November 16, 2018

Donny Most: Happy Days Are Here Again — in Music

More than acting, directing and producing, Donny Most’s greatest joy is singing. Widely known for playing the comic character Ralph Malph on the long-running TV sitcom hit “Happy Days,” Most has reinvented his career with a concert tour called “Donny Most Sings and Swings,” in which he sings big-band-era-style songs during a two-hour show.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Most cut his teeth performing in the Catskills. He has performed multiple times at the local jazz clubs, Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood and Vitello’s in Studio City, as well as other venues around the country.

Most, 64, lives in Westlake Village with his wife of 36 years, Morgan. They have two daughters.

Jewish Journal: When did you realize you loved music and singing, and when did you believe you had talent as a singer?

Donny Most: It really started for me when I saw the movie “The Jolson Story” when I was 9 years old. The movie and Jolson’s singing had a very strong impact on me. I bought a bunch of his albums and would sing along to them over and over. My interest in this music led me to learn about many of the legendary singers of the Great American Songbook, like Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and Bobby Darin. I wound up taking singing lessons at a school in NYC when I was around 13 or 14, and when I was picked to be part of a professional review performing in the Catskill Mountains at age 15, I knew I might have what it takes.

JJ: How and when did the idea of the concert tour come about?

DM: It was about 4 1/2 years ago. I had put my music aside when I shifted my focus to acting in my late teens, and this kind of music was falling out of favor during this period of profound change. Because the jazz standards have come back, it hit me that if I was ever going to do this music again, now was the time.

Because the jazz standards have come back, it hit me that if I was ever going to do this music again, now was the time.

JJ: Are audiences surprised when they see the actor who played Ralph Malph, a comic character, belting out jazz and swings tunes?

DM: Yes. People who haven’t heard my CD or seen any videos from my live performances are definitely surprised when they come to one of my concerts. They are constantly saying, “We had no idea you could sing like this.” They tell me they were “blown away” and things like that, which is, of course, always nice to hear.

JJ: Did you entertain at family bar mitzvah celebrations when you were growing up?

DM: Well, I got up with the band during my own bar mitzvah and sang a Jolson song. I’m pretty sure I did the same kind of thing at several of my friends’ and relatives’ bar mitzvahs as well.

JJ: What did you learn from performing in the Borscht Belt as a teen?

DM: I got to sing in front of different audiences, with different bands, in different nightclubs about three to five times a week all summer. It’s hard to quantify what that learning experience was, but I know it taught me a lot.

JJ: What is your favorite song to perform and why?

DM: That’s a tough question, as I love so many of the songs. But when I became a huge Bobby Darin fan when I was young, I loved singing along with him to his great version of “Mack the Knife.” To this day, I feel like it’s in my blood.

JJ: In 2009, you starred in the movie “The Yankles,” portraying the father of a yeshiva student. Did being Jewish help you in this role?

DM: I’m sure it helped, as that background and experience informed me quite a bit. Even though I did not go to a yeshiva, I knew people that did. I had interactions with that world, knew the culture, etc. So having that kind of knowledge and connection always helps you as an actor.

JJ: Any causes near and dear to you?

DM: My wife was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 16 years ago, so we have been involved in many fundraising events for Parkinson’s. One organization we have worked with on several occasions is the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Also the Keck School of Medicine at USC, where my wife’s doctor does research.

JJ: How about if we wrap up this Q-and-A with your signature line from Happy Days?

DM: Even in 2018 — I still got it!

Stacy Karten is a former sports and contributing editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times.

‘Open Book’ May Rewrite Hersch’s Grammy History

Photo by Steve J.Sherman

Top contemporary jazz pianist Fred Hersch, who is nominated for two 2018 Grammy Awards, has long channeled his turbulent life into his work. The 62-year-old has faced down sneering disapproval as one of the first openly gay men in jazz. At a gay bar audition, Hersch once had to show how he looked in a tight T-shirt and sing show tunes for the owner.

And he’s battled serious health issues, including AIDS-related dementia and being in a coma for two months in 2008. When Hersch awakened, muscle atrophy prevented him from playing and performing for more than a year.

Hersh reflects some of these troubles on his new CD of solo pieces, “Open Book,” a Grammy nominee for best jazz album. His improvised piece, “Through the Forest,” is full of roiling chords and dissonant accents.

Hersch is a prodigious interpreter of notable composers, including Johnny Mandel, Billy Strayhorn, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Thelonious Monk. He is known for getting beneath the surface of a tune and revealing something new about it. On Sadik Hakim and Monk’s ballad, “Eronel,” Hersch recasts the tune by displacing the rhythm in a personal way.

Monk’s music, with its knotty themes and compelling rhythms, is a constant for Hersch. “They’re interesting puzzles,” he said in a telephone interview from his New York home. “You can take them apart and reassemble [them] in surprising ways. Each one is a great set of metrics to improvise on, and they contain potential for all kinds of dancing figures and rhythms.”

Hersh, who began playing the piano at age 4 while growing up in Cincinnati, had a German-Jewish grandmother from Selma, Ala., where her husband was the mayor.

“I was raised Jewish,” he said. “But I’ve become a practicing Buddhist. …  My Jewishness is more of a social construct than religion.”

Hersch is known for getting beneath the surface of a tune and revealing something new about it.

As a young pianist, Hersh attended the New England Conservatory, then moved to New York. He found jazz through personal inquiry.

“In Cincinnati, I didn’t know anyone who taught jazz,” he said. “I had to figure it out and I had to find it. But the older jazz musicians couldn’t have been nicer to me. They gave me tough love but they always supported me.”

Hersch’s well-received book, “Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz” (Crown Archetype, 2017), also is filled with personal disclosure and anecdotes. He recounts how, as a young musician, he took a $50-a-night job that began at 4 a.m., describing it as “rough on the system.” He adds, “More than once, I ended up spending the $50 on coke to get me through the gig.”

“I recorded that long improvisation ‘Through the Forest’… [as] a companion piece to my memoir,” Hersch said.  “I wanted it to be similarly open.”

After a dozen Grammy nominations since 1993 but no wins, Hersch is pragmatic about his chances this year. “It gives my agent and manager something to talk about,” he said. “Does it mean that I’m in the top five jazz pianists in a given year? Who knows?”

The Grammy Awards will take place on Jan. 28 in New York, but Hersch will not attend, since his trio of nine years will be in Costa Rica.

“We’ll check up on the Grammys from there,” he said.

The Congregation band fuses music, theater at Odyssey

Sammy Miller and the Congregation Band. Photo courtesy of Sammy Miller.

For spiritual fulfillment and community, a person goes to temple. For those things and some foot stomping, rules-defying jazz, a person joins The Congregation.

So says the Grammy-nominated drummer Sammy Miller, 25, whose six-member jazz ensemble is named The Congregation in the spirit of inclusiveness.

“I grew up going to a congregation,” says Miller, who was a member of Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes. “What’s the point of a congregation? To bring people together. Being a group, you actually have more power and you can uplift each other.”

The New York-based band is touring in support of its recently released debut album, “The Mixtape.” But its engagement at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, this weekend and next, will showcase its new jazz-theatrical performance “Great Awakening.” The immersive, hybridized “jazz-theater” production finds the band “playing” a jazz troop that has been banned from playing jazz by an arts organization. So the members have to figure out a way to rebrand themselves as a theater company while staying true to their love of the music.

“Great Awakening” grew out of the group’s vision of jazz as an art form that was all about telling stories. If the genre of jazz traditionally has rules, those rules must be shattered in the interest of making the music less intimidating. The show mixes original music with traditional works from greats like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.

“When you go see a jazz show today, typically the band is stationary, but why is that?” says Miller, who grew up in the Los Angeles area before doing his undergraduate work at the School of Jazz at The New School in New York. “If you go back 70 or 80 years and look at theater or opera, they’re using the whole space. In jazz, typically the music isn’t memorized. Why is that? Why can’t we have what’s standing between the songs be as important as the music? Why can’t the transitions be meaningful and what’s said in between be meaningful?”

“The Great Awakening” arrives at the Odyssey with some serious East Coast buzz. The Congregation staged “Great Awakening” at the Connelly Theater in the East Village, drawing the attention of administrators at New York’s Ars Nova theater. Through its Makers Lab, Ars Nova gives aspiring theater artists the opportunity to develop new works, and has helped launch the careers of such figures as “House of Cards” developer Beau Willimon, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Sammy Miller and The Congregation will be in residence with “The Great Awakening” at Ars Nova for 2017 to continue to develop the piece.

The production’s director, Andrew Neisler, who works frequently at Ars Nova, calls Miller and his bandmates “jazz clowns” and says “The Great Awakening” has a certain anarchy.

