Marc Cohn’s career takes long walk to Los Angeles

As he assembles playlists both for live gigs and new recordings in 2016, singer-songwriter Marc Cohn will look to his past. And why shouldn’t he? Cohn’s musical past is proving to be extremely fertile ground. 

February marks the 25th anniversary of Cohn’s self-titled debut album, and the New York-based artist plans to spend the upcoming year celebrating the milestone. During his live performances, starting in late March, he will be playing the entire “Marc Cohn” album front to back, as well as releasing bonus tracks from the 1991 album that won Cohn a Grammy for Best New Artist. “Marc Cohn” contained such songs as “Silver Thunderbird,” “True Companion,” “Ghost Train” and the much-covered autobiographical hit, “Walking in Memphis.”

“I’m focusing on how to make the most of an album that I’m very proud of,” Cohn said. “It seems to have stood the test of time, so I want to take a little time to celebrate that.”

Prior to these silver anniversary celebration concerts, Cohnheads — as his fans are known — can catch the singer during his West Coast swing, including a Jan. 16 stop at Pepperdine University’s Smothers Theatre. For these early 2016 shows, Cohn will be breaking out a number of songs that didn’t make the “Marc Cohn” cut. The artist wrote more than 15 songs before he signed his first deal with Atlantic Records, and upon rediscovering them recently, Cohn found the songs were of surprisingly high quality — possibly even worthy of a future album. 

“I had completely forgotten about them,” Cohn said. “We went back and took a stroll down memory lane. These songs are all clearly the beginnings of me finding my songwriting voice. They’re literally lost songs and that’s probably what I’m going to call the album. Part of what I’ll be doing on the West Coast is playing songs that I’ve never played before, songs that no one has ever heard.”

Cohn’s longtime producer, John Leventhal, who played on a couple of those tracks, said he is as excited as Cohn’s fans to hear them anew. 

“Marc was clearly in a fantastic zone at the time, and he was very self-critical of what he thought was worth releasing,” Leventhal recalled. “He was a phenomenal singer who could really accompany himself well. He had a really deep and refined lyric sensibility, and, of course, that voice. It’s a pretty powerful combination.”

One of the lost tracks is “Careful What You Dream.” When Cohn went through his archives and gave that song a fresh listen, he discovered he had used some of the verses for a song titled “My Great Escape” that he wrote for the 1995 movie “The Cure.”

As he recited the lyrics during an interview, Cohn reflected on what he was thinking about back in his late 20s. Although not a parent at the time, Cohn, now 56, said the lyrics now feel like words of advice from a parent to a child:

Traveling down the road tonight / Once I dreamed I was a singer / And when I woke up, I was right. / I’m most times in the darkness, / But I’m headed for the light / So dream yourself a dream, boy, / Out on the road tonight.

“It’s sort of a cautionary tale, but an ironic one, because obviously the best thing you can do is have your dream come true,” said Cohn, now a father of four. “But sometimes there’s a price.”

Having released four subsequent albums since his debut and covered a lot of miles on the road, Cohn remembers having that dream. He attended Oberlin and UCLA and played in clubs and coffee houses throughout Los Angeles before moving to New York, where he ultimately inked his first recording contract. Cohn still has many friends in Southern California, and his SoCal and New York gigs are the ones where a celebrated guest might drop in or briefly take the stage to share a number. 

“I’m not saying this is going to happen when I’m there this time, but I can’t tell you how many times Jackson Browne has sat in, or David Crosby and Graham Nash. Bonnie Raitt has dropped by,” Cohn said. “They’re not only my heroes. They’re my friends, and being able to share a stage with them is remarkable.”

The West Coast tour even will include a stop at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, an engagement listed on Cohn’s website that the singer had not realized had been booked. 

“I’m playing a Jewish Community Center?” Cohn said upon discovering this stop of the tour. “Wow, that’s great! I don’t think that I’ve played a Jewish Community Center since I was 15 and playing with my high school band.”

Both of Cohn’s parents were observant Jews, and his mother headed the women’s organization at The Temple-Tifereth Israel near Cleveland, Ohio, where Cohn was raised. Cohn was confirmed, but did not have a bar mitzvah. 

“One of my regrets with all my kids was that I haven’t kept up the traditions that my father had us practice in our house in terms of seder dinners and going to High Holiday services,” Cohn said. “But culturally, I’m as proud as can be that I’m a Jew. My kids know that, and I would say it’s a very important part of who I am, and an important part of my work.”

He cites the climactic line of “Walking in Memphis” when the gospel singer Muriel asks him, “ ‘Are you a Christian child?’ And I said, ‘Ma’am, I am tonight.’ ”

The lyric is much misinterpreted by fans who still ask if Cohn became a born-again Christian during his experience in Memphis.

“It means that every other night, I’m something else, and that is a Jew,” Cohn said. “And I actually felt really good about that.”

Award-winning American director Mike Nichols dies at 83

Mike Nichols, a nine-time Tony Award winner on Broadway and the Oscar-winning director of influential films such as “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “The Graduate,” and “Carnal Knowledge,” died on Wednesday at age 83.

The prolific director passed away at his home of cardiac arrest, his spokeswoman said. A private service for the family will be held this week, followed by a memorial at a future date.

No director had ever moved between Broadway and Hollywood as easily as Nichols, one of the few people to win the Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy Awards.

Nichols, whose career first blossomed with a comedy partnership with Elaine May in the late 1950s, was married to Diane Sawyer, former anchorwoman of ABC's “World News Tonight” broadcast.

ABC News President James Goldston announced Nichols' death in a memo to staff, saying he “passed away suddenly on Wednesday evening.”

“In a triumphant career that spanned over six decades, Mike created some of the most iconic works of American film, television and theater,” Goldston said. “He was a true visionary.”

In memory of Nichols, marquees on Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed on Friday evening for one minute.

“Legendary director Mike Nichols shared his distinct genius for storytelling through the worlds of stage and film. Throughout his celebrated career in many mediums that spanned decades, he was always in awe of the thrill and the miracle that is theatre,” Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the Broadway League, said in a statement.

