis, "American Yiddish Instrumental Fusion Music in the 1950s and 1960s." In the thesis, Temkin takes on the much maligned (then and now) period of Jewish American music between WWII, after the heyday of Yiddish theater music, big synagogue Chazzanut, imported old-world klezmer and it's off-shoot Yiddish swing, to the 1970's with the advent of the klezmer revival and the rise of Jewish folk liturgical music, including Debbie Friedman in the Reform community and Reb Shlomo Carlebach in the Chassidic). What filled that 30 year void? According to Temkin, it's fusion - Yiddish with Cuban dance rhythms, klezmer with jazz, which he describes as "serious art and important landmarks of the 20th century cultural fluidity." Temkin explores this period through detailed analyses of five representative albums, Sammy Musiker & Dave Tarras; Tanz!, Mickey Katz; Mickey Katz Plays Music for Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and Brisses, Irving Fields; Bagels and Bongos, Terry Gibbs; Jewish Melodies in Jazztime, and Shelly Manne; My Son The Jazz Drummer!

While it lacks the visual appeal of Roger Bennett and Josh Kun's "And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl: The Jewish Past as Told by the Records We Have Loved and Lost," it may well be the better read. Temkin is a good writer, with a gentle even prose style that compensates for the academic orientation of the thesis. Tune out the foot-notes and squint through chapter titles like "New Fusions of Yiddish and American Musical Forms, 1945-1970" and you'll find passages such as
"Today the counter-culture has turned into the old guard and one of the standard-bearers of the community. We know them as the Hasidim. While they are still concerned with the separation of the holy and profane, they understand the impact that music can have on people, and were willing to bring instrumental (and vocal) music into their community as long as it was used for holy purposes.[20]

Silence is Better than Speech

But Song is Better than Silence

—Hasidic Saying[21]"

"Irving Fields could play every style and tune that the consumer wanted. The Latin music was just the ritornello of his ventures that is remembered. Bagels and Bongos came out of a idea Fields had while working in Boston, and a couple different versions of the story are told. In one version, after hearing a Jewish radio program on the air the day before, he tells his drummer to play a rumba, and over this he played “Raisins and Almonds.”[2] It worked: the Jewish tam (feeling) was still there and at the same time it was danceable. The second story is that someone in the audience starting dancing a rumba to a Jewish tune that Fields was playing as a fox trot.[3] Fields changed the tune to a rumba and more people got up and danced."
All in all, it's one of the best histories of American Jewish music I've read, with a focus on secular instrumental music. And it echos a point made by other cultural historians who note that while we remember the cultural peaks of our societies for their heights, it's the chaotic periods between the great peaks where the real adventures take place. Like the adventures we're having right now in Jewish music. The heights of the klezmer revival have been reached, the folk liturgical vein has been well mined, the Orthodox shiny shoe simcha music territory has been well mapped. And what's explosion in fusion forms - Jewish hip-hop, reggae, rock, punk, ambient, heavy-metal, chamber music. All what Temkin describes as "co-territorial" (in the same geographic territory) fusions. What will be the great heights that come out of this burst of creativity...don't know. But it'll be fun to listen to.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More on Yiddishe Cup's Ark Show

Last week I wrote about the Yiddishe Cup show I caught at the Ann Arbor Ark. It was a fun show, but don't feel left out! The band just uploaded a couple of video's from the show for your enjoyment.