“For me their sensibility is very physical, very clowny,” Neisler says. Everything a clown does has that sort of joyful unapologetic humor. They live very much in a very traditional clown world. They’ve got an insurmountable task ahead of them, which is to perform this kind of perfect jazz concert and they’re always trying to achieve this but they’re always constantly falling short.”

Before returning to New York, The Congregation will play band gigs and the two weekend engagements at the Odyssey. While in L.A., the group will work with students at University High School and at Miller’s alma mater, Peninsula High School, where The Congregation will conduct a master class and perform with the school’s band as a fundraiser.

“We always do schools whenever we’re in a city,” Miller said. “Part of our goal is to educate and hopefully engage students. Most of them have never seen a live jazz concert. If they do, they often have negative connotations, that it’s old-person music or boring or whatever. We have to show them maybe it’s not always that way. It can be a joyful experience.”

The band features trombonist Sam Crittenden, tenor sax player Ben Flocks, trumpeter Alphonso Horne, pianist David Linard and bassist John Snow. Horne was a classmate of Miller’s at Juilliard, where Miller earned a master’s degree. In putting together The Congregation, Miller gravitated toward players who had diverse and sometimes unconventional artistic skills. Flocks can sing in a falsetto voice. Horne, who besides playing trumpet, sings and dances. Linard’s parents are actors, which contributes to the pianist’s theatrical background.

All of those abilities may come into play, Miller says, when The Congregation assembles.

“The idea of purist is so wild to me. It offends my sensibility,” Miller said. “I never was into that. I’m always inviting people into a concept, not excluding people. When you have all the different resources of your personality, the music takes on a new character. It isn’t traditional jazz, but perhaps there’s this idea of joyful jazz: music that’s medicinal and can uplift people.”


Sammy Miller and The Congregation present “The Great Awakening” at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 6 p.m. Sundays at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055, ext. 2.

Alon Nechushtan: Jazz music with Israeli roots

The history of jazz is rife with junctures where the music received an infusion of creative innovation from the far-flung provinces: Louis Armstrong turned Chicago on its ear in the 1920s; the Count Basie Orchestra and Charlie Parker hit New York in 1936 and 1941, respectively; and Ornette Coleman left Los Angeles to “change the century” at New York’s Five Spot in 1959.  

In the last decade, an influx of Israeli musicians has been invigorating New York City and the larger American jazz sphere. They include saxophonists Eli Degibri, Danny Zamir and Ori Kaplan; violinist Miri Ben-Ari; guitarist Roni Ben-Hur; bassist Omer Avital; sibling reed players Anat and Yuval Cohen; their brother, trumpeter Avishai; and bassist Avishai Cohen (no relation). Are you getting all this down?    

Add the name of pianist and composer Alon Nechushtan to that list. The 39-year-old Tel Aviv native has released a half-dozen beautifully vital recordings since he immigrated to New York a decade ago. The newest album, “Venture Bound,” is part of the push that brings him to the West Coast for his first visit. Nechushtan’s quartet will be on display for three nights: July 10 at the Levantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles, July 11 at Vitello’s in Studio City and July 12 at Curve Straight Space in Los Angeles.

His recordings usually feature small band configurations, and that can be a bit misleading. Nechushtan is a composer who has equal parts classical music and jazz under his fingers, and he’s written a fair amount of music for orchestras.

The elements that roil around in Nechushtan’s musical stew account for much of its savory appeal. Rollicking jazz that can dance as easily as it can offer meditative interludes collides with klezmer’s minor-scale abandon or a sonata-like piano. Gypsy strains and Middle Eastern modes foment in the same pot. The offset metric complexity of “The Traveler” (from the 2011 “Words Beyond” album) further loosens Thelonious Monk’s treatise on rhythmic displacement, “Evidence.” Or does it nod to Bartok’s folksy modernism as well?

Nechushtan’s studies at the New England Conservatory of Music brought him into contact with strong musical presences: pianists Ran Blake, Paul Bley, Danilo Perez and Fred Hersch. Hankus Netsky, leader of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, inveighed upon Nechushtan to seriously address klezmer.   

Pausing before the start of his current tour, Nechushtan took time to speak by phone from Manhattan about his music.

“I owe Hankus a lot,” Nechushtan said. “He got me to play in klezmer ensembles; I didn’t know that music before that because we didn’t hear it much in Israel.”

“Ran Blake is a real theoretician,” he continued. “He’s thought a lot about improvisational piano. Paul Bley is almost shockingly nonacademic, but we had some great talks. Danilo exposed me to new rhythms and options of composing in the moment. And,” he added with enthusiasm, “I love his sense of humor! Humor is very important: If music is too self-important, it loses something for me.

“Jewish music has humor and sadness at the same time,” Nechushtan clarified. The son of an Uzbek mother and a Hungarian father, Nechshtan heard a lot of the Soviet postmodern composers, and he even speaks a little Russian. Igor Stravinsky’s music is a continuing source of enjoyment as well. Nechushtan holds that in contemporary music, “Everything is plural in a way. It definitely is a global village.” 

So, is Nechushtan a composer who plays piano, or a pianist who composes? He paused before answering. “That’s a heavy question,” he conceded. “I started as a composer before I went onstage. Before that, I gave my music to other performers; I had written some classical guitar pieces and chamber works before playing my music publicly. If I can’t be up there, that’s fine with me; a lot of my music is best understood in performance.  

“I don’t have to be inside the music,” he continues. “In fact, it’s an important part of the process for me to see how it’s interpreted by conductors or big bands. It’s good to step outside yourself to see how other people hear your music.”

Nechushtan said the concept of dance is important to his music. “I like the joy and the humor of klezmer, which is balanced by the minor-scale sadness. Bartok said if there’s no motion, then there’s no emotion. The joy in the music is to move you to dance — it’s very hard to stay still when you’re listening to a horah!

Mark Winkler: Music’s past becomes present

At 62, the boyishly enthusiastic jazz singer and songwriter Mark Winkler has the moxie and perspective to mine and enlarge the jazz elements of pop songs from the 1960s and ’70s. His latest, “The Laura Nyro Project” (Café Pacific), is his 12th album under his own name. Through it, he learned some things about the songs, his family and himself that he hadn’t foreseen. 

Winkler’s mother sang with Los Angeles bands in Hollywood Boulevard clubs as Marceline Marlowe. Her marriage to Ervin Winkler, the son of a rabbi, may have ended her career, but she still sang. Friday nights at the Winkler home in Carthay Circle were competitive sing-alongs. Mark and his two brothers — Bob and Dick — had to wait their turn: “I was 11 before they let me sing!”

“My mom was a tough cookie,” Winkler averred. “She was from the South Side of Chicago, and she had poker parties every Monday. Her friends were all characters — with their teased hair, cigarettes and Hadassah voices — complaining about their husbands. They were really interesting women. 

“Mom hated singers who oversold a song — ‘show-boating’ she called it. She loved Ethel Waters, Bing Crosby, Dick Haymes and Mama Cass. She taught me to memorize lyrics and not breathe in the middle of a line.”

There was little question that Winkler would sing. “I started reading Billboard at 8,” he said. At Los Angeles High School, he sang in the choir in a majority black student body. “The school was great,” he said. His friends turned him onto jazz albums, and broadcaster Johnny Magnus got to him with Ella Fitzgerald and other great voices. Winkler later returned the compliment through his “D.J. in L.A.” song.

A Hollywood record store brought Winkler face-to-face with Laura Nyro’s now-iconic album, “Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. “She was like a madonna on that cover,” Winkler recalled with a touch of awe. “I listened to that album every day for two years, and her music has been with me ever since.” The Italian-Jewish Bronx diva came across like Anna Magnani in a gospel choir, singing of love, despair, salvation and redemption.

As a gay teenager, Winkler was bowled over by the songs and by Nyro’s emotionally charged performances. “There was nothing cool about her,” he said. “The songs came out of soul music, Broadway, jazz, and she sang doo-wop on the corners. Well, that’s where I came from, too. And her songs spoke about my life.”

Winkler’s grandfather, a Hungarian immigrant named Mayer Winkler, helped found Wilshire Boulevard Temple. “On the High Holy Days,” Mark said, “my dad used to open the Torah on the stage. It’s called a bimah?” he said, laughing. “I’m not a very good Jew. But I loved all the cantorial stuff with the minor chords. I could hear some of that in Laura’s songs. Her imagery was very Catholic — always talking about the devil and salvation — but she had Eli in there, too.”    

