Photo: Tom Pich
Soon after she assumed the makeshift stage during her July 16 performance at the Washington D.C. JCC, Flory Jagoda, 90, lit a candle. “Sephardic women always believed in light, in a candle,” she told the audience of about 125 people. “With these candles,” the Bosnian-born artist sang in Ladino, “We pray to God … to grant us a healthy life.”
A few songs later, however, an accidental thrust of the guitar sent the candle flying, and for a split second before it was clear whether a firefighting team would need to be summoned, the assembly’s collective heart skipped a beat. “Let’s just sing,” said Susan Gaeta, one of the two musicians accompanying Jagoda, defusing the mood.
The candle was encased in a glass box, so catastrophic danger probably wasn’t too likely. And Jagoda, for her part, has seen music do the exact opposite of destroy. “I did save myself with music,” she said, recounting her parents placing her alone on a train out of Croatia in 1941. “Don’t open your mouth,” her father had told her. “Just play your harmonica.” (Throughout the performance, Jagoda used the word “harmonica” to refer to an accordion.)
At 90, Jagoda appears to have a healthy sense of humor about her performances. In response to a false start on one song, where the trio wasn’t in the same key, she told the audience, “You know at my age, I don’t hear good.” Eying her colleague Howard Bass, she said, “He’s going to play beforehand, which is good, because it leaves me a good in.” Without batting an eye, Bass told her, “I’m just playing what you wrote!”
As Thomas Erdelyi, he was the Budapest-born son of Holocaust survivors who settled in Forest Hills, Queens.
But as Tommy Ramone, he became the leather-jacketed, rhythm-slashing backbone of The Ramones, arguably one of the most influential bands of the late 20th century.
Ramone, the last surviving original member of the band, died July 11 of bile duct cancer at his home in Ridgewood Queens. He was 65.
The Ramones first came together in 1974, at the height of California-rock flab and music-business excess.
Erdelyi, who had worked as a record producer beginning in his teens, was going to be the band’s manager and was helping audition drummers when the group was forming in 1974, according to the Washington Post.
When none of them could follow the Ramones’ style, he picked up the sticks himself, learned to play drums on the job, and became Tommy Ramone. He was also widely credited with creating the band’s signature look — leather jackets, huge mops of hair, and, for himself, omnipresent sunglasses.
Photo courtesy New York Mandolin orchestra
On June 1 the New York Mandolin Orchestra will celebrate its 90th anniversary at a concert in Manhattan. The repertoire ranges from a Vivaldi concerto to St. Louis Blues. Founded in 1924 by a Russian Jew named Samuel Firstman, the orchestra was initially affiliated with the Jewish communist newspaper Freiheit. For a time it performed both the national anthem and the socialist Internationale at its concerts.
“All these people had come from Europe and it was part of their culture. They believed in a larger culture,” says Bill Knapp, a concertina player who was a card-carrying member of the Wobblies and played with the orchestra for more than 30 years. “It was very important to them that they play this music, that they learn it, they pass it on.”
Among the New York Mandolin Orchestra’s alumnae are the bluegrass virtuoso Barry Mitterhoff, who was given his first mandolin by his aunt Sylvia Reuben who had played in a mandolin orchestra in Newark, New Jersey. Mitterhoff, who now performs with the acoustic music group Hot Tuna, joined the New York Mandolin Orchestra in 1976 and served as its concertmaster for 12 years. He’ll participate in the concert on Sunday.
“By the time I got involved in 1976, there were very few, quote, unquote younger players, which included anybody under 50,” Mitterhoff told the Forward. “Most of the members were senior citizens and some of them were couples. They all worked in factories and sweatshops.
(Haaretz) — The music of German composer Richard Wagner was never played in his parents’ home: Too many bad associations with Hitler and the Nazis, explains filmmaker Hilan Warshaw.
So it wasn’t until he began playing violin in a New York City youth orchestra that Warshaw was first introduced to the work of the notoriously anti-Semitic 19th-century German opera composer. And rather embarrassingly, he found himself smitten.