Klezmer Hip Hop

Yiddishe Cup - "Hallelujah" (w/ Gerald Ross)

I'm having an interesting discussion right now with a fellow, Mark Rubin, who isn't much of a fan of Yiddishe Cup and other kitschy klezmer show bands. As far as I'm concerned, each to their own. There's room for lots of different kinds of Jewish music and a night of easy, but well-played, goofiness can be just what the doctor ordered. A steady diet of high art can get a bit overbearing. To Mark's point, though, I should mention that the "klezmer hip hop" in the video above was a fun goof, but not the real deal. For a much more serious (and still fun) take on klezmer hip hop, you should check out David Krakuer's collaborations with Socalled & Socalled's solo work). For Jewish hip hop in general, Y-love is king, though Matisyahu's recent EP "Shattered" shifts from reggae to hip-hop in big way with great results.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tevye's Dream: The Jewish Thriller

Twitter is like the best cocktail party you've ever been to. All the cool kids are there, and we're invited too. While I get in (meaning listen in on) lots of fascinating discussions (really), mostly I live for comments like this....

jimmiebjrjimmiebjr: The "Mazel Tov" dream song from Fiddler is like the Russian Jewish version of Thriller.

Maybe it isn't deep, but it's true. And that counts for something. I couldn't find a Thriller video I could include in the post, but you can catch it at YouTube. Here's the scene from Fiddler.

Fiddler on the roof - Tevye´s Dream

I mean, really. Will you ever watch Fiddler in quite the same way again? Thanks Jimmiebjr.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Composer Aaron Blumenfeld

Shabbat Shalom everyone,

For my weekly 'get in the Shabbat groove' music, I thought I'd showcase composer Aaron Blumenfeld. I was just introduced to Mr. Blumenfeld's music, so I haven't really had a chance to take it all in. But that's no reason to hold off. Here are couple of great pieces that are definitely worth sharing, plus a little info on Mr. Blumenfeld.

Blumenfeld's "Psalm 130"

Blumenfeld's "Kel Echod"

From his website...

"I am the son of a noted Talmudic scholar and Rabbi and was raised in a devout, Orthodox Jewish environment. The songs my family sang at the Sabbath table as well as the cantorial music I heard in the synagogue during my early years (including performances by many famous cantors) were my first and most impressionable musical experiences. These are my musical roots.

As I matured, my intense interest and activities in the field of Jewish music progressed. I gradually gained experience in the field of Jewish music as a synagogue choir director, cantor and teacher of Jewish music and as a student of cantorial music at Yeshiva University as well as the Theological Seminary of America.

Later, as part of my requirements for my M.A. degree in music composition at Rutgers University, New Brunswick I composed an extensive symphonic work called EZK’ROH ( “I Remember”) based upon a legendary nigun ( a religious Hebrew song) composed by the sainted Modzitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Israel Taub. In 1980 EZK’ROH was performed with great success in Oakland under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of the East Bay.

After EZK’ROH I produced an abundance of Jewish music, including two holocaust memorial symphonies, 301 Chassidic songs and recently my two Yiddish operas, PAGIEL & BATHSHEVA and RACHEL, portions of which have been performed at various venues in Berkeley California."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lil Rev: Fiddler on the Roof Meets Oh Brother Where Art Thou

Ok, Lil' Rev isn't quite a Jewish cowboy (I have a thing for Jewish cowboys) but a guy from Milwaukee who can alternate between Jewish and Israeli classics and American old-timey music, all while wearing a straw hat and playing a mean ukulele is ok in my book. Here's Lil Rev's puff...
"Come along on a fascinating journey and celebrate the best of Jewish Folk Music, Lore, and Stories with award-winning folk Singer Lil Rev.Combining the spirit of these two musical tales, Lil Rev carries the listener back in time as we ride upon th coat-tails of those gone down before; from our early arrival as Immigrant Jews in the late 1800's to the traveling stories of a modern day troubadour we'll explore many themes dear to our hearts as American Jews including songs of home, love, struggle, triumph, dreams made good, hope and faith."
Here are some clips from one of his show, "The Jews of Tin Pan Alley". He also does a show called "Scraps of Quilting Music" that "weaves a unique tapestry of songs, stories, poems and Quilting Lore," plays in the band Frogwater, and does a variety of workshops and programs. To learn more about them or to pick up a Lil' Rev CD, check out his website.