In the late 1960s, American pop was awash in great singer-songwriters writing new chapters to the Great American Songbook; in addition to Nyro were Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Joni Mitchell. Where Mitchell became the sun-kissed muse of Laurel Canyon, Nyro was dark and mysterious — singing with black gospel abandon and whispering into the mic between numbers. 

Beginning in 1976, author and music historian Harvey Kubernik (next month, Santa Monica Press will release his book “Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles, 1956-1972) knew Nyro. “We were phone buddies,” he explained, “the last 10 years of her life. She predated the arrival of women cantors and sounded the shofar for everybody.” 

“Underneath it all,” Kubernik advised, “she was a giggly girl. She said, ‘Remember: The top half is Italian, but the bottom half is still Jewish.’ I said the word ‘chick’ to her once, and she said, ‘You calling me a chick? I like that!’ ”

While recording his album, Winkler had an epiphany. “My dad was bipolar,” he soberly related. “But he wasn’t diagnosed until ’68. A couple of times a year, he’d just take off, and we wouldn’t see him for about a month. I was doing ‘He’s a Runner,’ and all of a sudden it hit me: I was singing to my mom about my dad. I got pretty emotional, but it was healing at the same time.”

Winkler recognizes wisdom when it’s handed to him: “I’m smart enough to know that if a song is meaningful to me, it touches my life in some way.” 

Mark Winkler performs at Upstairs at Vitello’s in Studio City on June 7 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit

Cookies for a Koz: How mom’s cookies made a difference

Audrey Koz was a pharmacist, but her best medicine was the love she baked into her chocolate chip cookies.

“The cookies pack my mom’s magic in every bite,” said her daughter, Roberta Koz Wilson.

They were so good, Audrey Koz credited her cookies for launching the musical career of her son, Grammy Award-nominated saxophonist Dave Koz. When he started out in the jazz world, she sent cookies with him to every meeting and performance, and Capitol Records even took her — and her goodies — to meet record executives.

“We would send my mom in with batches of cookies to grease the way,” Dave Koz said.

When Audrey Koz died suddenly in 2005, Wilson decided that she needed a way to impact people like her mother did. She already had left her role as longtime vice president for affiliate sales and marketing at MTV Networks in search of a new challenge.

After tinkering with other small-business ideas, Wilson started baking her mother’s cookies for her daughter’s elementary school holiday boutique. Her success there gave her an idea, and with no previous experience in baking or starting a business — aside from her background in sales and marketing — Wilson launched Cookies for a Koz in 2008.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I learned everything I could.”

Wilson created a Web site and moved into a West Valley commercial kitchen as demand increased. When clients asked for different flavors, she introduced oatmeal raisin, white chocolate raspberry, snickerdoodle and red velvet. Seasonal specialties developed, too, such as pumpkin chocolate chip for Thanksgiving and apple pie cookies for Mother’s Day.

“I try very hard not to eat too many cookies while I’m baking them,” said Wilson, a Calabasas resident whose favorite cookie is shortbread.

To honor her mother, Wilson donates 10 percent of retail purchases to Starlight Children’s Foundation, Audrey Koz’s favorite charity. The organization, for which Dave Koz is a global ambassador, works to improve the quality of life for seriously ill children through entertainment, education and family activities.

“Anything that anyone can do on any level to make the world a little bit better for those in need is tikkun olam (repairing the world), and working with an organization like Starlight lets us see a tangible impact that we make on the lives of others,” Wilson said.

So far, her company has donated more than $30,000 to the foundation, but that’s not all that keeps her going.

“The greatest joy, by far, has been that it has kept me feeling connected to my beloved mom,” Wilson said. “I know this was her dream, and I feel like I am helping to fulfill that for her.”

Wilson’s brother, who is also her best customer, said there is something that sets his mother’s cookies above the rest.

“It’s like the way someone sings that takes your breath away. It’s not definable,” Dave Koz said. “When I tasted the cookies, there was a secret ingredient of love — a big, huge helping of it that sets them apart from other cookies.”

Hollywood has noticed. The cookies have been featured on the “Rachael Ray Show” and “The Bonnie Hunt Show,” and they have been included in gift bags for nominees and presenters at the Academy Awards and at numerous celebrity events.

With efforts to grow the business, Wilson hired a food consultant who shared the cookies at meetings across the country, and, in November, Cookies for a Koz hit the shelves of 375 HomeGoods stores. More recently, they were introduced at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, resulting in a total of 2,200 stores across the United States and Canada that will sell a dry mix and cookie assortment.

Wilson said this is especially satisfying because Marshalls was her mother’s favorite store to shop at for bargains. Now its shelves feature packages with Audrey Koz’s photo and story.

“The fact that her cookies are at Marshalls truly gives me the chills,” said Wilson, a mother of two teenagers who she hopes will one day run the growing enterprise.

Her brother, who is the owner of Koz Wine, donates proceeds of his sales to the Starlight Children’s Foundation as well. Now the two are working to expand their brand as a socially conscious food company known as Koz Kitchen. Once again, their inspiration is their mother, whose kitchen was home to a steady stream of friends, family and love.

“My mom had the ability to make everyone in her presence feel like they were the most important person in the world,” Wilson said. “And it was all truly genuine.”

The siblings recently paired up on Dave Koz’s tour aboard a Royal Caribbean Mediterranean cruise. Wilson was on board to teach cooking school.

“The great irony is that when she started out, she was really lousy,” he said of his sister. “Over the years, she has become a really great chef.

Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through Feb. 2009


Robert Dowd — Pop Art Money — See Jan.17 listing


Fri., Dec. 12
“Laemmle Through the Decades: 1938-2008, 70 Years in 7 Days.” It must have been an extraordinarily difficult task to select only seven films to represent the rich and diverse history of the Laemmle Theatres chain. But someone did it. For the next week, Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles will screen the seven most iconic foreign-language films to have graced the company’s silver screens, each one representing a different decade of its existence. The lineup includes “Children of Paradise” (1945, France), “La Strada” (1954, Italy), “Jules & Jim” (1962, France), “The Conformist” (1970, Italy, France and West Germany), “Fanny & Alexander” (1982, Sweden), “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988, Spain) and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001, Mexico). Films will screen several times a day. Through Dec. 18. $7-$10. Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 477-5581. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Dec. 13
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” With a long list of Top 40 favorites, such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand by Me” and “On Broadway,” this musical mishmash of Leiber and Stoller hits is ideally jubilant for the holiday season. Since its 1995 premiere on Broadway, the 39-song revue has been nominated for seven Tony Awards, won a Grammy Award for the legendary duo’s songs and featured special appearances by megastars such as Gladys Knight, Gloria Gaynor and Rick Springfield. Starring in this NoHo production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” are DeLee Lively, Robert Torti and a host of other talented stage veterans. Special performances include tonight’s opening night gala and two New Year’s Eve shows, one with a champagne reception, the other followed by an all-out party with the cast. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Through Jan. 4. $25-$150. El Portal Theatre, Mainstage, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-4200. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Dec. 13
“Moonlight Rollerway Holiday Jubilee.” Charles Phoenix is addicted to thrift store shopping. Luckily for us, Phoenix has put together a collection of the goodies he has found. Now, Moonlight Rollerway, which calls itself Southern California’s last classic roller rink, is presenting Phoenix and his quirky, retro holiday slide show. The viewing event will be followed by a roller-skating revue spectacular, featuring 75 championship skaters and celebrating the entire year’s holidays, including Cinco de Mayo and Valentine’s Day. Snacks and an after-show skating party are included. 8 p.m. Also, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. $35. Moonlight Rollerway, 5110 San Fernando Road, Glendale. (818) 241-3630. ” target=”_blank”>

Sun., Dec. 14
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus Annual Winter Concert. There is an Academy Award-nominated documentary about this choir. It has toured Brazil, China, Italy and Poland, among other nations. And since its inception in 1986, the chorus has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Approximately 250 talented and dedicated children between the ages of 8 and 12 make up the LACC. The angelic voices of these preteen choristers will bring to life works by composers such as Aaron Copland, Pablo Casals, Randall Thompson and J.S. Bach in a winter concert inspired by literary luminaries Robert Frost, William Shakespeare and others. The program follows the 2008-2009 season theme, “The Poet Sings,” and features a varied selection of classical, folk and contemporary pieces. 7 p.m. $24-$42. Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 793-4231. ” target=”_blank”>

Mon., Dec. 15
Reel Talk: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Stephen Farber, film critic for Hollywood Life magazine and The Hollywood Reporter, has been treating audiences to sneak previews of the industry’s hottest films for more than 25 years. The veteran film buff concludes this year’s preview series with a fascinating film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about a man who is born in his 80s and ages backward. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, the odd tale is already making waves and is set to hit theaters during prime-time movie-watching season, Christmas. The screening will be followed by a discussion with members of the filmmaking team, including Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West. 7 p.m. $20. Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500. ” target=”_blank”>