“I just loved the music. But, at the same time, it was something that my conscious mind told me was anathema,” he recalls.
Over the years, Warshaw – whose family lost many relatives during the Holocaust – developed what he describes as a “push-pull relationship” with Hitler’s favorite composer. And it made him curious about the other Jews in Wagner’s life.
So curious, in fact, that he decided to devote the past several years to making a film on the subject. The fruit of that effort, “Wagner’s Jews,” is playing in Tel Aviv at the Docaviv festival, Israel’s premier event for documentary film.
Produced, directed and written by Warshaw, the feature-length film focuses on the Jews who were some of Wagner’s closest associates, among them the gifted young pianist Carl Tausig, who was almost like a son to him; the conductor Hermann Levi, who happened to be the son of a rabbi; and the pianist Joseph Rubinstein, who lived in Wagner’s home for many years and killed himself when the composer died.
Photo: Monika Rittershaus
This past weekend saw the third installment of the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival at the Berlin Jewish Museum. The brainchild of Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova, the festival comprised over 40 musical pieces spread over six very full concert programs, featuring an enviable array of international musical talent, including many Israeli performers.
The festival, which ran this year from May 7 – 11, fills a gap in Berlin’s musical landscape. “Berlin, with all its multitude of musical events, doesn’t have a chamber music festival,” Bashkirova explained. “It has a lot of great concerts and everyone plays here, but there isn’t an actual festival. So, I think there was a great interest from the public. And now we’re doing it for the third time and I’m very happy.” Judging from the generous attendance for the three concerts I attended, it seems that the festival is indeed catering to a demand felt by this city’s musically inclined.
At first glance, the title is likely to confuse. The festival director explained the Berlin series’ connection to an older, more established musical event in Israel. “This festival is like the little brother of the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival,” Bashkirova said referring to the festival she founded in 1998 and is held every September in Jerusalem. “We are doing programs that are very similar to in Jerusalem and the people who play are mostly the same,” she explains.
When 31 students from Jewish Theological Seminary’s H.L. Miller Cantorial School and Hebrew Union College’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music perform together on May 4, the concert will be the first interdenominational collaboration of this sort that David Tilman can remember.
Years ago, there were “very significant” differences between the Conservative and Reform movements, but recent years have seen a narrowing gap, says Tilman, associate professor at the Miller Cantorial School and hazzan emeritus at Beth Sholom Congregation of Elkins Park, PA.
Both JTS and HUC teach musicianship; prayer modes (nusach) for the weekdays, Sabbath, festivals and High Holidays; biblical cantillation; and Jewish musical history, he says, and both schools require students to learn guitar, “recognizing the importance of this instrument as an effective teaching tool for children, teenagers, and adults.”
JTS and HUC share music faculty, such as Jacob Mendelson and Joyce Rosenzweig, who will co-conduct the concert with Tilman. Bruce Ruben, the director of HUC’s music school, is a JTS alumnus, and Henry Rosenblum, JTS’s former dean, teaches at HUC.
A friend of klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer recently stumbled on a mention of Behcet’s Syndrome, a medical disorder involving inflammation of the blood vessels. He joked that Krakauer seems to be suffering from Bechet’s Syndrome, an obsession with the American reeds player Sidney Bechet, who received great acclaim in the late 1940s. Krakauer has let it be known that he has idolized Bechet ever since he was 11, when his parents gave him one of the great clarinetist/saxophonist’s LPs, and has called Bechet the teacher he never met.
Krakauer covers Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” on his “The Big Picture” CD and the live show based on the album. Film buffs may know the tune from Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Krakauer’s wailing clarinet is heard on the track improvising over funk guitar lines. He told the Forward that it was a daunting task to cover a Bechet piece, though Krakauer paid tribute to Bechet in a rollocking 1997 composition titled “Klezmer Ala Bechet.”
