The Arty Semite

Reconciling Enemies: Jazz Sax and Flute Player Lew Tabackin

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
Dirk Stockmans

Veteran sax and flute player Lew Tabackin, a product of South Philadelphia, is one of the “Jazz Jews” discussed in Mike Gerber’s new book of that name. Tabackin performs in a quartet with his wife, the noted pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, and will appear from June 29 to July 3 at Birdland.

Though Tabackin did not come from a musical family, his parents paid for music lessons and his mother took him to Philadelphia’s grandiose, now-demolished Earle Theatre, a cinema where live bands like Benny Goodman’s would perform. As a youngster studying the flute and later saxophone, Tabackin, who turned 70 on March 26, was particularly thrilled by the sax playing of Al Cohn, a jazzman who enjoyed a cult following in Philadelphia at the time.

After serving in the army and playing with such great musicians as Elvin Jones and Roland Hanna, Tabackin was playing with Clark Terry’s ensemble in 1967 when a substitute appeared for the regular pianist, Don Friedman. She was Toshiko Akiyoshi, a fetching young Japanese woman who was by then already a masterful performer. Tabackin and Akiyoshi married in 1969 and relocated to the West Coast in the 1970s when, as a side effect of the Black Liberation movement, white jazz musicians were generally shunned.

The couple proceeded to form a big band on a shoestring budget which, improbably enough, endured for decades, until it was finally disbanded in 2003. Now the Tabackins play in more modest formations, and record for small labels like Japan’s T-Toc. They share a townhouse on the Upper West Side, where they enjoy hobbies like wine tasting (an honored guest for a private tasting was former New York Times wine maven Frank Prial).

Today, Tabackin is admired for the entirely different personalities he expresses on the two instruments which he plays; a rather disputatious, talkative sax, and a refined, spiritually adept flute. As Tabackin himself told All About Jazz: “It’s not easy to balance the two instruments because they are great enemies.”

Fans can hear Tabackin reconciling enemies at future performance dates after Birdland, at the New Mexico Jazz Festival on July 24; the Telluride Jazz Festival from August 5-8; and this fall back in Manhattan at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola from Nov 17-22 in tribute concerts for the legendary impresario George Wein of the Newport Jazz Festival.

Keep on reconciling, Lew!

Watch Tabackin play music by Duke Ellington in 2007:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Toshiko Akiyoshi, Lew Tabackin, Jazz

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.