The Jews of Tin Pan Alley by Lil' Rev

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Meester Amerika: A New All-American Musical about 1920's Yiddish Theatre

There's a new musical comedy in town. If you're in the New York /New Jersey area, you'll definitely want to check this out. You can get more info and buy tickets from the Garage Theater Group website. The producers were gracious enough to spot me a rehearsal recording, so you can get a feel for the show....

"A Little Love in Big Manhattan" from "Meester Amerika". Music by Artie Bressler, Lyrics by Michael Colby and sung by Amy London. (sample)

UPDATE: Here's a first newspaper article on the show, "Local Man Puts Words into Music" by Enid Weiss for the Edison Metuchen Sentinel and "MEESTER AMERIKA Brings Yiddish Theater Back To Life" from the Broadway World news desk.

STEVE STERNER as Benjamin Rubin singing 'it shouldn't happen to a dog' in Meester Amerika

STEVE STERNER as Benjamin Rubin singing "It Shouldn't Happen to a Dog" in "Meester Amerika" (photo by Justin Bias)

Here's the full press release: "A musical comedy—evoking 1920s Yiddish Theatre—so adorable you'll want to pinch everyone's cheek (and not just the showgirls). It spotlights a “royal family” of 2nd Avenue and their jazz-singing son who really wants to be a cantor. A funny, tuneful show for the whole family.
Jeff Keller will star as "Marcus Rose," the Thomashevsky-like patriarch of this royal theatre family; Keller's Broadway credits include PHANTOM OF THE OPERA [often playing the lead, as Michael Crawford's original understudy], SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, ON THE 20TH CENTURY, and THE 1940S RADIO HOUR, for which he was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. Playing other theatrical family members are Amy London (part of the original jazz quartet in the Tony-winning CITY OF ANGELS) and Steve Sterner (KUNI LEML, YENTL, YIDDLE WITH A FIDDLE, Folksbiene's PIRATES OF PENZANCE). The family's rising young star "Joey Rose" is played by David B. Perlman (ALTAR BOYZ and the title role in the award-winning CALVIN BERGER).

The zany cast is rounded out by Ben Rauch (of TV's Ed and Strangers with Candy, SPRING AWAKENING, etc.); Garage Theatre favorites, Clifton Lewis and Jerry Lazar; Malorie Charak, Rachel Kurland, and Melissa Schoenberg.

MEESTER AMERIKA will be directed by Michael Bias. Bias is the Founder and Artistic/Producing Director of The Garage Theatre Group, where, since 1993, he has directed and produced more than 45 plays and musicals. Choreography is by Marilyn Woodhull Cervino, and musical direction by Victoria Casella.

Composer Artie Bressler made his Broadway debut writing incidental music to the Tony-winning, original production of CRIMES OF THE HEART. Librettist Jennifer Berman has spent the last 25 years, working on Broadway and in television. Michael Colby's credits include CHARLOTTE SWEET (Drama Desk Award nomination, "Outstanding Lyrics").

The show will run for three weeks:
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm
Tickets: $35/general admission, $30/students and seniors
"Pay Whatever You Can" Night, Friday, February 13th
$15 student rush seats nightly (except February 14th)
Group sales available and welcome
Open Captioning on Thursday, February 19th (see note below)
Free parking at FDU

A gem of a show! Don't miss out!

MEESTER AMERIKA performance photos by Justin Bias."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Wolf Krakowski & "Buddy, Have a Smoke With Me"

Wolf Krakowski is one of my heavy rotation guys. His albums are equally steeped in Yiddish folk and in gritty American roots rock. What's not to love? So I was delighted when I got an email from him recently about a great fan video that was put together by a guy named Kenitsa in Russia for Wolf's song "Kum, Gib-zhe Khaver A Roykher Ton" ("Buddy, Have a Smoke With Me") from his CD "Goyrl: Destiny." "Have a Smoke" is a Russian patriotic song circa the Second World War and Kenitsa did a great job assembling some vintage WWII photo's to build the video. So why is a Yiddish musician playing a Russian song? There's a story there...but first the video.