We’re proud to debut the latest video for Krakauer’s Big Picture project here. Created by Matt Esolda, a video wiz at Manhattan’s Light of Day production company, it starts with an Oscar Wilde quote: “When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” Esolda mixes grainy color footage of Paris from the early 1950s with more quotes about the City of Light from Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Man Ray, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Enjoy.
“Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Piece of My Heart.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.”
The songs are recognized almost everywhere. But their Jewish creator, Bert Berns, has nearly vanished into obscurity.
That should change this year, with a book, documentary, and stage musical — all inspired by Berns and his music. April 15 sees the release of Joel Selvin’s “Here Comes The Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues” (Counterpoint); in June, the off-Broadway musical “Piece of My Heart” will open at the Pershing Square Signature Theater in Manhattan. And a documentary on Berns is slated for distribution this fall.
Other Brill Building songwriters may have had the glory, but few influenced pop music as much as Berns. He stewarded the early careers of Neil Diamond and Van Morrison, co-founded Bang Records with music-industry heavyweights Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, and recorded with legends like the Isley Brothers, the Drifters, and Ben E. King. And none other than Sir Paul McCartney extolled Berns and his music in a recent video posted on Time.com.
The son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants, Berns contracted rheumatic fever as a child, which ultimately caused his death from a heart defect in 1967. His son, Brett, and daughter, Cassandra, are now overseeing the multimedia celebration of their father and his work.
“This sanctuary is the most religiously diverse place in this great city,” said Michael Siegel, the rabbi of Anshe Emet, a Conservative synagogue in Chicago.
If that sounds like crowing, consider that conspicuous among the attendees of the synagogue’s April 6 “Sounds of Faith” concert were kippas, Greek Orthodox vestments, and headscarves.
The program, which packed the synagogue’s 1,100-capacity main sanctuary, featured Koranic recitations, Old Testament cantillation, and monastic chants. Musicians ranged from the choirs of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church and Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation to the Islamic Foundation Children’s Choir and Anshe Emet cantor [Alberto Mizrahi and Temple Sholom of Chicago (Reform) cantor Aviva Katzman.
“The greatest thing that happens at this concert is community building. There are divides and there are people who say ‘We should never get together,’ and ‘Oh my God! The Koran was being read on a Bima of a synagogue?!’” said Mizrahi in an interview. “Well they’re not used to hearing the ‘Sim Shalom’ of [Max] Janowski either.”
Over the past 200 years, the Modzitzer hasidim have become known for their beautiful melodies, or nigunim. Thousands of them, in fact. Today, 88 year-old Ben Zion Shenker is one of the most prolific, and respected, Modzitzer composers. For his latest album, “Hallel V’zimrah,” he teamed up with klezmer and bluegrass virtuoso Andy Statman. The Forward’s Jon Kalish caught up with Shenker in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn to talk about composing Jewish music, meeting the Modzitzer rebbe, and performing on Yiddish radio.
“We sing in Yiddish, we sing in Hebrew and sometimes we sing in Polish,” explains Zofia Radzikowska who joined the JCC choir in Cracow when it first opened two years ago.
At the beginning it was uncertain whether the choir would be able to attract enough members. Today the multigenerational ensemble is a lively proof of the small but vibrant local Jewish community.
Each singer has a slightly different reason to sing in this group: Some want to learn more about their Jewish roots whereas others recognize something in Jewish culture that was inextricably linked to Polish culture.
A big sign at the entrance of the local JCC trumpets: “Building A Jewish Future in Cracow.” That seems like a pretty bold undertaking if one considers the bigger historical picture of complicated Jewish-Polish relationships.
But choir member Paulina Skotnicka says the JCC is able to create a “non-judgmental place where nobody is maligned based on his or her background.” This welcoming approach inspires a lot of optimism.
Skotnicka sounds both down to earth and realistic when she says the choir is doing its small part to revive Jewish culture that was all but wiped out in the Holocaust.
“We can’t actually recover what is lost,” she says. “But we can certainly build something new.”