Tue., Dec. 16
Carrie Fisher presents and signs “Wishful Drinking.” It’s not easy being an action figure before you can legally drink a beer, but that didn’t stop Princess Leia from having one, or two, or many more. Fisher’s first memoir, adapted from her one-woman stage show, is a revealing look at her childhood as a product of “Hollywood in-breeding” and her adulthood in the shadow of “Star Wars.” After electroshock therapy, marrying, divorcing then dating Paul Simon, a drug addition and a bipolar disorder, Fisher still manages to take an ironic and humorous survey of her bizarre life. Meet Fisher and get a copy of her book signed at this WeHo book haven. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>

Fri., Dec. 19
“Peter Pan.” Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, pirates, Indians — we know the cast of characters well. But how many of us have actually seen a full production of J.M. Barrie’s classic fantasy play, “Peter Pan” — especially one that features the complete musical score by Leonard Bernstein? Composer Alexander Frey — who helped reconstruct portions of Bernstein’s score that had been previously lost for a special CD — is flying in from Berlin to conduct the live orchestra. 7 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Dec. 28. $30-$70; $10 (seniors and students). Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. (805) 963-0761. ” target=”_blank”>

Wed., Dec. 24
“49th Annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration.” Los Angeles’ biggest holiday show, featuring 45 groups and 1,200 performers, is a proud tradition — and it’s absolutely free! Running approximately six hours, the holiday extravaganza features the county’s cultural diversity. This year’s highlights include hip-hop group Antics Performances, South Bay Ballet and Grammy-nominated Lisa Haley and the Zydekats. Audiences will have the opportunity to listen to sounds and see sights from the world over, including Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. For those of you who can’t make it to see the event in person, KCET-TV will also be airing the event live. Sponsored by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and produced by the County Arts Commission. 3-9 p.m. Free. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3099.

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Oct. 25-31: Jerusalem Symphony, Der Golem, Das Jazz, El Vote


A German expressionist film miraculously melds a Halloween mood with a talmudic rabbi and the Prague ghetto. “Der Golem: Wie Er in die Welt Kam” (“The Golem: How He Came Into the World”) tells the legend of a clay figurine created by a rabbi to save the Jewish people of the Prague ghetto, who suffered from the ” target=”_blank”>

Jewish violinist Ilia Korol will make his debut as guest concertmaster at the opening of the new season for “Musica Angelica,” California’s premier baroque ensemble. Internationally acclaimed music director Martin Haselblock will lead the orchestra through performances of Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann and the U.S. premiere of Graun’s “Double Concerto.” Recording virtuoso Marion Verbruggen and gambist Vittorio Ghielmi will round out the lineup of outstanding soloists. Audience members are also invited to attend a pre-concert lecture, which begins 40 minutes prior to the first performance. Sat. 8 p.m. $39-$55 (general); $15 (students). Zipper Concert Hall, Colburn School of Performing Arts, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Also, Sun., Oct. 26, 4 p.m. Same prices. Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 458-4504. ” target=”_blank”>


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As part of a special tribute dedicated to musicians affected by the Holocaust, Da Camera Society is bringing the Berlin-based Jacques Thibaud Trio to Los Angeles to play the rarely heard works of Jewish composers: Paul Ben Haim, Erwin Schulhoff, Gideon Klein and Leon Levitch. The New York Times has hailed the trio ” target=”_blank”>

Get ready for some relief from the seriousness of the political debates. The Capitol Steps — the comedy troupe made up of former congressional staffers — are back by popular demand, skewering the politicians who once employed them. Republican? Democrat? It doesn’t matter. No one is safe from their caustic yet hilarious barbs. Sun. 4 p.m. $45. American Jewish University, Brandeis-Bardin Campus, 1101 Peppertree Lane, Brandeis. (310) 440-1246. ” target=”_blank”>

Friends of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl are in the midst of an annual three-week concert tour. Pearl, who was also a musician, believed in the power of music to bring people together. “FODfest” aims to ensure Pearl’s vision lives on by inviting people from all walks of life to partake in the free concert series. Angelenos get their chance to participate when the peace-spreading duo SONiA & disappear fear, singer-songwriter Todd Mack, indie star Lauren Adams, Mexican artist Judith de los Santos and many others hit the stage. Sun. 8 p.m. Free. Hotel Cafe, 1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 461-2040. ” target=”_blank”>

UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies is pondering Sephardic life in the Balkans. In conjunction with an exhibit containing first-hand accounts of Balkan Sephardim (thanks to the work of, an oral history project combining pictures and stories), “Images of a Lost World” features a symposium discussing this unique historic experience, followed by the opening reception of the multimedia exhibit. Sun. 2-4 p.m. (symposium). Free. UCLA, 314 Royce Hall. 5-7 p.m. (exhibit opening). Free. UCLA Hillel, Rose and David Dortort Gallery, 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 825-5387. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>meant to explore the American Jewish Diaspora. They will perform Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” suite, along with Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 and Copland’s Symphony No. 3. Violin soloist Robert McDuffie has made a name for himself and earned a Grammy nomination along the way. Tue. 8 p.m. $34-$90. UCLA Live, Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-4401. ” target=”_blank”> Refugee camp open Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, Santa Monica Pier, Parking Lot 1 North. (800) 490-0773. ” target=”_blank”>


It’s a scary thought, but it’s true: there are more than 3 million active “swingers” living in the United States (and by swingers, we don’t mean Vince Vaughn). These are ordinary Americans, living everywhere from Mahwah, N.J., to Pleasanton, Calif., and they like to expand their sexual horizons by swapping partners now and then. Naomi Harris, a photojournalist who has published work in ” target=”_blank”>



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” target=”_self”>Rabbi David Wolpe as part of the grand finale to this year’s San Diego Jewish Book Fair. The authors of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and “Why Faith Matters” (respectively) will no doubt have plenty to say to one another, but there is much, much more at this year’s fest that is not to be missed: NBC News’ Tel Aviv bureau chief Martin Fletcher, award-winning ” target=”_blank”>


We think you should be completely politicked out by Nov. 4, and so do leading Democrat and Republican activists in Los Angeles., evidenced by their citywide “Jewish Vote Forums” taking place almost every other night at a different synagogue. McCain-Obama, Larry Greenfield-Andrew Lachman. Can’t we all just get along? Maybe that’s the point. Here are three options worth a hiatus from CNN: Shaarey Zedek Synagogue is hosting the two aforementioned gentlemen with Paul Kujawsky moderating. Sun., Oct. 26. 7 p.m. Free. 12800 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 763-0560.; and Valley Beth Shalom is hosting Greenfield and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) with Journal editor-in-chief Rob Eshman serving as moderator. Thu., Oct. 30. 7:30 p.m. Free. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-0752.


‘Mission’ accomplished for hybrid composer Lalo Schifrin — with new book and CD

As a recent Sunday afternoon interview wound down, composer Lalo Schifrin got up from the couch in his Beverly Hills studio and went over to a baby grand. Launching into Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales,” then into two jazz standards, “Cherokee” and “Israel,” he effortlessly illustrated how seamlessly harmonic ideas in classical and jazz music intersect.

Bridging the perceived gap between, say, Beethoven and Ellington has been one of his lifelong goals, ever since he first discovered jazz as a 16-year-old living in Buenos Aires.

“You see in ‘Cherokee’ how the Ravel chords are used as a bridge?” Schifrin asked. Suddenly the 76-year-old composer, conductor and pianist, who will be honored on Sept. 21 with a lifetime achievement award at the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival, seemed like a teenager.

“It’s the harmonies of Ravel and Debussy that attract jazz musicians,” he said. “I once showed Dizzy Gillespie Ravel’s ‘Histoires naturelles’ for voice and piano. He heard one passage and said, ‘Oh, this will go well with Monk’s ‘Round Midnight.’ From then on we had to play it with the Ravel chords.”

Schifrin played in the trumpet virtuoso’s jazz group from 1958 to 1963, when he came to Hollywood and started composing for television and film. His most famous work is probably the Latin-flavored theme from “Mission: Impossible.” But he’s also written classic scores for “Bullitt” and three Academy Award-nominated films, “The Fox,” “Cool Hand Luke” and “Voyage of the Damned.” Schifrin also scored four of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” films. Schifrin explained that sometimes the best film music is none at all.

About one of his most celebrated film scores, Schifrin said, “Everybody tells me I wrote a fantastic car chase sequence in ‘Bullitt,’ but I didn’t. I wrote tension and suspense up to the moment where Steve McQueen puts his Mustang into gear.”