Fans and colleagues took to Twitter to express their sorrow.

“Funniest, smartest, most generous, wisest, kindest of all,” actress Mia Farrow tweeted. “Mike Nichols, a truly good man.”

Actor Tony Goldwyn said Nichols was the greatest of the great. “What a gigantic loss!” he added.

Nichols was born Michael Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, where his parents had settled after leaving Russia. He came to the United States at age 7 when his family fled the Nazis in 1939.

He grew up in New York feeling like an outsider because of his limited English and odd appearance – a reaction to a whooping-cough vaccine had caused permanent hair loss. As a University of Chicago student, he fought depression, but found like-minded friends such as May.

In the late 1950s, Nichols and May formed a stand-up team at the forefront of a comedy movement that included Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters and Woody Allen in satirizing contemporary American life. They won a Grammy in 1961 for best comedy album before splitting, partly because May liked to improvise and Nichols preferred set routines.

In the mid-1960s, Nichols came to be a directing powerhouse on Broadway with “Barefoot in the Park,” the first of what would be a successful relationship with playwright Neil Simon. Later he would stage Simon's “The Odd Couple,” “Plaza Suite” and “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” and Time magazine called him “the most in-demand director in the American theater.”

In all, he won best-director Tonys for his four collaborations with Simon, as well as for “Luv” in 1965, “The Real Thing” in 1984, “Spamalot” in 2005 and a revival of “Death of a Salesman” in 2012, and best musical award as a producer of “Annie” in 1977.


Nichols also made an impact on American cinema with three influential movies in a five-year period.

The first, a 1966 adaption of the Edward Albee play “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It was nominated for an Oscar in all 13 categories in which it was eligible and won five of them, although Nichols did not take the best director award.

He followed that up a year later with “The Graduate,” starring then little-known Dustin Hoffman as an aimless college graduate seduced by Anne Bancroft as an older woman before falling in love with her daughter. Nichols won an Academy Award for his direction and the movie, which thanks to several memorable lines and the music of Simon and Garfunkel, became a 1960s cultural touchstone.

In 1971, Nichols put out “Carnal Knowledge,” which created a sensation because of its sexual nature. The manager of a movie theater in Georgia was arrested for showing the film and had to appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court before being exonerated.

Sometimes Nichols' movies did go off the road. “Catch-22,” “Day of the Dolphin” and “The Fortune” were generally considered commercially unsuccessful and he did not make a feature film from 1975 until 1983, rebounding with “Silkwood,” for which he was nominated for another Oscar.

In the second act of his movie career, Nichols also directed “Heartburn,” Simon's “Biloxi Blues,” “Postcards from the Edge,” “Regarding Henry,” “The Birdcage,” “Primary Colors,” “Charlie Wilson's War” and “Working Girl,” which earned him another Oscar nomination.

He won an Emmy in 2001 for “Wit” and another in 2003 for “Angels in America,” a TV miniseries about the AIDS epidemic.

In the mid-1980s, Nichols suffered a psychotic breakdown, which he said was related to a prescription sedative, that made him so delusional he thought he had lost all his money.

Despite his urbane, intellectual manner, Nichols once had a reputation as an on-the-set screamer. Meryl Streep told The Hollywood Reporter, “He was always the smartest and most brilliant person in the room – and he could be the meanest, too.”

The actress said that changed after Nichols married Sawyer, his fourth wife.

Nichols had three children from his earlier marriages.

Angel City Chorale: The little chorale that could

Very few things have been constant within the Angel City Chorale during its 21 years of existence. Singers have come and gone, rehearsal and performance spaces have changed with regularity, and the repertoire is ever-changing and expanding, but behind it all, Sue Fink, Angel City’s founder and director, has been a permanent fixture. She sat down recently at a Westside coffee shop to discuss the chorale’s latest venture, a summer concert at the Wilshire United Methodist Church featuring the music of Grammy-winning composer Christopher Tin that will take place June 7 and 8.

Fink was born and raised in Beverly Hills and grew up attending Temple Israel of Hollywood and Camp Alonim. She knew she wanted to be involved with music from an early age, and when the time came to head off to college, she stayed close to home, studying under famed choral musician Roger Wagner at UCLA. After graduating, Fink made a career as a singer/songwriter and vocal teacher.  

In 1993, during one of her vocal teaching gigs, at the venerable Santa Monica music store McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Fink came up with the idea to do something new. “I thought, ‘Gee, maybe it would be kind of fun to start a little choral group,’ ” she said. She got together 18 of her vocal students and started rehearsing for a small concert at McCabe’s, which also serves as a performance venue.  

“We pulled off three little songs; they were so simple,” she said, laughing. And though her initial effort may have fallen a little short of Fink’s high standards, “Within a year and a half, we were up to 64 people,” she said. “I was building a little community; it was more than a choir, and it felt really different.”

The group became so large that it outgrew McCabe’s, so they decamped to a nearby Unitarian church. The choir’s sound and talent began to grow, as well, and Fink decided to stage another, bigger concert. She figured a couple hundred people would show up, so when 700 people came, they had to scramble. “Most of our audience had never heard a choral concert in their life,” Fink said.  

With their newfound following, the choir began performing more around town. Fink organized a “tour of hope,” which included performances at missions, soup kitchens and shelters around the city. A CD, the chorale’s first, soon followed.

Angel City Chorale will perform June 7 and 8 in Los Angeles. Photos by William R. Greenblatt

When it was announced that the Democratic National Convention would be coming to town in the summer of 2000, Fink decided to submit the group’s CD, hoping that they might be chosen to sing along with other groups at the convention. To Fink’s shock, the committee asked Angel City to be the main choir for the convention. “That just really put us on the map,” she said, “and I got to conduct Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross.”

After the success of the convention, the chorale began touring more frequently. They group has been to Ireland and South Africa, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and Disney Hall in Los Angeles, among other venues. They also recorded more albums, including a Chanukah CD.

