January 21, 2019

Celebrating the ‘Stages’ of Sam Glaser’s songs

In the 25 years that musician and singer Sam Glaser has been performing, he’s recorded more than 20 albums and played venues big and small around the world. The Pico-Robertson resident does an average of 50 shows a year, mainly for Jewish organizations, community centers and synagogues. 

Now, to commemorate the success of Glaser’s career, the Jewish publisher Behrman House has released “Stages,” a 25th anniversary double CD that features various artists playing 32 of Glaser’s songs, including “Oseh Shalom,” “Tree of Life” and “Haleluya.” 

Glaser said his aim as a professional musician has been to inspire his audiences to celebrate Judaism. “Being an extrovert who loves being with people and meeting new people, I’m very driven by the continuous challenge of being in a new place and serving as an agent of transformation with an uplifting concert or Shabbat experience,” he said.

Glaser, a husband and father of three, has been influenced heavily by the contemporary pop and rock music of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as singer-songwriters such as Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel. 

He sings and plays piano solo, as well as with a band or with accompaniment from a full orchestra. He does gigs for Reform to Chasidic groups. Although he mostly performs his original compositions, he also incorporates some of his favorite Jewish tunes into his concerts.

“I throw in some songs by Shlomo Carlebach just because I got to be his accompanist in the last years of his life,” Glaser said. “His music really touched me. Growing up as a Camp Ramah kid, I always sang the classic songs of Israel.”

Locally, Glaser has served as the music coordinator for American Jewish University’s Department of Continuing Education; he has performed at Taste of Kosher L.A.; he is the High Holy Days cantor for Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village; and on Dec. 28, he will play at the annual Menorah Lighting and Chanukah Celebration sponsored by the Calabasas Shul at the Calabasas Commons. 

In all his travels, Glaser never fails to promote his own community. “I run around the country, and sometimes around the world, and talk a lot about the great state of Jewish life in L.A.,” he said. “I live in Pico and some say I’m the ambassador of the neighborhood.”

This past year, Glaser’s “Rock Your Life” tour visited places such as Maui, Toronto, Reno, Santa Barbara, Istanbul, Denver and Washington, D.C. He performed on days including Shabbat Shira and Tu B’Shevat, did a kosher Passover program in Las Vegas and did a show at Yeshiva University in New York City. 

“I love playing all over the place,” Glaser said. “Being on the road as a traveling Jewish musician, it’s never the same thing twice. Sometimes I’ll go to a small town and have very low expectations, but it’ll be amazing because it’s not like New York or L.A. There isn’t as much going on. The place will be packed with every Jew that lives in the city, with incredible enthusiasm.”

One of those smaller cities on the last tour was Lancaster, Pa., where the venue was smack in the middle of Amish country. “I played in a 100-year-old synagogue with a gorgeous concert grand piano and a full house,” he said. 

In between all of his shows, Glaser has been putting together “Hatikvah the Musical,” which he plans to premiere next spring on Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day). The kids musical is about the founding of Israel. He also is working on his Shabbat website, which will include video and audio lessons, along with songs for the day of rest. 

“It’ll be a resource for people wanting to feel comfortable in synagogue and learning the basic melodies,” Glaser said. “There are also tutorials for those who want to learn how to lead the services.”

Rabbi Michael Barclay of Temple Ner Simcha said that, beyond Glaser’s terrific musicianship, he’s been a pleasure to partner with for the holidays. “Sam is an example of how faith can manifest itself in music and come alive. [The experience] is so wonderful for everyone there.” 

“He personifies and walks his talk,” Barclay said of Glaser. “His faith, his intention, his knowledge and his wisdom all come through in his music.” 

Though Glaser has a packed schedule, he said he’s motivated to continue playing for audiences at home and around the world. “I know there are always more people to reach and play for. Some people will know my older albums, or I’ll go to a place and play a song and there are always people hearing it for the first time.”

Wherever Glaser is playing, he said his goal is to provide his audience with a powerful and meaningful experience.

“I hope they connect very deeply to God, and that they get extremely pumped up about their Judaism and feel pride in their heritage,” he said. “I hope that I’m able to touch emotional buttons in them like joy and excitement — and maybe a little bit of sadness in addition to the upbeat emotions. We’ve had a very intense past and I don’t gloss over the tough times we’ve been through. My concerts are all about connection.”