Songs from the Jewish
This project is the result of a
unique opportunity presented to me by John
Zorn. Using Jewish music as a motif, I
followed a thread that runs through the
Near-East, Middle-East, Mediterranean,
Eastern Europe, North Africa, Iberia
the Americas. There have been some really
nice surprises and discoveries along the
way. I can think of no other genre, except
maybe Gypsy music, that is found in such
far-flung regions while retaining a core
There is a
convergence of many styles of music, and
many of my own musical experiences. I
found in these pieces a lyrical
architecture, full of possibilities for
chord substitutions and harmonization. You
might say it's a marriage of high and low.
There are ideas that come from adapting
Tchaikovsky and Bela Bartok to solo
guitar, as well as jazz harmony. I have
wedded these to strands of country blues,
flamenco and melodic phrases that come
from the lexicon of the Middle-Eastern oud
Meditation on the Baal Shem Tov's
Melody: There's a story that a deaf
man came upon a group of the Baal Shem
Tov's disciples who were singing and
dancing. He concluded from their
expressions and gyrations that they were
all crazy, because unfortunately, he
couldn't hear the music. I came across
this tune on a wonderful recording by
Israeli violinist Yehoshua Rochman.
Hamisha Asar: A song by Flory
Jagoda, the Bosnian Sephardic composer who
grew up in a village near Sarajevo and
settled in America after WWII. Ms. Jagoda
has a lovely voice and has written many
beautiful songs in Ladino. I also think
she is quite a guitar player. This track
is written in a Balkan dance meter of
3+2+2/8. It's a great rhythm to improvise
on, kind of like a lopsided waltz.
Odessa Mama (Odesa Mame): From a
rendition by Aaron Lebedeff (1873-1960), a
famous Yiddish entertainer. It was
originally recorded in the 1920's with an
orchestra led by Sholom Secunda. Lebedeff
was a larger than life figure and is said
to have been quite a lady's man. One thing
that is especially interesting in this
rendition is an E-minor flat five chord
towards the end, a very early example of a
sound that would become a staple of jazz
in the '40s and '50s.
Skrip, Klezmerl Skripe: Play:
Klezmer, Play is another Yiddish
classic by Khaim Tauber and Sholom
Secunda, also recorded by Aaron Lebedeff.
Like Odessa Mama, this song has a
wonderful extended intro and gives one a
sense of the well that composers like
Harold Arlen and George Gershwin were
Los Caminos de Sirkeci: A love song
from a Sephardic neighborhood in Istanbul,
written in a Balkan dance rhythm of 3+2/8.
The conception for this track and Hamisha
Asar is to keep the pulse going with my
thumb, kind of like an odd-meter Bossa
Nova, while improvising a melody in an
Oriental oud/Bouzouki filigree.
Kad Jawajuni: I learned this off a
recording made by the Beth Hatefutsoth
Museum of the Jewish Diaspora. Titled Neve
Midhar, it features a lovely Israeli
singer named Lea Avrahm. I hope I distill
a little of the spirit of her performance
into my solo guitar version. The title
translates roughly as "They married me."
This is a game song typical of central and
southern Yemen, sung and danced by women
at weddings or henna ceremonies, sometimes
known as "the song of the face and hands."
The rhythmic architecture of the guitar
arrangement owes a lot to a dance from
Northeastern Brazil called Biao. It seems
my improvisation looks a little toward
Africa and a little toward the Indian
A Hora Mit Tzibeles: A Hora with
Onions, by clarinet virtuoso Naftule
Brandwein, a lengendary fgure of Klezmer
music in the early 20th Century. To my
ears, he seems to have been as important a
voice in Klezmer as Jelly Roll Morton or
Louis Armstrong were in jazz. The
compositions of Naftule Brandwein are my
personal favorites. I knew nothing about
this music until I started this project,
and I fell in love with this song.
Viva Orduena: A Sephardic folksong
from Morocco. I perform this song on the
oud with Voices of Sephard, where I've
learned most of the Sephardic tunes heard
on this CD. My process of arriving at solo
guitar arrangements of these songs was
simply experimentation, seeing what ideas
were suggested by playing the melody in
question in this key or that. This
selection ended up as a wild melange of
Judeo-Spanish court music with African
pentatonic string bends!
Quando El Rey Nimrod: In this song,
King Nimrod looks out over his city one
night and sees a brilliant star shining
above the house where Abraham is born. I
try to conjure up the quiet evening, the
slumbering town, and the starry sky before
launching the melody of this old Sephardic
A Leybedike Honga: A Lively
Honga, from a 1925 recording by Harry
Kandel's Orchestra. Clarinetist Harry
Kandel led a brass band in the Czarist
military before coming to Philadelphia.
It's a lovely little tune but quite a
handful to play.
Rabbi Yochanan The Shoemaker's
Melody: From a rendition by Yehoshua
Rochman, this tune is traditionally
changed after midnight on Lag B'omer, in a
torchlight procession on Mount Meron.
Freylich: This tune seemed to want
to be played as a rhumba. I used the key
of F sharp which is a favorite key of
flamenco guitarists when using this scale.
F sharp serves as a pivot between E minor
and G major for improvisations.
Sholem Aleichem: this popular tune
is usually played in a bright tempo. Here
I wanted to explore some of the nuances
and feelings implied by the melody, so it
came out as a kind of dreamy ballad.
Naftule Spielt Far Dem Rebin:
Naftule Plays for the Rabbi. Naftule's
performances have an edgy energy. As on
all 78's, there was a need to get a
version down in just a few minutes playing
time. I slowed it down for the beginning,
while trying to preserve its stately gait.
There is a lot going on in this tune of
only two and a half minutes!
Addio Querida: Goodbye
Precious. I've been told that when an
evacuation of part of the Jewish community
was arranged during the seige of Sarajevo,
the departees and those staying behind
sang this song as the buses were leaving.
This version is inspired in equal measure
by renditions of Flory Jagoda and the
Bulgarian Women's choir.