“About 10 years ago, we started auditioning, and then it got a lot harder to get in,” said Fink. But no one’s ever been booted out, and some of the original members still sing. “We have a large group of TV writers. … We have a large contingent of people who work for Rand,” Fink said of the Santa Monica-based think tank. When one person from an office joins, they often drag along friends, she said.  

“I kind of think of us as a gateway choir, for people who don’t realize the power of choral music,” Fink said. “People feel like they’ve found someplace they belong, without the ugly cult side.”

Angel City is a nonprofit organization and now performs two major shows a year outside of its private and touring gigs — a holiday concert and a summer concert, the latter of which takes place June 7 and 8 and will feature the music of Tin, whom Fink describes as “one of the great geniuses of anyone in the world who’s ever lived.”

Fink first came across Tin when the chorale performed a piece he’d written for the video game Civilization IV, called “Baba Yetu,” the first video game theme ever to be nominated for a Grammy, which it won. Tin was pleased with the chorale’s performance of the piece, and asked them to sing on his next album, “The Drop That Contained the Sea,” released this month.

Tin’s music — which falls under the category of world music, as it features compositions influenced by musical traditions from locales as diverse as Bulgaria, India and South Africa — will make up the entire second half of the summer concert. The first half will see the chorale perform the eclectic repertoire for which it’s become known. “We’re going to start with a Brahms piece, from the Brahms ‘Requiem,’ and then we’re going to turn around and do ‘Skyfall,’ ” Fink said. “I was originally going to call the concert ‘Earth, Tin and Fire,’ but he didn’t like that,” said Fink, who chose the title “Elements” instead.

Her enthusiasm for sharing is infectious: “Music is kind of a leveler because you can be the poorest person in the world or the richest person in the world … and you have that commonality of music, and all of a sudden, you find something that ties you together,” she said.

“I want to be a force for good. I just want to leave the world a little bit better for me being here. Whatever brings out joy or the best in people, I’m all about that.”

For more information about the Angel City Chorale, and to purchase tickets to “Elements,” visit

U.S. debut is homecoming for Klezmerson’s Shwartz

Benjamin Shwartz wants to apologize for his English. 

The 38-year-old Mexico City-based composer and founder of the Latin-infused klezmer band Klezmerson can certainly be forgiven for his rusty skills, as he has never played a concert in the United States before. But now the popular band that has sold out concerts across Mexico and traveled as far away as Denmark to perform for thrilled audiences is set to make its U.S. debut at the Skirball Cultural Center on Oct. 5, and Shwartz is keen to make a good impression.

“I studied music in Los Angeles in ’93 or ’94, and it’s the first time that I’m going back,” Shwartz said happily during an interview via Skype. 

The last time he was in Los Angeles, Shwartz couldn’t have imagined where his career path would take him. He was still several years away from founding Klezmerson, and his tastes were more rock ’n ’ roll than Ashkenazic. But things changed for Shwartz when he began looking through old family photos, several of which showed people holding instruments. 

“My grandparents came from Poland and Lithuania,” he said. “I was studying music, and I tried to find a way to converge the Jewish identity with the Mexican identity.”

When Shwartz began his quest to revive the klezmer sound of his grandparents’ generation, he had no clue how big the scene in the United States had become. The Grammy Award-winning Klezmatics were totally off his radar. When he discovered the jazz-infused klezmer of the United States, he was inspired. 

“I was blown away by that, and I wanted to do my own version … my own Latin American version.”

It may not be widely known in the United States, but Jews have been in Mexico since it was colonized by the Spanish. Many Conversos — Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition — and Crypto-Jews who converted in name only, sought refuge in the New World and established themselves there. These original Jewish Mexicans were Sephardi and eventually assimilated into Mexican society, disappearing due to religious persecution. 

Mexican independence, however, brought freedom of religion with it, and the 1880s saw a large immigration of Eastern European Jews to Mexico. This new, Ashkenazi community has remained in Mexico ever since, and today close to 50,000 Jews call Mexico home. Most modern Mexican Jews, like Shwartz, live in Mexico City. 

“It’s an amazing city to live in, and so many types of sounds and music are everywhere,” Shwartz said. 

Still, when Shwartz first put Klezmerson together, he had a bit of a dilemma on his hands. He and his bandmates were Latin American musical pioneers. 

“When we started, it was a little bit hard to try to explain what the music was and where it came from,” Shwartz said. “At the beginning we didn’t know where to play. We started playing at jazz clubs.” 

It turned out that the jazz club patrons were big fans of Klezmerson’s music, but the band didn’t really fit into the scene. It was too loud, too rock-influenced. It took time to find an audience, but as Klezmerson played around town, it began to develop a following, and now its shows draw crowds. 

“We played with [klezmer band] Golem from New York in a big show in Mexico,” he said. “[The attendance] was, like, 5,000 people.”

Still, things can sometimes be tough for a klezmer band in Mexico, despite the overwhelming support of the mostly non-Jewish crowds. 

“Some people have not good ideas about the Jews, so when they hear the music there are a lot of interesting reactions around here,” said Shwartz, declining to elaborate. But he hopes that Klezmerson can be an ambassador of Judaism through its music.

After its gig at the Skirball, Klezmerson has a show lined up at one of Mexico City’s premier cultural venues. 

“We’re playing in a big place here called Bellas Artes, which is a huge sort of palace in Mexico City,” Shwartz said. 

They also have to start work on a new album — they’re signed to John Zorn’s record label. For now, though, Shwartz is firmly focused on the band’s upcoming U.S. debut and is excited to be back in Los Angeles. 

“People there, I think, will understand more what we’re doing,” he said. “Rock ’n’ roll bands, and jazz, and the klezmer that I hear come mainly from the U.S.”

And Shwartz hopes that, above all, people will have a good time. 

“It’s like a trip to see the whole show, because the songs go so many places,” Shwartz said. “I hope they feel joy. I hope they enjoy themselves.”