Boston-based singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler, long a critical darling with a cult following, seems poised to cross over with the haunting “July,” (Sacred Bones) her sixth studio album in ten years. Reviews have been the strongest of her career; UK pop bible NME called “July” “a career high,” and the PopMatters blog dubbed it “one of 2014’s best albums so far… A triumph.” Pundits usually trip over themselves trying to describe Nadler’s dark, wry confessional folk; in just one review, music site Pitchfork name-checked Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval, German folkie Sibylle Baier — and Edgar Allan Poe.
Newly signed to high-profile music company Sacred Bones, Nadler is now a labelmate of indie royalty like David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch and Fleet Foxes, which makes the acid opening lines of “July” feel a bit ironic: “If you ain’t made it now / You’re never gonna make it.” The Forward caught up with the singer by email between gigs in New England to support her new album. “And I’m doing the driving as well!” she said.
Michael Kaminer: Journalists seem to grasp at descriptions for your music. If you had to introduce yourself and your music to our audience in a couple of sentences, how would it read?
At age 19, Graham Gouldman scored his first U.K. top-10 hit with “For Your Love,” the ageless tune first recorded by the Yardbirds. He went on to write smash songs for the likes of Herman’s Hermits, Jeff Beck, and the Hollies before forming the band 10cc — a hit factory in itself — in 1972.
This month, Gouldman added another distinction to a stellar resume. He’s one of four tunesmiths who’ll get inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at a ceremony this June in New York. The Kinks’ Ray Davies, “Midnight Train to Georgia” writer Jim Weatherly, and Elvis Presley collaborator Mark James will also be honored.
Born in Manchester, England, Gouldman started playing guitar at age 11 after a cousin returned from Spain with a cheap acoustic guitar. “As soon as I held it, I was gone,” his bio says. Gouldman left school “as soon as was legally possible,” joining a band called the Whirlwinds. After a stint with another band, the Mockingbirds, music manager Harvey Lisberg hired him to write songs for one of the biggest acts to break out of Manchester — Herman’s Hermits.
These days, Gouldman continues to tour tirelessly with 10cc; in 2012, he released “Love and Work” (Rosala Records), a solo album. The Forward caught up with Gouldman by email.
Michael Kaminer: What does the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame honor mean to you?
This will definitely be composer Jason Robert Brown’s year.
A musical version of Robert James Waller’s “The Bridges of Madison County” (music, lyrics and orchestration by Jason Robert Brown) opens February 20 on Broadway.
“Honeymoon in Vegas” (music, lyrics, dance and vocal orchestration by Jason Robert Brown), which received rapturous reviews during its debut at the Paper Mill Theater in New Jersey, opens on Broadway in the fall.
The film version of his innovative off-Broadway play, “The Last Five Years” (book, music and lyrics by Jason…you get the picture) will be in theaters later this year.
All this on top of the Tony he won (best original music score) for “Parade,” about the Leo Frank trial and “13,” his Broadway follow-up, about a young bar mitzvah-age boy transplanted from New York to the Midwest after his parents divorce.
I first saw Jason perform almost 20 years ago at a small suburban theater not far from Monsey, NY, where he grew up. I wish I could say I purposely sought out the show. Actually, his show was — to my way of thinking — just thrown in as part of a subscription to the plays I really wanted to see. But it wasn’t very long before he blew away with a musical review, “Songs for a New World.”
After that I followed him almost everywhere, walking that fine line between sycophant and stalker. I saw “The Last Five Years,” the story of his first marriage. I sat across the aisle from him at a preview performance of “Parade.” (For the record, that was a coincidence.)
At “13,” the PR folks gave out CDs of the score with the press kit and I rushed to him to get it autographed. He told me I was the first.
Finally, at the Paper Mill, I saw him in the lobby, reminded him of our past and begged him for an interview. He said three magic words I’ll never forget: “See the publicist.”
Well it wasn’t “no.” So here we are, a few weeks before Madison County is slated to open, and Jason is on the phone.
Curt Schleier: When did you realize you’re a genius?