"Давай закурим" Wolf Krakowski

Now the story. According to Wolf, Davaj Zakurim Cigarette Package"The song's original title is "Davaj Zakurim" [by Russian songwriters Ilya Frenkl and Modest Tabachnikov] which translates as "Let's Smoke," a brand name for a cigarette that is still being manufactured -- with a graphic of a Russian soldier on the package. There are several free downloads of Russian versions from Russian mP3 sites [such as "Our Victory Day By Day"]. I'm not sure (but I think it makes sense) that the cigarette brand itself came about -probably soon after the War - after the song. In other words, the song says: "Buddy, Have a Smoke with Me," and it's popularity spawned a brand called (what else?) "Buddy, Have A Smoke With Me."

There were a lot of Jews in the Red Army and of course among the Partisans, so it was only natural for a real good song to be translated. You might say I have an affinity for this song. My father was a =plutovny= a rank between a sergeant and a lieutenant in Wanda Wasilewska's Brigade, -- Jewish Poles who fought under Rokossovski, the Russian Eisenhower.

[Yiddish translator Shmerke ] Kaczerginski had a lot to do with smuggling much of the contents of the YIVO (library/archive) from Vilna/Vilnius to New York - under the eyes of the Nazis. He collected, translated and wrote songs, too. I have recorded some of his songs; last March, I re-recorded "Friling" (Springtime) for Rough Guide to Klezmer Revolution. To me (and I admit I am biased) this is the world's greatest loves song - ever. It was written for his wife, who was captured and murdered by the Nazis. We only know her name was Barbara Kaufman and she hailed from Krakow. Kaczerginski moved to Brazil after the war and went down in a plane crash 1954 while on a book tour."
Hat tip to YouTube user Kenitsa for posting the video. For more info on Krakowski see my previous blog post or his website,

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Yiddishe Cup at the Ann Arbor Ark

The Yiddishe Cup in actionLast night my wife and I had a nice treat. The wigglers were being happily baby-sat and we were on the town, Ann Arbor, Michigan to be specific. Yiddishe Cup*, the clown princes of klezmer, were back for their annual circus, and that is not something to miss. Yiddishe Cup is a delight to see live. Their stage show chronicles and fractures the history of Jewish music in America, mixing pre-war European klezmer melodies with postware Yinglish Borcht Belt show tunes, 1950's Jewish Latin-craze Mambo's, and 1980's world-beat fusions, all in an off-kilter, good natured, get-the-back-row dancing melange that Mickey Katz would have loved. Have you ever seen a group of hora dancers break into an Irish jig? A straight up klezmer tune with a Hawaiian lap guitar solo or a Tuvan throat singing intro? I saw all that an more last night. Definately a show to remember.

And Yiddishe Cup is generous with their stage. Band leader Bert Stratton not only had his son Jack playing drums, a regular occurance as I understand it, but gave Jack stage time for his own band, hastily named "The Boychicks" just before show time. The Boychicks had time for two fine pieces, the first was well played but a bit stiff, focusing on the interplay between Jack's drums and clarinetist Jeff Simon's melodic runs. The second song loosened up and lept out, giving the foursome (which included Justin Douglas on guitar and Chris Hagar on bass) a lot more room to stretch and explore. I talked to the Boys during the break and am hoping to get a recording of that piece into my next podcast. Loved it. In addition to the Boychicks, Yiddishe Cup invited the excellent lap steel guitarist (and Ann Arborite) Gerald Ross to join them for the Hawaiian numbers and invited commedian Seymour Posner for a bit of Catskills Jewish humor. Posner, in particular, stole the show and left us in stiches.