Klezmerson will perform Oct. 5 at the Skirball Cultural Center. For tickets or more information, visit

Winehouse died from too much alcohol, second inquest confirms

Grammy Award-winning singer Amy Winehouse died of consuming too much alcohol, a second inquest into her death confirmed.

Results of the second inquest provided Tuesday by the coroner, Dr. Shirley Radcliffe, matched those of the original in October 2011.

The second inquest was required because the deputy coroner in the first investigation lacked the required experience. The evidence presented in the second hearing was the same as in the first, according to the BBC.

Winehouse, who was Jewish, died in July 2011 in her London home.

The coroner's report said that Winehouse, 27, died with five times the legal British drunk driving limit in her bloodstream. The official cause of death was from “alcohol toxicity,” according to Radcliffe.

Winehouse reportedly had struggled with alcohol addiction, which persisted even after she stopped using illicit drugs in 2008.

The singer's physician, Dr. Christina Romete, said Winehouse also suffered from an eating disorder.

Stevie Wonder cancels performance at Saban-Chaired FIDF Gala for IDF Soldiers

Legendary pop musician Stevie Wonder has cancelled his performance scheduled for the Dec. 6 FIDF Gala in Los Angeles saluting IDF Soldiers. The event is sponsored by philanthropists Haim and Cheryl Saban.

The 25-time Grammy winner was to appear for an expected 1,200 FIDF supporters, including dignitaries from the U.S. and Israel, at the FIDF Western Region Gala, which is also scheduled to feature Grammy Winner David Foster & Friends with “Seinfeld” Veteran Jason Alexander as Emcee.

According to a press release issued on the morning of Nov. 29:

“Representatives of the performer cited a recommendation from the United Nations to withdraw his participation given Wonder’s involvement with the organization.  FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon: ‘we regret the fact that Stevie Wonder has decided to cancel his performance at an important community event of the FIDF, an American organization supporting the educational, cultural, and wellbeing needs of Israel’s soldiers, their families, and the families of fallen soldiers. FIDF is a non-political organization that provides much-needed humanitarian support regardless of religion, political affiliation, or military activity.’”


Friends of IDF expresses ‘regret’ for Wonder quitting fundraiser gig

The head of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces expressed his regret that Grammy-winning singer Stevie Wonder has pulled out of performing at a fundraiser for the group.

Wonder was scheduled to headline the Friends of the IDF annual gala in Los Angeles on Dec. 6. The event raises millions of dollars to support the Israeli military.

According to a news release from group's public relations firm issued Thursday, Wonder's representatives cited a recommendation from the United Nations to withdraw his participation given his involvement with the U.N. Wonder is a “Messenger of Peace” of the world body,

“We regret the fact that Stevie Wonder has decided to cancel his performance at an important community event of the FIDF, an American organization supporting the educational, cultural, and wellbeing needs of Israel’s soldiers, their families, and the families of fallen soldiers,” Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, national director and CEO of Friends of the IDF, said in the release sent by Puder Public Relations of New York. “FIDF is a non-political organization that provides much-needed humanitarian support regardless of religion, political affiliation, or military activity.”

Wonder's agent at Creative Artists Agency did not return a request for comment.The spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general also had no comment on the matter.

The United Nations does not impose restrictions on its goodwill representatives. Wonder most recently performed at a U.N. concert commemoratiing its 67th anniversary. Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust memoirist who is also a staunch defender of Israel, also is a U.N. Messenger of Peace.

Wonder had come under intense social media pressure to pull out of the event. An online petition calling on him to cancel his performance had garnered more than 3,600 signatures.

The petition was launched more than a day ago on the website.

“You were arrested in 1985 protesting South African Apartheid, now we ask you: please remember that apartheid is apartheid, whether it comes from White Afrikaaner settlers of South Africa or from Jewish Israelis in Israel,” the petition reads. “Desmond Tutu has recognized that Israel’s Apartheid is worse than South Africa’s — will you stand with us against apartheid and cancel your performance at the IDF fundraiser.”

A second petition, launched by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, calls on Wonder to “(p)lease continue your legacy of speaking out for the oppressed. Please be a 'full-time lover' of justice by standing on the right side of history and canceling your performance for the Israeli army.”

Wonder performed at a 1998 gala honoring Israel's 50th anniversary.

Wallflowers ‘Glad All Over’ to Be Back in L.A.

“Unless I’m crazy, we played this song the last time we were here,” singer/songwriter Jakob Dylan told a packed audience mid-show at the Henry Fonda Theatre.

With that, Dylan’s freshly reunited band, the Wallflowers, plunged into the band’s biggest hit to date, the haunting, galloping, Grammy-winner “One Headlight.”

In support of “Glad All Over,” their just-released first album in seven years, the Wallflowers enthusiastically ripped through a Fonda Theatre concert on Oct. 9 with the ferocity of a band still hungry to succeed.

For the Wallflowers, whose current lineup is comprised of founding members Dylan, bassist Greg Richling and keyboardist Rami Jaffee, along with guitarist Stuart Mathis and new member Jack Irons (drums), previously of Pearl Jam, playing at the Hollywood Boulevard theater was very much a homecoming show following a lengthy hiatus.

As Richling later told the Journal, the band nearly played the entire new album that night, from “It’s a Dream” and “The Devil’s Waltz” to energetic “Glad” lead single “Reboot the Mission” (minus the chorus supplied on the recorded version by Mick Jones of the Clash fame).

Naturally, the Wallflowers served up a healthy heaping of comfort-food tracks from their biggest album, the 1996 multi-platinum release, “Bringing Down the Horse,” bringing down the house with “Sixth Avenue Heartache” and crooning through the bittersweet “Three Marlenas.”

At one point, Dylan directed the audience to “the Godfather of Fairfax Village,” as the wiry, limber Jaffee, a few killed Corona bottles atop his organ set-up, genuflected wildly, kicking the air behind him while delving into a lush solo jam, which included a brief run of the accordion.