Schifrin seems most proud of his “Jazz Meets the Symphony,” a musical encounter that he hopes will be a “celebration of walls and fences coming down” and the “merging of two cultural heritages.” He was scheduled to play and conduct the piece in Paris on Sept. 13.

Schifrin’s autobiography, “Mission Impossible: My Life in Music” (edited by Richard Palmer, Scarecrow Press, $35, includes CD), which just hit bookstores, looks at his early years living under the fascist Peron regime in Argentina, his subsequent studies with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory and his evolution into one of Hollywood’s elite composers.

Schifrin left Argentina in 1952, returning four years later. By the early ’60s, however, he was solidly planted in Hollywood. The many military dictatorships that followed Peron’s made it impossible for him to attend his father’s funeral in Buenos Aires in 1979. By that time, Schifrin was under a death threat.

Schifrin’s father was concertmaster of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, and his uncle was principal cellist. His father thought young Boris — Schifrin legally changed it to “Lalo,” which is a nickname for Claudio, his middle name — might be better off as a classical musician. He studied with pianist Daniel Barenboim’s father, Enrique, who used to whack his fingers with a sharp pencil whenever he made a mistake. “That was the way musical education was at that time,” he said.

Although he later rebelled, Schifrin now seems grateful for the European musical education instilled in him by his father. When he was 9, he played Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” at the Teatro Colon with Erich Kleiber conducting. By then, Schifrin had already seen and absorbed operas, ballets and symphonies.

Looking back, Schifrin says his father did finally accept his unusual hybrid career, which fuses jazz with the European tradition of classical music. No doubt he would be proud of his son’s four Grammy awards and six Oscar nominations — and that past honorees for the Temecula Festival lifetime achievement award have included Ray Charles, Karl Malden, Robert Wise and Etta James.

The composer said his father thought the tango was “vulgar,” but his natural feel for that sultry urban dance may have saved him from a night in jail. He was coming home late one night in Buenos Aires when two policemen spotted him.

“I had a case of LPs,” he recalled. “A whole case made for LPs was new in Argentina, and the police thought I looked suspicious, especially when they saw English labels and the word ‘jazz’ on many of them. They wanted to take me to the station. There was a cafe across the street with a piano, and I asked them to go there. I opened the piano lid and played a tango. They smiled and let me go.”

It was a close call, but other incidents, such as seeing Argentine soldiers goose-stepping in German uniforms, made it clear that the time had come to leave his beloved city. At the Special Section for Anti-Argentine Activities, his interrogator asked him why he wanted to leave Argentina to attend the Paris music conservatory. Schifrin answered: “Do you realize the honor it represents to have an Argentinean admitted to one of the most prestigious music schools in the world? I respectfully submit to you that this should be a cause for pride to our country!” His passport was signed and stamped.

Schifrin grew up in a religiously mixed family where Jews and Catholics intermarried. His father would take him to temple, and on Sunday mornings he would go to mass.

As he notes in his book, “All this was confusing to me since I was observing different rituals for the same God.”

His mother’s side was half-Jewish and half-Catholic but, he said, she “became Jewish.” There was a note of slight offense in his voice when he recalled how an aunt and uncle on his mother’s side once tried to convert him to Catholicism. Yet Schifrin has “great respect for people who believe sincerely in a religion and a God.”

Art, and particularly the art of music, forms a large part of Schifrin’s identity, but when asked whether he feels Jewish, he told a story.

“Well, I have to tell you when I went to Israel for the first time I felt something when I saw that the police had the Star of David on their uniforms. I mean, this did something to me.”

The Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival runs Sept. 17-21, 2008 at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. For more information on the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival, visit or call (951) 699-5514.

Rick Schultz writes about music for the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through November 2008


Fri., Sept. 12
“A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People.” Angelenos can explore the legacy of one of the Catholic Church’s most beloved popes in a new Skirball Cultural Center exhibition. Through artifacts, photographs and audiovisual recordings that first appeared at Cincinnati’s Xavier University only weeks after the pope’s death in 2005, visitors can explore the life of Pope John Paul II and the historical and personal circumstances that led him to aggressively reach out to Jews worldwide. Pope John Paul II was the first pontiff to enter a synagogue, recognize the State of Israel and formally apologize for the Catholic Church’s past treatment of the Jewish people. The Skirball will also offer several public programs related to the exhibition: an adult-education course on “Jesus and Judaism” and film adaptations of biblical epics, among others. Through Jan. 4. $10 (general admission), free to all on Thursdays. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 13
“Speech & Debate.” The town is Salem, Ore., and, as in countless other American cities, teenagers are on the prowl for like-minded adolescents via the Internet. However, the three teenagers who find one another in “Speech & Debate” don’t just bond over music, books and movies, but are linked through a sex scandal that has rocked their community. The three adolescent misfits do what anyone else would to get to the bottom of the scandal: form their school’s first speech and debate team. Check out the West Coast premiere of the play, which critics are calling “flat-out funny.” 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Through Oct. 26. $22-$28. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 661-9827. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 13
Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival. Camarillo is offering visitors a one-day extravaganza filled with music, artists and gourmet food, all culminating in an evening concert under the stars. The 2008 Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival will include gospel and bluegrass music, a farmers’ market and more than 50 artists showcasing their work. By evening, retro-band Royal Crown Revue will warm the stage for a secret, Grammy-nominated headliner. 8 a.m. (farmers’ market), 10 a.m. (music and art walk). $20-$60. 2400 Ventura Blvd., Old Town Camarillo. (805) 484-4383. ” target=”_blank”>

Fri., Sept. 19
“Back Back Back” at The Old Globe. There’s nothing poignant about professional athletes using steroids. Or is there? Old Globe playwright-in-residence Itamar Moses delves into the controversial topic and takes the audience beyond the newspaper headlines and congressional hearings to the sanctuary of sports — the locker room. With humor and insight, Moses unfolds the stories of three major league baseball players who struggle to compete in the unforgiving world of professional sports, as well as balance their personal lives and professional images. The up-and-coming playwright has “clearly demonstrated tremendous talent along with a willingness to tackle complex ideas in his plays,” said The Globe’s Executive Producer Lou Spisto. Moses’ other works include “The Four of Us,” which won the San Diego Critics’ Circle Best New Play Award last year and “Bach at Leipzig.” 8 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Oct. 26. $42-$59. Old Globe Arena Theatre, James S. Copley Auditorium, San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park, San Diego. (619) 234-5623. ” target=”_blank”>

Sun., Sept. 21
KCRW’S World Festival. A remarkable, eclectic lineup marks the last week of KCRW’s World Music Festival. Ozomatli toured the world, engaging audiences with its blend of Latin-, rock- and hip-hop-infused music, as well as its anti-war and human rights advocacy. The multiethnic group headlines this special night at the Hollywood Bowl, along with Michael Franti, a former member of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and his latest band Spearhead. Mexican singer Lila Downs as well as Tijuana’s premiere electronic band, Nortec Collective and its members Bostich and Fussible, will make it impossible for anyone not to get something out of the mix. If you haven’t had the chance to catch this spectacular summer concert series, don’t miss this last opportunity. 7 p.m. $10-$96. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. ” target=”_blank”>

Wed., Sept. 24
Brad Meltzer signs “Book of Lies.” The New York Times best-selling mystery writer is back with a riveting new thriller that links the Cain and Abel story with the creation of Superman. Young Jerry Siegel dreamed up a bulletproof super man in 1932 when his father was shot to death. It may sound like a strange plotline, but trust Meltzer, who has written six other acclaimed page-turners as well as comic books and television shows, to produce a great read. The novel is already receiving major buzz and you can get in on the action in a variety of ways: By watching the trailer on Brad Meltzer’s Web site (yes, the book has a movie trailer), listening to the book’s soundtrack (yes, the book has a soundtrack) and by coming to a reading and book signing by the author. 7:30-9 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 380-1636. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 27
“Skinny Bitch: A Bun in the Oven.” If there is one thing that doesn’t ever get old, it’s mocking our own culture. Authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin do just that in their newly released “Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven,” a sequel of sorts to their best-selling cookbook “Skinny Bitch.” The book is a guaranteed laugh riot and today’s in-store reading and signing could offer a sassy twist as the two authors show up in the flesh to dish about expecting mothers. And don’t be fooled, just because the subjects of this book are in a more fragile state of mind, Freedman and Barnouin refuse to make any exceptions to their insightful and illuminating critiques. 2 p.m. $14.95 (book price). Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 27
“Jack’s Third Show.” Long hair, dramatic eye shadow and electric guitars return for an ’80s afternoon. Billed as a benefit for autism education, radio station JACK-FM stages an edgy blend of retro and new wave rockers. Billy Idol joins Blondie, The Psychedelic Furs and Devo for a musical bash that will have you dancing all day long. 2 p.m. $29-$89. Verizon Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. (213) 480-3232. ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 27
Museum Day. Art and cultural institutions are hoping to attract folks from all walks of life by making them an offer that’s hard to refuse: free admission to museums across Southern California. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, this event gives art lovers and art novices alike the opportunity to visit venues from the Getty Center to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, free of charge. Natural history and science museums, like the California Science Center are also participating in the event. Regular parking fees do apply and advance reservations are recommended for some exhibitions. For a complete list of participating museums, visit ” target=”_blank”>

Sat., Sept. 27
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s 40th Season Opening Gala. L.A. Chamber Orchestra’s first musical director, Sir Neville Marriner, will conduct its current director, Jeffrey Kahane, in a piano solo to celebrate its 40th year. A symbolic bridge between the orchestra’s past and its future, expect to hear classical masters Beethoven, Schumann and Stravinsky, followed by dinner, dancing and a live auction for patrons. 6 p.m. $35-$125 (concert only), $750 (full package). The Ambassador Auditorium, 131 S. Saint John Ave., Pasadena. (213) 622-7001, ext. 215.


Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Aug. 30-Sept. 5: Painting, a benefit, jazz, flies



East-West issues are the focus of Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s newest exhibition, “Dimensions of Color,” which showcases the talents of artists representing Korea, Japan, India and Uzbekistan, as well as Israeli-born artist Nathan Slate Joseph. Joseph treats squares of galvanized steel found in Asian urban centers with pigments and solders them together, creating a patchwork design that speaks to the interplay between man and the forces of nature. Tue.-Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Through Oct. 5. Free. Sundaram Tagore Gallery, 9606 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-4520. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>sponsoring the fifth annual benefit dinner for Nefesh B’Nefesh, which eases the aliyah process by providing financial support, employment resources and social guidance for Jews from around the world who decide to make Israel their home. The fundraiser will include a presentation by L.A. Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan and entertainment by Cantor Mike Stein of Temple Aliyah. Sun. 6:30 p.m. $100 donation (includes dinner and program). Chabad of the Valley, 18181 Burbank Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 349-2581. ” target=”_blank”> ” title=”hits the L.A. stage on Sept. 7″>hits the L.A. stage on Sept. 7, the American Film Institute, in partnership with the Los Angeles Opera, will screen David Cronenberg’s 1986 big-budget reboot of the 1958 sci-fi/horror classic. Just to recap: Seth Brundle, played by Jeff Goldblum, is a brilliant research scientist who unknowingly shares a ride in his teleportation pod with a common housefly. Their merged DNA initiates a graphic — and gross — metamorphosis that ultimately dooms Brundle’s love affair with journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis). A question-and-answer session with Cronenberg and Howard Shore, who scored the film and composed the music for the opera, will precede the screening. Wed. 8 p.m. $12. 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 856-7600. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>leaving behind a 6-year-old boy. On a quest to find the adorable boy’s mother — nicknamed Noodle for his adept noodle-sucking ability — the twice-widowed Miri discovers more than she anticipated. Full of biting Israeli humor, endearingly flawed characters and superb acting, the film garnered nine Israeli Film Academy nominations, including best film and best actress. Sinai Temple will be screening it at their program, “Lights, Camera, Israel!” followed by a discussion. Thu. 7 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P (310) 481-3243 or


Gather all ye women for an enlightening afternoon with a fascinating female. Susanne Reyto, who survived two of history’s most harrowing periods — Nazi occupation and communism — and lived to write about it, will share what she’s learned about survival, gratitude and liberty. Her book, “Pursuit of Freedom: A True Story of the Enduring Power of Hope and Dreams,” will spark the conversational content of today’s luncheon, a program that will hopefully leave you inspired and encouraged. Thu. Noon-2 p.m. $20-$25. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>fascinating aerial movements for their fourth wedding anniversary. While dancing is the couple’s passion, their love for each other will also be on display with a real recommitment ceremony performed on stage as part of the show. Pairing with this dynamic duo, the Baker and Tarpaga Dance Project, a Los Angeles-based contemporary dance company that draws influence from West African and post-modern dance, will illustrate the tragic story of the assassination of Burkinabe journalist Norbert Zongo. The two groups join in the Ford Amphitheater’s “Sans Detour,” a show for anyone who appreciates dance, passion, love and creativity all rolled into one. Fri. 8:30 p.m. $5 (students), $25 (general). Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673. ” target=”_blank”>


Kanye West sings: “That, that don’t kill me can only make me stronger.” He clearly shares a similar life view with Jewish singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman, who returns to the stage with an autobiographical pop music operetta, “Made Me Nuclear.” Lustman, a native Angeleno, uses music and humor to explain the turmoil he suffered while he fought cancer. Fri. 8 p.m. Also, Sat. at 8 p.m. Through Oct. 11. $25. Santa Monica Playhouse, The Main Stage, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (866) 468-3399. ” target=”_blank”>


If we didn’t think Seth Menachem — the former Jewish Journal singles columnist who proposed marriage to his girlfriend in the paper — was a little crazy then, we definitely do now. Or at least he plays a mighty convincing schizophrenic in the world premiere of “Isaac and Ishmael,” a new play whose biblical allusion is not unintentional. It tells the story of two opposite-minded brothers — one a wealthy playboy, the other a schizophrenic patient in a psych ward — who are forced to reunite after the death of their father. From there, they struggle to reconnect after they spent years living worlds apart. Fri. 8 p.m. $15-$18. Through Sept. 21. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (323) 960-7788. ” target=”_blank”>

— Jina Davidovich helped with this article

Jazzman Frishberg charts own tuneful territory

One of the great joys of L.A. jazz, from the mid-1970s to the mid-’80s, was the blossoming of jazz pianist Dave Frishberg into a singer-songwriter of quirky, yet warmly satisfying, material. His tunes navigated a pathway that sidestepped melodramatic cabaret material on one hand and self-absorbed pop music on the other. Frishberg created a ” title=”My Attorney Bernie lyrics”>My Attorney Bernie“: “He’s got Dodger season boxes and an office full of foxes, it’s amazing all the different things your average guy might need a lawyer for.”

Frishberg’s songs are jazz-informed, yet modeled on pre-rock ‘n’ roll pop standards, written by supreme tunesmiths like Alec Wilder and Frank Loesser. While working as a pianist in New York, Frishberg struggled to find his voice as a songwriter, while trying to find a place in the market for himself.

Speaking from his home in Portland, Frishberg said, “When I started, I wanted to write songs that would be recorded; I wanted to be part of that world. But I couldn’t really figure the market out.

“Popular music changed with rock music and I didn’t want any part of that; that was for kids. Then the folk music took over and that was amateurish. But I rediscovered a place for myself in popular music when Brazilian music came in. Those bossa nova songs were so beautiful and graceful. That music showed me there was still a place for beautiful songs.”

His break came in ’71, and it brought him west.

“I’d lived in New York for 15 years. I was getting divorced and I was ready for something new. I had begun writing a couple of years earlier with no success at all. A friend of mine invited me to come to L.A. and write for a TV show he was producing, ‘The Funny Side.’ Nothing I’d written was notable up to that point but I came to L.A. as a songwriter. They wanted a production number on the topic of the week: newspapers or leisure or something like that. I was pleased to learn I could do such a thing. The discipline was good for me and the deadlines were murder. What I did was known as ‘special material,’ which was on its way out at the time.”

The show was short-lived, but Frishberg found himself transplanted into the L.A. jazz community. He played in trumpeter Bill Berry’s Big Band. “That was the best Ellington tribute band around,” Frishberg asserted, “because everybody on the band was an Ellington fan and really knew how the music was supposed to sound.”

Another trumpeter, Jack Sheldon, not only employed Frishberg as a pianist, but also jump-started his career as a solo performer. “I probably played a hundred nights with Jack,” Frishberg said. “He was very generous about giving me the spotlight. At rehearsals I would sing a few things I wrote, not expecting anything. Then on the bandstand, Jack would suddenly say, ‘Dave Frishberg’s going to sing one of his songs….’ I was terrified.”

There’s a long tradition in jazz of instrumentalists who sing, stretching back at least as far as Louis Armstrong. Frishberg is certainly no polished vocalist, but like Bob Dylan, his phrasing and rhythm are absolutely the best for his own songs.

“I started singing because I had to make demos of my songs and I couldn’t find singers to sing them the right way. I didn’t like the way other people sang my songs. I found that I had to write for my own vocal range,” he said.