I do have a few minor complaints about the show, but these fall into the 'your milage may vary' category. While I enjoyed the performance thoroughly, I also felt that it never quite came together. I'm not sure if it was the audience being too polite and concert-hallish (though there was some great dancing going on) or the guys taking a while to loosen up or the particular configuration of the band last night (the trombonist doubled on violin, often leaving the band a bit thinly supported by a rhythm section of just drums and keyboards). Whatever it was, I left the show wanting more in both the sense of wanting the show to go on another hour and in the sense of wanting it just a bit tighter. Like I said, though, your milage may vary. There were an awful lot of happy faces on the way out of Ark last night and a lot folks (including me) who were already looking forward to next years show.

You can find out more about Yiddishe Cup, including their tour schedule, their available CD's, and booking information at the Yiddishe Cup website, CD Baby, and iTunes. There are also a couple of funny videos chronicling Yiddishe Cup playing at a Jewish weddings at YouTube (Video 1, Video 2). Check 'em out.

* I got into a discussion with a couple of people about the origin of the term Yiddishe Cup. While I don't know the story of how the band adopted the term, here's an explanation of the term itself from Postitive Anymore, a blog on American dialects and Yiddish:
"yidisher kop," (it varies slightly in different dialects, and "yidish kop" is one such dialectal alternative) which literally means "Jewish head," and figuratively means "innate intelligence." There is a related expression, "goyisher kop," (gentile head) that means, not surprisingly, "innate stupidity." ... Don't be too shocked by the overt bigotry of these phrases; every culture on Earth has at some point decided that it is superior to all others; why should Jews be an exception? You don't have to like bigotry, nor, of course, should you, but our outrage at the presence of bigoted sentiments in the traditional stock phrases of a given language should be minimal."

Alan Mason Chai

I just got back from the Yiddishe Cup show (which I'll write up tomorrow) and found an email in my inbox pointing me to a great concert video. It's a tribute to Dr. Alan Mason, Music Director of Miami's Reform Temple Israel on the occasion of Mason's 18th year with the temple. According to the email, there were 23 cantors and soloists participating. The video is almost 40 minutes long so grab a cup of tea and settle in for the show.

Alan Mason Chai

Hat Tip to Blip.Tv user Robert for posting the video and letting me know about it. If the video doesn't play, you can catch it over at Blip.TV

Friday, February 6, 2009

Jeremiah Lockwood Interview by WNET Channel 13

One more quick bit before Shabbat...

Channel 13 WNET profiles Jeremiah Lockwood of Sway Machinery.
"Veteran subway-performing Blues singer Jeremiah Lockwood teams up with an all-star cast of NY underground greats (musicians who have graced the records of Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Antibalas, to name a few) to summon voices from beneath the concrete streets. Calling upon the sounds of Malian guitars, Saharan beats, Afro-pop horns and the B-L-U-E-S, The Sway Machinery goes knocking at the gates of prayer with muscles swollen and eyes clenched."

I highly recommend you check out the Sway Machinery album Hidden Melodies Revealed over at JDub Records. Love it.

Shivi Keller - Adonai Melech

Shabbat shalom, everyone.

It's been a week and I'm looking forward a little quiet. But to close out the week I wanted to post my usual get in the Shabbat groove video. I thought I'd use is as an opportunity to explore Na Nach music a bit more. I've been exchanging email with one of the folks responsible for and was recommended Israeli musician Shivi Keller. (Others too, and I'll introduce them in their own posts over the next couple of weeks). According to my NaNach correspondent Keller "has the sweetest music (and only one eye thanks to our cousins) and has 2 or 3 Nanach givald givald Nanach songs and in general the Nanach enjoy his music." Keller put an album out in 2004 called Ein Od Milvado. The album is supposed to be available from the Israeli Gal Paz website, but my Hebrew being a bit weak (understatement of the day), I haven't confirmed it yet. In the mean time you can catch a nice interview with him about it over at Israel Beat and a bunch more videos on YouTube.

shivi keller adonai melech

For more info on Na Nach, see my previous blog post. Hat Tip to YouTube user shinshinmem for uploading the video.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Klezphonics - Klezmer from the Land of Coffe Milk

I'm from Connecticut originally and nothing get's me more excited than Jewish music happening anywhere in that stretch between New York and Boston that we used to (mostly) lovingly refer to as "the nowhere in the middle of somewhere." Rhode Island and almost all of Massachusetts west of Worcester qualifies, too. I used to spend a lot of time in Rhode Island when I was in college driving to Providence on weekends for concerts at the Living Room.