Dylan also asked the energetic crowd to embrace “one of your hometown heroes, it’s Jack Irons!”
Indeed, the drummer, a Fairfax High School alumnus older than Jaffee, has long been connected to the L.A. scene as a founding member of Red Hot Chili Peppers, back in the ’80s when the “Fax City Four” was just a raunchy alternative band with a cult following.

There was a hamisch element to the Wallflowers’ show, as Jaffee interacted with his own little cheering section of friends filling the left side of the stage he occupied while Dylan tipped his fedora to a woman named Ivy in the crowd who, back in the day, had donated her garage, “somewhere above the Sunset Strip,” for the Americana band to practice in. The Wallflowers culminated their Tuesday night set with a confident, pounding rendition of another “Horse” rocker, “The Difference.”

Post-concert, at a private rooftop gathering at the Fonda, about 40 people socialized over cigarettes and Red Bull cocktails. With a giant neon red “W” on the hotel down the block looming over the Wallflowers’ party, members Jaffee and Richling mingled with friends, including “Kill Bill” actress Daryl Hannah (who has been romantically linked to Jaffee).

In good spirits, Jaffee expressed his satisfaction with the night’s concert and looked forward to upcoming performances in Mexico City and on the talk show “Ellen.”

Richling explained he was the reason Irons joined Wallflowers. After meeting via a mutual friend, the pair, with singer John Green, played the Viper Room and recorded an as-of-yet-unreleased album (due following the Wallflowers tour cycle) under the name Arthur Channel in 2011. When scheduling conflicts prevented their drummer from returning, the band inducted Irons into its roots rock fold.

“This is my favorite line-up we’ve had,” Richling told the Journal. The bassist and Dylan have been close friends since their days attending Windward High School in Mar Vista. Richley, who belonged to Temple Isaiah and Wilshire Boulevard Temple growing up, mused about how the bass line he had recorded on his iPhone at his Westwood dining room table, inspired by the Clash’s “Magnificent Seven” off their genre-exploring opus, “Sandinista,” had morphed into “Glad All Over’s” lead single, complete with Jones’ vocals. The Wallflowers had sent the former Clash front man two tracks, “Reboot the Mission” and “Misfits & Lovers,” “so that he’d have his choice of songs to play on.” To the band’s delight, Jones decided to grace both cuts with his vocals and guitar.

Which begged the question: With the Wallflowers soon to tour European stages, will Jones jam with the group on the pair of “Glad” tunes when they perform in England?

“We’re going to invite him and if he’s up for it,” Richling said, smiling.

To paraphrase a David Bowie song the Wallflowers famously covered, the vibe at the Fonda last Tuesday may have gone something like “We could be hometown heroes.”

“It’s been a long time since we played here,” Dylan said during the concert, half-joking, “We just took a seven-year encore and we’re back.”

Remembering Marvin Hamlisch: One singular sensation… and what he did for love

It was early 1989, and TV producer Terre Blair called her mother with the exciting news.  “I’m engaged”, she announced.  “I’m getting married to Marvin Hamlisch!”  “Marvin Hamlisch?” the prospective mother-in-law replied.  “You mean the boxer from Las Vegas?”  “No, Mom.  That’s Marvin Hagler,” Terre laughed.  “Marvin Hamlisch is a composer;  he writes songs, and he tours.”  “Just what this family needs,” said Mom.  “An out-of-work songwriter.”

Actually, by the time Hamlisch was 31, he had accomplished as much and certainly won more awards than most composers do in an entire lifetime.  But the Pulitzer Prize and Tony award, as well as three Oscars and four Grammys, are part of his past.  “I don’t know whether it’s my Type A personality, or the way I was raised, or what it is,” mused Hamlisch, “but there’s something in me that tends to only look forward, and not back.”

A clear example of that occurred after his wedding to Terre, which was attended by Liza Minelli, Carly Simon, Ann-Margret, and Roberta Flack, who serenaded the couple with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” “I have a house on Long Island, and when I was single, my office there had most of my memorabilia in it.  When I got married,” recalled Hamlisch, “I decided to take down all the awards, all the photos, and just have a picture of my wife there and a nice little reproduction from the Museum of Art.  So when I’m sitting there, looking at the piano, I’m not thinking about what I should have done, what I could have done, what I had done… I’m just thinking in terms of, now what can I do?” 

The composer also believes all the acclaim can put a crimp in the creative process.  “You never start out focused on trying to win an award or have something become famous.  You just start out wanting to write something good, and I think what happens, unfortunately, is that the trappings of celebrity get in the way.”  Hamlisch also has a new-found perspective on fame and fortune.  “You know, when you’re a bachelor for 45 years, as I was, the things that make you happy tend to be entwined with the things that you do.  If you do a good movie or have a hit song, you go, ‘Ooh, I’m happy!’  Any kind of happiness on its own, like walking along the ocean, or looking at a good piece of art, is never as good as the three Oscars.”

“But when I got married,” he continued, “all that stuff went into another category, so the three Oscars are real fine, but that’s a professional happiness.  That doesn’t beat the happiness of waking up to your wife or sitting in the office with her or walking and talking with her or just thinking about her.  Separating the music world from the ‘world world’ allowed me to get back to how I was when I started all this.  And that’s what you have to do, I think, in order to do well.  You have to always go back to how it was.”

How it was, for the writer of “The Way We Were,” was a Manhattan childhood that included being the youngest student ever admitted to the Juilliard School of Music.  While still in college, he began working on Broadway shows, and composed the Lesley Gore hit “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows.”  Hamlisch’s burgeoning career truly soared when he scored a series of films, including “Take The Money And Run,” “The Way We Were,” and “The Sting.”