Our high school, the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto was, as its name indicated, a community school. Kids entered ninth grade from the spectrum of Jewish day schools — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Sephardic. But it was also a community school in a different way; we were a small group (graduating class of 110), and we looked out for one another. So when one of my classmates starred, in that first year of high school, as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, in a local production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a bunch of went to see her. None of us knew her very well yet (nor each other), but we loved watching her. “She’s a born performer,” whispered one of my classmates.
That couldn’t have been a more prescient observation I thought earlier this month, watching Neshama Carlebach perform with Joshua Nelson, another star of the shul circuit, at the Jewish Center in Princeton, New Jersey, hundreds of miles and in a country apart from the one where I first saw her on a stage. Still sprinkled with fairy dust, Neshama belted out songs that give life to her “soulful” name, songs that left the crowd beatific. All around me, faces were lit up with rapture; people swayed and sang along; some broke into spontaneous dance. When I went to give my old classmate a hug after her performance, I had to fight off dozens of other admirers who wanted to give her a hug, not because they also knew her, but because they loved her without needing to know her.
(Reuters) — An Israeli singer has become an unlikely star in Yemen, an Arab country where his hit songs blare from cafes and taxis.
Zion Golan’s parents were born in Yemen, but like other Israelis, he is banned from traveling to the conservative Muslim nation, which has no diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
Known in Yemen as Ziyan Joulan, his songs — whose Arabic lyrics are written by his mother-in-law — are distributed on bootleg CDs and downloaded from the Internet.
“Yemeni music is in my heart and in my soul,” Golan told Reuters.
“My big dream is to go to Yemen. My parents told me many stories about Yemen, about Sanaa, about Aden, all about Yemen, so I felt it was right to write, to perform songs in a Yemeni style, which I feel is part of me.”
In Sanaa, Waddah Othman, a doctor, grinned as he displayed an array of Golan’s songs on his mobile phone.
“I adore this singer,” he said.
Abdullah al-Haj, who owns a video and music shop in Sanaa, said music of Yemeni Jewish singers was in high demand by local youngsters, who increasingly are getting music off the Internet.
Listen to Pentatonix, and you’ll be sure that you hear instruments. In fact, it is an a cappella quintet of young singers — four men and one woman — who perform without any accompaniment, and manage to make a remarkable range of sounds in musical styles ranging from pop to electronica to R&B and dubstep.
Pentatonix emerged just over two years ago, when they won the third season of the a cappella reality show “The Sing Off.” They’ve put out three albums thus far and, with 4.5 million YouTube subscribers, are hugely popular. Pentatonix’s super-fun medley of Daft Punk songs has close to 47 million views on YouTube, and their cover of Lorde’s “Royals” more than 23 million. Pentatonix also sings original songs, like the delicate, powerful “Run to You.”
Avi Kaplan, 24, is Pentatonix’s baritone or “vocal bass.” Kaplan has been making music with a cappella groups since high school and was majoring in opera, as well as winning prizes as part of a vocal jazz ensemble, at a California college when he was invited to join the nascent Pentatonix right before “The Sing Off” auditions. He also plays guitar and arranges choral and a cappella music. Kaplan spoke with The Arty Semite from Texas, where the group was getting ready for a college performance, in a warm up to their 28-date sold-out North American concert tour, which began February 5 in Tulsa and will lead into a European tour.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen: Why do you think a cappella music is so popular?
To state the obvious, Pete was an iconic figure in the folk music movement in the United States. As were many, many of my colleagues, I was profoundly influenced by Pete’s music just as I started to really enjoy music. I first found him through the recording of The Weavers reunion concert at Carnegie Hall. It was a great record, and for me, Pete’s performance of “Wimoweh” was the highlight.
Pete inspired me to try to learn to play the banjo. Fortunately for the world, that didn’t take, but I did learn a lot of what I know about certain styles of guitar playing from a book on playing the guitar that bore Pete’s name, before it was revised and published with Jerry Silverman’s name in place of Pete’s. The first time that I saw Bob Dylan was at one of Pete’s concerts. Pete brought him out to sing, and gave him a great introduction. I don’t think that many people in the audience had heard of Bob Dylan before that moment.