For stellar interpretations of Frishberg songs, refer to Rosemary Clooney’s “Sweet Kentucky Ham” and Sue Raney’s rendition of the love ballad, “You Are There.”

His album “Quality Time” (Sterling, 1994) saw Frishberg offer political commentary in the song, “My Country Used To Be”: “My country used to be famous for quality, we led the way. Now we buy overseas. Then beg the Japanese, to buy some products, please, made in U.S.A….”

Reverting to type, Frishberg acts as accompanist to vocalist Rebecca Kilgore on their new collaborative album, “Why Fight The Feeling?” (Arbors). It’s a collection of songs by Frank Loesser, whom Frishberg sees as “the first songwriter I wanted to emulate.” It’s easy to consider the casual grace of a Loesser song like “I Believe in You” and see an antecedent for Frishberg’s “I Can’t Take You Nowhere.”

So what’s Frishberg working on these days? “I’m employed, so to speak, at work on a musical. It’s called ‘Vitriol and Violets: Tales from the Algonquin Round Table.’ It’s all very literary, of course, and it’s a big challenge, trying to imagine what Dorothy Parker or Alexander Woolcott were thinking. I’m back to writing ‘special material’ and it requires that I get into character. It’s hard for me to think of what to write about on my own, until someone gives me an assignment and a deadline. And a check, of course.”

Dave Frishberg will perform Aug. 27 at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. as part of the Parlor Performances series at Steinway Hall at Fields Piano, 12121 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 4713979 or email


Paul Shapiro’s ‘vout’ mishegoss

In 1945, the hippest Hollywood nightlife destination was Billy Berg’s, on the corner of Vine and DeLongpre.

A tall, suave black man named Slim Gaillard, who favored pinstripe suits, held court there. Black entertainers were seldom booked west of Western Avenue in those days, and Gaillard’s appearances at Berg’s were, in a very real sense, where Hollywood’s racial integration began.

With supreme self-confidence, Gaillard and his rotund bassist, Tiny “Bam” Brown, mesmerized audiences (which included Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman) with original novelty songs that mixed Harlem jive, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Yiddish and plain old gibberish. His favorite invented word was vout, and Gaillard used it liberally. When Hollywood committed him to film, a feature movie was titled, “O’Voutie O’Rooney.”

The polymath entertainer spoke seven languages, sang, played the guitar and piano (with the backs of his hands), and was capable of extemporizing whole songs in the moment. Gaillard, who died in 1991, was extremely resourceful. He could practically make an entire song out of the word “avocado.” Gaillard had a million-selling record in 1945, “Cement Mixer.” The tune came together as Gaillard took a break from a recording session, walked outside the studio and saw some men doing street repair. One of his most endearing records was a ditty called, “Dunkin’ Bagel” (1946). It’s largely a 4/4 instrumental, with Gaillard hollering rhythmic epigrams (“Matzoh balls!”) to Brown’s exercised responses (“Matzoh balls-oreeny!”). Gaillard gave the term mishmash a good name.

Fast forward to the present. Saxophonist Paul Shapiro, a mainstay of New York City’s downtown creative nexus, recognizes Gaillard as one of his musical forebears. Shapiro’s background in jazz and funk led him to recording session work with Michael Jackson, Rufus Wainwright, Queen Latifah, Lou Reed and Jay-Z, among many others. The saxophonist recorded two albums on John Zorn’s Judeocentric Tzadik label as a leader: “Midnight Minyan” (2003) and “It’s in the Twilight” (2006). They were both serious instrumental collections of traditional Jewish songs and standards, seen anew through the contemporary prism of Shapiro’s working aesthetic of jazz, funk and rhythm ‘n’ blues. But a funny thing happened on the way to downtown hip street cred. Shapiro encountered songs from the 1930s and ’40s like Gaillard’s “Dunkin’ Bagel” and Cab Calloway’s “A Bee Gezindt” that clearly indicated a significant musical exchange.

Prolific songwriter Henry Nemo, who died in the Pacific Palisades in 1999, wrote “A Bee Gezindt.” Nemo was an academy of jive (like Calloway and Gaillard), but also a fine tunesmith. He wrote several Cotton Club revues with Duke Ellington and contributed the lyrics to Duke’s evergreen “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart.” In 1992, I asked Nemo about the black stride pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith, Ellington’s piano mentor and the cantor of the Harlem synagogue. “We got along great,” The Neme recalled, “because I was usually the only one on the scene he could talk Yiddish to.”

On his new album, “Essen” (Tzadik), Shapiro explores the cultural mash-up that occurred in American popular music when Jewish music Yiddish theater songs, vaudeville tunes, klezmer songs and novelties met blues, jazz, rhythm ‘n’ blues and swing. The result is a collection that touches history in several ways, yet always manages to make a contemporary statement that’s fun to listen to. His crack band, Paul Shapiro’s Ribs and Brisket Revue, can sound like a Lower East Side wedding outfit, an R&B group, a strip club combo and a cooking funk band. Brian Mitchell alternates traditional Jewish theme chords and manic, eight-to-the-bar boogie-woogie piano on Gaillard’s “Matzoh Balls.”

From a phone in central New York, Shapiro talked about the ways Jewish culture melded with other cultures. “You know where I think a lot of it occurred?” he asked. “The Catskills resorts. It wasn’t just Jewish bands that played in those hotels. Jews were mad about Latin music in the ’50s, and many Latin musicians went up there. They learned some Jewish songs, like any good musician would. But there was a connection, I think, because the Sephardic among us came through North Africa and Spain, with our Ladino music. There was not only a natural affinity between cultures but it was also a work opportunity for the bands.”

The Ribs and Brisket Revue has two great assets in singers Cilla Owens and Babi (pronounced Bobby) Floyd. Their vocals are both exuberant and nuanced. Floyd sounds like a crazed cantor on his vilde chaya vocal for “Utt-Da-Zay.” Torrents of pidgin Yiddish that would have delighted Gaillard have occasional bits of irony bobbing to the surface (“you actually vant this thing?”).

Owens would have made a fine singer for swing era orchestras like Lucky Millinder or Andy Kirk (in fact, she brings to mind Kirk’s vocalist June Richmond). She displays fine blues feeling on “A Bee Gezindt.” She also manages to play both sides of the coin on Sophie Tucker’s “Mama Goes Where Papa Goes,” where she delivers some of the lyrics in Yiddish. The band plays like a juke joint combo used to dodging beer bottles and bullets. Shapiro’s nasty alto sax breaks would have qualified him for duty at Duffy’s Gaieties on Cahuenga Boulevard, when Lenny Bruce emceed for the peelers in the ’50s.

Tucker is also a seminal figure for Shapiro. “I hear in her,” he said, “a serious blues infection. She had the Yiddish inflection from her background but she seriously studied the blues. It was absolutely unique that she had both. Loren Sklamberg of the Klezmatics works at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research on West 16th Street in New York. He showed me a copy of the 1922 Okeh record of ‘Mama Goes Where Papa Goes,’ and it’s printed in Yiddish and English. It was recorded by many singers, including Ida Cox, the black blues singer and later, Kay Starr. I took a little from each version and gave it to Cilla. I think she’s one of the great stylists in this day and age.”

Shapiro is unequivocal in his praise for Zorn’s benevolence, through Tzadik. “It’s really Zorn,” he stated flatly , “who let me do my own music.” It was an opportunity that came with a price, though. “When I came to him with the idea for my earlier albums, he insisted that I not take this lightly. He wasn’t going to let me get away with just passing references to Jewish music. It’s very important for him that the music that he releases in his Radical Jewish Culture series be real artistic statements. He doesn’t want to be seen as a cultural appropriator.”

How have the Tzadik albums and their creative processes affected Shapiro on a personal level?

He thought for a moment and chose his words carefully before answering: “I would say that while I haven’t been transformed religiously like, I haven’t become a more regular, religious temple-goer it has deepened my interest and understanding of my Jewish roots. I may not have had a change of religious orientation, but I have become more aware of certain important connections.”

Paul Shapiro — Dunkin’ Bagel

Slim Gaillard 1946

* Mishegoss (Yiddish) — craziness, foolishness.

Jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen — so many roads

Jazz stays vital by virtue of the young players who step up and bring something new to the music. One of the most delightful “arrivals” to the jazz world in the past several years is Israeli-born clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen, who performs a free concert Tuesday night at the Hollywood & Highland complex. She combines virtuosity with warmth, the experimental with the universal, and an eclecticism that avoids the pitfalls of mish-mosh.