In 1974, Hamlisch began a year-long tour as accompanist and straight man to the legendary and, at the time, elderly Groucho Marx.  “He was the grandfather I never had, a nice old Jewish man, not at all grouchy.  A real sweetheart of a guy.  But he was getting a little senile, and he used to tell the same joke over and over.  He would say, ‘I bought an anklet for this girl, and I had it inscribed.’  I would ask, ‘What did it say?’  He would answer, ‘Heaven’s above.’ “  Was this joke told onstage or off?  “Anywhere.  Always.  Constantly.”

During that tour, Hamlisch composed the score for “A Chorus Line”.  The day before the play received its first New York press reviews in 1975, he approached its director/choreographer, Michael Bennett.  “I asked him, what happens if we were wrong about the show, if it’s not as good as we think it is?  Michael looked at me and said, ‘Have you done your best?’  I said yes.  He said, ‘Do you think you’ve wasted any time?’  I said no.  He asked, ‘Is there anything up there you’re ashamed of?’  I said no.  He said, ‘That’s all you can do.’”  The Pulitzer, Tony, and a record run on the Great White Way confirmed the duo’s belief that they had a winner.

Hamlisch is busy these days with commercial projects, but he seems more enthused with a symphonic work called “The Anatomy of Peace,” inspired by a book of that name.  “I’m grappling with some big issues right now,” he says.

Fame and fortune has granted Marvin Hamlisch that opportunity, but to him, that aspect of his career is secondary.  “You’re going to think this is really hokey,” he confided, “but I really don’t care if people remember I wrote ‘The Way We Were.’  I mean, hopefully, they’ll play it at a Bar Mitzvah here or there;  that’s fine with me.  But I just hope people connect me somehow with music that had a kind of integrity, and that was melodic.  That’s all I care about.  Forget awards, forget accolades.  I started all this to write good music, and I just want to keep doing that.”

Steve North is a broadcast journalist with CBS News.

Composer Marvin Hamlisch dies at 68

Composer Marvin Hamlisch, who earned critical acclaim and popularity for a prolific output of dozens of motion-picture scores and shows including “The Way We Were,” “The Sting” and “A Chorus Line,” has died in Los Angeles. He was 68.

Hamlisch collapsed after a brief illness and died on Monday, a family spokesman said in a statement. The spokesman gave no more details.

The composer and conductor was the creative force behind more than 40 film scores, including original compositions and musical adaptations such as his arrangement of ragtime composer Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” in the 1973 film “The Sting.”

[From the archive: ‘Chorus Line’ composer’s music still has a kick]

He won two Oscars for best score and best song for “The Way We Were,” also released in 1973, which starred Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. Hamlisch first worked with Streisand as a rehearsal pianist for “Funny Girl.”

His other film scores included “Sophie’s Choice,” “Ordinary People,” “The Swimmer,” “Three Men and a Baby,” “Ice Castles,” “Take the Money and Run” and “Bananas.” His latest effort was for a film based on the life of pianist Liberace.

On Broadway, he won a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize for the 1975 musical “A Chorus Line,” which at the time became the most successful show on the Great White Way. He had been working on a new Broadway musical called “Gotta Dance.”

Hamlisch earned the rare distinction of winning Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.

At the time of his death, he held the position of principal pops conductor for several symphony orchestras across the United States and was scheduled to conduct the New York Philharmonic in this year’s New Year’s Eve concert.

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Terre.

Reporting by Christine Kearney; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Matthew Lewis

MUSIC VIDEO: Hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari Obama video — ‘Stand With Me’

From the YouTube page:

Miri Ben-Ari, a Grammy Award-Winning violinist, originally from Israel, dedicates her rendition of the National Anthem titled Stand With Me, a music video in support of the Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

Supported by Hip Hop mogul Russell Simmons and fashion designer Marc Eckó, Ben-Ari introduces a new musical approach to capture the spirit of the American people before the 2008 Election Day while hoping to influence fans among the Jewish community.

Ben-Ari states At this time of economic crisis, we need leadership that can bring change to our country while capturing the essence of the American Dream. Coming to America as a new immigrant, poor and without my family helped me to better understand and appreciate the American dream.

Directed by: Kenzo Hakuta & Miri Ben-Ari
Exec. Producer: Howard Mark Offenhutter


Ray Benson (Asleep at the Wheel): The biggest Jew in country music [VIDEO]

CRAPONNE SUR ARZON, France (JTA)—Think Jews and country music and you’ll probably come up with Kinky Friedman, the cigar-chomping frontman of the iconoclastic Texas Jewboys, who is also a humorist, mystery novelist and failed but flamboyant candidate for Texas governor.

The real Jewish king of country music, however, is Ray Benson, the nine-time Grammy-winning leader of the country western swing band Asleep at the Wheel.

At 6-foot-7, Ray Benson has been described as a “Jewish giant” and “the biggest Jew in country.”

He literally and figuratively towers over the stage in a Stetson and fancy tooled boots, with a grizzled beard and long, thinning hair pulled back in a pony tail.

“I saw miles and miles of Texas, all the stars up in the sky,” he sings in his deep, mellow baritone. “I saw miles and miles of Texas, gonna live here ‘til I die.”

Now 57, Benson was born in Philadelphia but has lived in Austin for 35 years. He talks with a twang, plays golf with Willie Nelson, has recorded more than 30 albums and was named Texas Musician of the Year in 2004.

By his own estimate, he is the only Jewish singing star in the country western scene.

“Kinky’s not a country western singer—he’s Kinky!” Benson laughed during a conversation with JTA this summer at the annual Country Rendez-vous festival in south-central France, where Asleep at the Wheel wound up a five-nation European tour.

Unlike Friedman, however, who makes playing with stereotypes part of his in-your-face persona, Benson has—until now—kept his religious identity out of the limelight.

“I didn’t want to be known as a Jewish country western singer; I wanted to be known as a country western singer who happens to be Jewish,” he said.
“You don’t usually tell your religion or politics on stage,” he added. “For years, because I’m 6’7” and people don’t think Jews are tall, and because I guess I don’t look like the stereotype Jew, most people don’t known I’m Jewish.”