Pete was also an iconic figure in American politics. He was an inspirational activist for many ideas that seemed somewhat successful, until just recently. I’m speaking of the cause of unions, and the cause of ending minority repression. Of course neither cause was ever totally successful, but we were doing a lot better a few years ago. Now there is no Pete Seeger to lead us.
I didn’t agree with all of Pete’s political convictions, but I found it incredible that people who swore to uphold our constitution tried to silence him. To say he was brave, strong, and a great musician is understatement in every respect. Pete built the house that he lived in, and he led (forgive me for bringing this in) a moral life. He was true to his convictions in every part of his life, as far as I, or anyone I know, could see. I believe that we may have just lost a just man.
Proverbs 20:7 The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.
There’s Johnny Rotten laughing that he doesn’t remember the words while the rhythm kicks and drives. The bass is muddled but insistent, louder with every measure, angry that no one’s joined in. Johnny yells to stop so that someone can feed him his lines. The volume drops, but the band never does. Suddenly this song, a cover of the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” — which I’ve always heard as a song about being young and excited and about the thrill that comes when life is yet to be discovered — suddenly this song is about the drum and bass and power and about playing whatever you want to play, because this is your band too, and who cares if the lead singer knows the words?
Eventually Paul [Cook, the drummer] shouts the first sounds: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6!”
He waits for Johnny to pick it up, but he doesn’t, so Paul adds “Roadrunner roadrunner!” and the band runs, or really they just keep going like they did before, pounding even more intensely. Johnny Rotten sings the way anyone would if they were forced to perform what they half-remembered. He mumbles random syllables [actual transcription: uhlalalalala] and shouts what words he knows: “Going faster miles an hour!” “With the radio on!” Somehow he remembers that there’s a verse about Stop & Shop, maybe because “Stop ‘N Shop” sounds vaguely exotic.
It’s impossible to call the cover better. I’m not even sure that I would call the cover good if I weren’t so deeply in love with the original. But there’s something enervating about the way the Sex Pistols, an ocean away, dive into a song that screams “I’m in love with Massachusetts,” and which celebrates neon lights in the cold, the AM radio, and route 128 (when it’s dark outside). It’s exhilarating to hear the song explode with a kinetic energy so different from the tight, organ-propelled original.
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here
Can you say with certainty that someone sings in an authentic Yiddish style? Fortunately, we have materials to help us figure it out — the records and CDs of folksingers, the recorded compilations from Ruth Rubin, Sofia Magid, Ben Stonehill and others; the recordings in the “Vernadsky Library” in Kiev, and the homemade family recordings that show up from time to time.
Meanwhile, it’s clear that you can’t speak only about one style, or even several. It all depends on the age of the singer, their birthplace and where they grew up.
Even in my family, two singers can sing in completely different styles. My grandmother Lifshe, from the small town Zvinyetshke, sang with a lamenting, sad voice, inviting listeners to sympathize with the suffering she expressed. My mother, from the larger city of Chernowitz, sang with less ornamentation but with a more secure feeling.
In the new recording from Brooklyn resident Herschel Melamed, “A Long Life In Yiddish,” you also hear a folksinger who sings in an authentic folk style. The CD includes 18 songs, and although the project was not undertaken as a commercial enterprise, it looks and sounds professional. In fact, two discs were produced with the same songs: one without musical accompaniment, and the second with the help of musicians Avi Fox-Rosen and Alec Spiegelman.
Herschel Melamed was born in Opalin, Poland and grew up in Luboml, where he worked in his brother Kalman’s shoe shop. At the beginning of the Second World War he became a soldier in the Polish Army and was later sent by the Soviets to a communal farm in the Ural Mountains, where he spent the war. His daughter Myra told me that he might have stayed there, but he learned that his younger brother Laizer had survived, so he left the communal farm and traveled westward to Chernowitz, where he married and where his daughter was born.