That's why I was laughing for hours at the line in the Klezphonics rewrite of the classic Jewish music song Romania...
On every corner, a Dunkin’ Donuts is sighted/Where every government official’s indicted.
Oh Little Rhody is so small, a 15-minute drive’s a haul/The highway system is a fright, with crazy curves and a big termite.
Ok. I don't get the termite part and they didn't mention Coffee Milk. But the rest matches my memories of Rhode Island perfectly. I got turned on to the Klezphonics last week when band clarinetist Marc Adler sent me a link to an article by Jim McGraw in the Barrington Times (available on line at the website). I enjoyed the article and the accompanying video (see below). The Klezphonics, who are "big on the library and nursing home circuit," have a nice sound and seem to be having a lot of fun adding a little Yiddishkeit to the Ocean State. I hope I have a chance to catch a show next time I'm back east.

UPDATE: Amy from the Klezphonics just emailed me to remind me (how could I have forgotten) about the world's biggest termite. According to Amy, "Visible from Rt. 95, south of downtown Providence, just past the infamous Thurbers Ave. curve, sits an extermination company, atop of which resides an enormous termite statue. In December, the termite is adorned with Christmas lights and a red nose ala Rudolph. This statue is as famous in RI as the Independent Man on the State Capitol. "

The Klezphonics

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Siman Tov Orchestra: Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman

I received a nice Facebook message just before Shabbat last week from Uzi of the Toronto based Simon Tov Orchestra. He's part of a Chassidic simcha band and he invited me to check out some of the videos of his group at a recent party. Chassid's are serious about their dancing and dance music so I had high hopes and wasn't disappointed. What fun! Like many Chassid simcha bands, Siman Tov is centered around a 'one-man-band' keyboard that pretty much does everything but dice tomatoes. But even a Ferrari needs a good driver, and Uzi and co do a great job. The keyboard is backed up with a solid woodwind player and the two vocalists are great fun. Here's a video of the band in action (and of the simcha in full swing). The joint was jumping. One of these days I'd really love to have the opportunity to participate in a Chassid simcha like this. The little tastes of it I've gotten at my local Chabbad house have been wonderful.

UPDATE: YouTube user Hatzadikim added info on the band members to the YouTube video so I thought I'd add it hear as well. The band that night was Shmulik Weiss on piano, Shlomo Simcha Sufferin on voice, Moshe Feder on sax, and Uzi Smilovich on flute. Thanks Hatzadkim.

Siman Tov Orchestra

One thing that piqued my interest in Uzi's email was his sign-off "Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman." I'd seen that formulation before but honestly had no idea what it referred to. Here's the scoop. According to the write up in Wikipedia...
"Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman (Hebrew: נ נח נחמ נחמן מאומן‎) is a Hebrew language mantra used by some sub-groups of the Breslov group of Hasidic Jews. The complete phrase is Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me'uman. It is a sound poem based on the four Hebrew letters of the name Nachman, referring to the founder of the Breslov movement, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, along with a reference to his burial place in Uman, Ukraine."
Be Happy Be BreslovThat's a useful but dreary encyclopedic definition. Here's a better one from the "Na Nachs" (what this group of Breslov's call themselves.)

"Na Nach Nachmu Nachman Me-Uman is this holy melody that can lift us from our dreary existence to the height of faith and belief in God!"

'Na Nach Nachmu Nachman Me-Uman' is the name of our holy leader Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Through a note he sent in a miraculous manner to Rabbi Israel Dov Odesser (called 'Saba' or 'Saba Israel'), Rabbi Nachman revealed that his name is the Song that is Single (Na - נ), Doubled (Nach - נח), Tripled (Nachmu - נחמ), and Quadrupled (Nachman - נחמן).