Benson got his musical start as a child in suburban Philadelphia, where he grew up in a Reform Jewish home. He and his sister put together a folk group, and he was only 11 when he played his first professional gig.

“In those days, if you’re a Jewish kid, you go to school, you go to college or you enter your parents’ business,” Benson said. “So, I obviously chose a different path.”

Benson founded Asleep at the Wheel in 1970 along with several friends, including his former Philadelphia schoolmate Lucky Oceans, a pedal steel guitar player born Ruben Gosfield, who now lives in Australia.

The band based itself in West Virginia and California before moving to Austin in 1973. Over the decades, Benson has remained the anchor of the group, while some 90 musicians have moved in and out of its line-up.

On the road much of the year, the band has criss-crossed the nation, playing everywhere from down-home dance halls to the White House—they were, in fact, scheduled to perform there on Sept. 11, 2001.

Asleep at the Wheel has played at inauguration parties for Presidents Bush and Clinton and expect to play for whomever is elected in November. Earlier this year, they played at an Austin fund-raiser for Barack Obama where the Democratic presidential nominee joined them onstage for a chorus.

In the 1970s, when the band first started touring, Benson recalled, country music was a “southern, conservative, Christian, white domain—period,” and he repeatedly came up against offhand prejudice and ignorance about Jews and Judaism.

He cites as an example a member of Tammy Wynette’s entourage, who blamed “the Jews in New York” for failing to promote her career, and had a hard time believing Benson when he told him he was Jewish. Then there’s the wife of a musician who had never heard of Judaism as a religion.

“I asked her what she thought a Jew was, and she said, ‘Someone who’s cheap,’ ” Benson recalled.

“So the stereotypes are there, and they’re still there,” he said.

“I always felt myself to be an ambassador,” he added. “I’m not a great practicing Jew on a daily basis, but I’m Jewish. And so I try to bring to them that we’re just people.”

Recently, for the first time, Benson started doing this publicly, making explicit reference to his Jewish identity on stage.

The revelation comes as part of “A Ride With Bob,”  a musical that Benson co-wrote, based on the life of Benson’s musical hero, the Western Swing pioneer Bob Wills, who died in 1975.

Benson stars in the play, along with members of Asleep at the Wheel. Since its premiere in 2005, it has played to audiences all over Texas and elsewhere, including a sell-out performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

The premise is an imagined conversation between Benson and Wills. In it, Wills asks Benson how “a Jewish boy from Philadelphia” can play western swing music. Benson responds: “The same way that a white, hayseed hillbilly from the West Texas panhandle” can play, as Wills did, blues and jazz.

“Basically in this play I confront the issue, and I let the cat out of the bag—hey, I’m Jewish and happen to be the leader of the ‘modern kings of western swing,’” Benson said.

“In the context of the play I was able to reveal this and also give it context,” he added.

The point he wanted to make, he said, is that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your religion or background is in terms of music, art or other creative endeavors. What’s important, he said, “is what’s in your heart or what’s in your mind or what’s in your talent.”

Asleep at the Wheel: ‘Route 66’ (live)


Brooks Arthur brings stars’ hearts and humor to ‘Jewish Songbook’ CD

The decor in Brooks Arthur’s office chronicles what Billboard calls his “career as a behind the scenes superstar of the record industry.”

One photograph depicts Carole King hugging Arthur while working with him after her LP “Tapestry” hit in the 1970s. Nearby is a picture of Bruce Springsteen, who recorded three albums (and his hit song, “Born to Run”) at Arthur’s old 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, N.Y. Pasted to the wall are images from the comedy albums Arthur produced for Jackie Mason, Robin Williams and Adam Sandler, who has employed Arthur as the music supervisor on most of his films — including the new Israeli action spoof “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.” Arthur’s office, in fact, is directly across the hall from the comedy impresario’s office at Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions in Culver City.

Sandler is just one of the artists featured on Arthur’s latest endeavor, “The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People,” a recently released CD of new and veteran artists performing classic Jewish songs. Sandler croons a heartfelt (and joke-free) rendition of “Hine Ma Tov” in a duet with his cantor, Marcelo Gindlin of Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (the sheet music from that recording session is taped above Arthur’s desk).

The album’s other 12 tracks include comic Rob Schneider doing the 1940s novelty tune “Bagels and Lox”; saxophonist Dave Koz in an instrumental version of the Yiddish song “Raisins and Almond,”; comic Robert Smigel adding irreverent new lyrics to “Mahzel (Means Good Luck)” in the persona of his puppet character, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; and “Seinfeld” alumnus Jason Alexander in “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max,” an Allan Sherman ditty about a salesman with too many relatives.

Promo Video: ‘The Jewish Songbook: The Heart And Humor Of A People’

Arthur, sporting a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, says the idea for the “songbook” stems from the childhood years, when he worked at his father’s Brooklyn candy store and avidly listened to Jewish radio.

“All four of my grandparents came from Russia and Poland and spoke Yiddish fluently,” Arthur recalled. “I used to love getting together with them and my parents and listening to the Yiddish station WEVD, because the music made them so happy. After the shows were over, they would go back to their daily routines, but I used to witness them coming alive listening to the Hebrew and Yiddish songs interspersed with comic ditties.

“It’s a dying art form,” Arthur said of that format. “I wanted to produce an album that hearkens back to those days.”

On the CD, Arthur himself performs “Sheyn Vi Di L’vone” (“Beautiful Like the Moon”) with Lainie Kazan; he says he discovered he had a voice while humming along to such tunes on WEVD.

“My parents’ candy store was at the subway station at 22nd Avenue-Bay Parkway, and, at age 9, I’d take the train another five stops to Coney Island, where I could pop some quarters into a booth and make a little acetate recording, a ‘single’ of myself singing,” he recalled.

Arthur also was cantor of the junior congregation at his Orthodox shtibl before launching a career as an audio engineer, overseeing 1960s hits such as “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “The Locomotion” and “Leader of the Pack.” Eventually he won grammys and produced LPs by artists such as Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli.