Great tzadikim (holy sages) preceding Rabbi Nachman's time spoke of the Song that will be revealed in the future, among them Rabbi Yonason ben Uziel (in his translation of Shir Hashirim – the Song of Songs, in the first verse) and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Master of the Zohar and Tikunay Zohar). These tzadikim explained that before the coming of the Messiah, there will be revealed a song that is Single, Doubled, Tripled, and Quadrupled, and that through this Song the true faith and belief in God will be restored in the world as God will renew the world in His wondrous ways. All of this will occur before the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah himself will sing this song and redeem the Jewish People and bring the Knowledge of God, peace, and compassion to the whole world."

And sing they do. The internet is well stocked with Na Nach music in a variety of styles. Diwon, of Shemspeed, recently hosted a "Na Nach Trance Party" (hop over there and grab some free downloads). In Israel, they dance to "Na Nach Techno." Here's Yisrael Dagan and the Na Nach choir singing.You can listen into Radio Breslev (which this afternoon had 30 minutes of earnest spiritual music like Yisrael Dagan's followed by a poppy cover of Tom Waits "Jockey Full of Burbon." Go figure.) You can also score a small treasure trove of Na Nach music files from (I'm assuming that all the music there is legal for download.)

And of course, you can find more info about Na Nach at NaNach.Net and For more info on Breslov Chassidim in general, check out And don't forget to check out the Siman Tov Orchestra's website, particularly if you're in the Toronto area.

5$ CD Sale at Craig N' Company

Craig And Company SaleI don't do a lot of advertising but I thought I'd pass this one along... From Craig n' Co "Even if the markets are down...we've found a way to lift your spirits! This week only, every CD is $5!"

Craig 'n Co "produces award winning Jewish and Children's music as well as live concert events around the country." They've got a pretty interesting assortment of CD's including Craig Taubman's own discs (Friday Night Live is my favorite), Shira Klein and Todd Herzog's latest recordings, a range of great sampler discs including Celebrate Yiddish and Celebrate Passover, the Hanukkah Lounge and Hanukkah Live! discs, My Jewish Discover and My Newish Jewish Discovery (my kids favorite), and lots more. For 5 bucks, you can stock up.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Rebecca Teplow's Kaveh

I received an email recently asking me to announce Rebecca Teplow's new album, "Kaveh / Hope". I sat on it a while I waited for Teplow to get her website in order, but now that she has I'm delighted pass along the link. I haven't heard the whole album, just the sample clips, but I'm pretty impressed with what I've heard. Teplow has a painterly approach to song writing, one that layers the tiny precise brush-strokes of her clear and controlled voice over large voluptuous brush-strokes of shifting musical genres and textures. Which means that she can do the neat trick of swinging between cabaret, folk, and rock sounds without sounding contrived, clearly drawing on the different emotional strengths of each.

Teplow describes her approach likes this..
"People gain an image of what my music is about without reference to Hebrew. This is because the words are so vividly linked to the musical techniques used. For instance, in Kaveh, the hope that we are trying to hold onto when we are in a desperate situation is presented in the opening notes of "Kaveh" (which means "hope") with a series of dissonant chord clusters. When the words move into "strengthen yourself and G-d will instill courage in your heart", there is a strong resolution of the dissonance presented. Another example is present in the rhythmic drive of "Nachon Libi" (which means "steadfast is my heart") reflecting your heart racing towards G-d presence in your life, as if you are singing to G-d with your whole being. It is an announcement that you are ready for a spiritual connection. I will sing music even with my soul. The beat is awakening the world to G-d's presence in their life."
Here are a couple of samples. Check 'em out.

Teplow's "Nachon Libi" (sample)

Teplow's "Min Hametzar" (sample)

For more info or to order, visit her website or CD Baby.