He segued into movie work when producer Jerry Weintraub asked him to be the music supervisor for his film “The Karate Kid” in 1982. The same year, Weintraub introduced Arthur to Chabad of Westwood, where the musician experienced a Jewish reawakening while dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah.

“I began to take Hebrew lessons and became very interested in learning,” Arthur recalled. “I found myself sponging up Judaism; I hadn’t been drinking that kind of elixir since my bar mitzvah.”

Arthur drew Sandler’s attention in the early 1990s, after he earned a Grammy nomination for producing Jackie Mason’s “The World According to Me.”

“I absolutely loved Adam on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” said Arthur, who demonstrates by imitating Sandler’s florid “SNL” character Operaman. “I loved his brand of humor, and I’m so lucky that he liked me.”

Their first album, “They’re All Gonna Laugh At You,” went double platinum, and Arthur went on to produce all five of Sandler’s CDs (copies are lined up on the console of Happy Madison’s recording studio next door). Arthur became a regular member of Sandler’s creative posse of friends and collaborators, co-writing Sandler’s animated Chanukah film, “Eight Crazy Nights,” and even playing a part in the success of the legendary “Chanukah Song.”

“I saw Adam performing it in its embryonic form on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” Arthur said, “and while he was still on the air I called his apartment in Manhattan and left the message: ‘Sandman, this is a reason to make your next album.'” (Sandler awoke him at 2 a.m. to agree.)

Arthur initially assumed Sandler might do a humorous piece for the “Jewish Songbook,” but Sandler said he “wanted to do something that makes your heart hurt,” Arthur recalled. His choice was “Hine Ma Tov,” because hearing his cantor sing the melody reminded him of going to synagogue as a boy in Manchester, N.H.

Arthur says the other “songbook” musicians also turned nostalgic in the studio about their childhood.

“They were conscious of keeping alive these great Jewish songs of the past,” he said.

Briefs: Israel reviews Jerusalem dig; U.S. offers reward for Islamic Jihad leader

Israel Reviews Jerusalem Dig

Israel is pressing ahead with a controversial dig near the Temple Mount but will review plans to build at the site. The Jerusalem Municipality announced Monday that a plan to renovate a pedestrian walkway leading from the Temple Mount’s Mughrabi Gate to the Western Wall Plaza would be put on hold to allow for consultations with police and Muslim authorities.

“This is due to the sensitivity of the plan,” the municipality said in a statement, referring to recent Palestinian rioting sparked by Arab allegations that Israel is trying to undermine the foundations of two major Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount.

But the municipality said excavations in the Western Wall Plaza would continue in order to salvage any archeological artifacts that might be damaged by the planned renovation. Israel has said the dig does not threaten the Muslim shrines and is designed to prevent the pedestrian walkway from collapsing due to weather erosion. Muslim leaders have incited their followers in the past with accusations of Jewish plots to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount.

Holocaust Denier Says He Accosted Wiesel

A Holocaust denier claims he is the one who accosted Elie Wiesel, with the aim of kidnapping him. “Eric Hunt” posted an acknowledgment on ZioPedia, an anti-Semitic Web site, saying he followed Wiesel onto an elevator at San Francisco’s Argent hotel after the author, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor participated in a panel on peace. Wiesel reported such an assault on Feb. 1 and San Francisco police are seeking the assailant.

“After ensuring no women would be traumatized by what I had to do (I had been trailing Wiesel for weeks), I stopped the elevator at the sixth floor,” Hunt wrote. “I pulled Wiesel out of the elevator. I said I wanted to interview him. He protested, grabbed at his chest as if he was having a heart attack. He then screamed HELP! HELP! at the top of his lungs.” Hunt said he let Wiesel go because “he was no use to our worldwide struggle for freedom if he had a heart attack.”

He said he “had planned on either getting Wiesel into my custody, with a cornered Wiesel finally forced to state the truth on videotape, getting arrested or fleeing.”

U.S. Offers Reward for Islamic Jihad Leader

The United States put a bounty on the head of a Palestinian terrorist leader. The State Department this week offered up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Shallah, who is based in Damascus.

Shallah is wanted for complicity in suicide bombings, murder, extortions and money laundering. Responding to the State Department’s announcement, Islamic Jihad said it would attack American targets if Shallah is taken into custody.

The State Department offered a separate bounty for Mohammed Ali Hamadei, a Lebanese Hezbollah member suspected of involvement in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 that resulted in the murder of a U.S. sailor.

Katsav Complainant Tells All

A woman who accused Israel’s president of raping her gave a full account to a British newspaper. Moshe Katsav’s former secretary, whose name is withheld from publication by law, told Britain’s Sunday Times the president first subjected her to unwanted sexual scrutiny until finally forcing himself on her when she reached up to get a book in his office.

“Maybe I didn’t struggle enough,” she said. “I was shocked. I was thinking, what if people know, what if I don’t have a job.” The complainant — who was described by the newspaper as “Michelle Pfeiffer in Chanel tortoiseshell glasses” — came forward last year, prompting Israel’s attorney general to draft rape charges against Katsav. The Israeli president has denied wrongdoing.

Jewish Groups to Stage Eco-Friendly Conferences

Two Jewish organizations have pledged to offset the carbon produced by their upcoming conferences. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life announced they’ll calculate the amount of carbon produced by their three-day conferences in Washington in late February, and will offset it through reforestation projects. The conferences, which will include nearly 1,000 participants, will limit the amount of carbon they produce through greater energy efficiency and the use of renewables.

“The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is dedicated to doing its part to combat climate change,” said Steve Gutow, the group’s executive director. “Offsetting the carbon emissions from our conference is an easy and effective way to help make a positive difference in our environment.”

The effort, billed as the first of its kind for Jewish groups, will be facilitated by, the country’s leading carbon-offset organization.

Klezmatics Win Grammy Award

The Klezmatics received the Grammy award for Contemporary World Music Album for “Wonder Wheel,” with lyrics by Woody Guthrie, on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.