The clarinet has had a shrunken profile in jazz since the demise of the big band era, roughly 60 years ago. Clarinet-playing bandleaders like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw (both of Russian-Jewish heritage, not coincidentally) and Woody Herman kept the demanding reed instrument in the public ear, playing for dancers and listeners alike. In the interim, the instrument divided its limited exposure to two camps: the jazz avant-garde and traditional revivalists. Virtuosos like the late Kenny Davern and Evan Christopher explore traditional jazz, while Perry Robinson and John Carter innovated in the jazz avant-garde. Don Byron has been the principal contemporary jazz clarinetist of the last 20 years, reimagining jazz repertory and klezmer toward his own ends.

In Anat (pronounced a-NOT) Cohen’s music, Israeli songs, jazz, Brazilian choros, klezmer, Cuban habaneras and more all have a place. Speaking from her home in New York, she said, “Clarinet is a natural folkloric instrument of world music. With it I can have the classical feel, but I can also bend the notes and play the subtones of jazz.”

She was a classical music student in Tel Aviv from a musical family (her brothers Avishai and Yuval have jazz careers in New York, as well) when she heard the siren call of jazz. “My younger brother Avishai was my first influence,” Cohen states. “He picked up the trumpet, and I listened to him. The way he played — with the half valves and the smears — made me want to play like him. I had a strong classical foundation, but I switched my major to jazz in high school.”

“The clarinet is not so dominant in Israeli music as it is in klezmer,” Cohen continues. “I heard klezmer when I was growing up, but for some reason I avoided it. I listened to Louis Armstrong instead. But the sense of melody is the connection between jazz and klezmer. They both use simple, minor melodies, and you can bend the notes. The same thing happens in choro and the music of other cultures. You can laugh and cry on the instrument; it’s really expressive.”

The jazz world has taken notice of Cohen through her work with the swing-rooted big band Diva, Brazilian drummer Duduka Da Fonseca’s band, the sibling group 3 Cohens she shares with Avishai and Yuval, the Gully Low Jazz Band, Pedro Ramos’ Choro Ensemble and her own Anzic Orchestra and small group. Last year, she won Downbeat magazine’s Rising Star award in the clarinet category and was voted Best Clarinetist by the Jazz Journalist Association, an international body.

Brazilian music is something she particularly enjoys. “It’s intimate and sensual,” Cohen reveals, “yet it’s for the people. Being in Brazil is fantastic because the people know the songs, and they join in with the singer. Everybody feels the music.”

The 33 year-old Cohen makes her local debut as a bandleader Thursday at the free “Wine, Jazz, and Moonlight” series (she visited as a sidewoman with the all-woman Diva on a couple of earlier occasions). She fields a quartet of keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Ben Street and drummer Daniel Freedman. They’ll be playing music from the upcoming “Notes From the Village” album on Cohen’s Anzic label.

Aside from her originals, Cohen takes a thoughtful (if far-ranging) approach to standards. She takes Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” at double the usual tempo, executing the staccato theme like a football player high-stepping through tires at top speed. Her solo, though, is a playful dance of phrases with upturned ends and a paraphrase of an Irish jig. Sam Cooke’s civil rights lament, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” is full of soulful gravitas, with equal parts of mourning and hope.

Does she see herself as an Israeli ambassador to the music? “I definitely see myself as an international musician,” Cohen says. “When I play, I respect the source of the music, whether it’s Cuban, Brazilian or Israeli. I try to bring that to all of the music I play. Music has no borders and no flags.”

Told that her playing radiates a life force, she clarifies the point. “Israeli music,” she concludes, “has a lot of life — joy, but also a lot of sadness. My everyday life is not just walking around on clouds. But you have to give the really special things in life importance and not let the temporary things roll you off the road.”

The Anat Cohen Quartet will perform July 29 at 7 p.m. as part of the Wine, Jazz and Moonlight series at 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.



It’s 2 a.m., and there’s a crowd on St. Peter’s Street in New Orleans’
French Quarter; people are waiting to see the Stanton Moore Trio play
Preservation Hall.
Midnight and early morning shows during Jazzfest are part of a new
tradition initiated by Benjamin Jaffe, Preservation Hall’s creative
director, the man charged with safeguarding New Orleans’ musical
traditions, managing the Preservation Hall Jazz band and preserving
Preservation Hall itself. The weekend I was there, the hall featured
midnight performances by Tab Benoit, John Hammond Jr. and the Rebirth
Brass Band.

Rebirth is the right word for New Orleans jazz.

Jaffe, who’s in his late 30s and sports a serious Jewfro, is New
Orleans born and raised. He comes to Preservation Hall both as a tuba
and bass player who has toured with the band, and by birthright, as his
parents, Allan and Sandra, launched what we’ve all come to know as
Preservation Hall in 1961.

Allan Jaffe was born in Pottsville, Penn. (home of Yuengling beer), and
graduated with a business degree from the Wharton School of the
University of Pennsylvania, where he met his wife. His military service
took him on his first trip to Louisiana and, after he finished serving,
he and Sandra found themselves back in New Orleans as part of an
extended honeymoon — and they decided to stay.

In New Orleans, the Jaffes became part of a group interested in
preserving and promoting traditional New Orleans music. At 726 St.
Peter St., also in the French Quarter, Larry Borenstein, an art dealer,
devoted part of his gallery, The Associated Art Studios, to
performances by these musicians. There was a not-for-profit Society for
the Preservation of Traditional Jazz that had operated without much
success. The Society dissolved and, as was noted in a memo in the Hogan
Jazz Archive at Tulane University, “beginning September 13, 1961, the
work will be continued on a for profit (or loss) basis, by Allan Jaffe
and his wife Sandy.” Thus, the current Preservation Hall was born.

As Ben Jaffe explained when we talked in the courtyard of Preservation
Hall a few weeks ago, his parents were interested in the music, in
preserving a tradition and a culture that they were shocked to learn
was in danger of disappearing, but they also got involved out of a
commitment to the Civil Rights movement.

“To put things in perspective,” Jaffe said, it was 1961, and “The civil rights laws were not passed until 1964.”

In 1961, some white New Orleans musicians, such as Pete Fountain and Al
Hirt, were finding popularity nationwide, thanks to television programs
such as the “Lawrence Welk Show.” However, the African American New
Orleans artists, many of whom were elderly, not only weren’t getting on
TV, their music wasn’t getting attention on radio, on records or in New
Orleans, for that matter.

Preservation Hall was a godsend for them. New Orleans musicians were
eager for the gig — to play at Preservation Hall, Jaffe called upon
such legendary figures as trumpeters Kid Thomas Valentine, Kid Punch
Miller, Kid Howard, De De Pierce, Percy Humphrey; clarinetist Willie
Humphrey; and pianists such as Billie Pierce and Sweet Emma Barrett.

Given the pervasive segregation of the South at that time, white
performers did not play with African American bands or tour with them
— but Allan Jaffe did. He played tuba with the band and, as I learned
from a publication of the Louisiana Historical society, he was said to
be “the son of a mandolinist and music teacher and the grandson of a
French horn player in a Russian Imperial band.”

Preservation Hall’s formula was simple and is followed to this day: No
reservations, no food, just music in a small room. Shows began at 8
p.m. Each set lasted around 35 minutes, and tickets were priced low
(they’re now $10 a show, Wednesday through Sunday).

Part of Jaffe’s plan to popularize New Orleans traditional music was to
take the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the road. In 1963, he took the
band to Japan. Eventually it would play between 150 and 200 dates a
year. Over the years, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has played at
such esteemed venues as New York’s Lincoln Center, Symphony Hall in
Boston and Royal Festival Hall in London, and has toured Israel and
South America.
The band in its touring incarnation became the public face of
traditional New Orleans jazz, but Preservation Hall itself became the

The Jaffes became the custodians of an African American culture that
they themselves became immersed in, as much as they became part of the
city — and as much as they became part of the rich history of New
Orleans’ Jewish community.

Ben Jaffe told me that New Orleans was “a great city to grow up and be
Jewish in.” This was in part, he explained, “because we have so much
respect for history and for culture and tradition, whether it’s our own
New Orleans traditions and cultures, whether it’s African American,
whether it’s French or Spanish or our own Jewish traditions.”

The Jewish community in New Orleans, Jaffe said, is “fairly
tight-knit.” He explained that he knew many of the families who formed
the core of New Orleans’ Jewish merchant class.

“The Rubenstein boys and I went to school together,” he said,
referencing the family whose department store, Rubenstein Brothers, is
a New Orleans institution. “Their parents knew my parents from shul.”

“When I think of New Orleans,” Jaffe said, “I think of a city that
embraces tradition and who we are, and celebrates it in a ways
completely unknown to the rest of the United States.”

What is important to note about New Orleans, Jaffe said, is that “The
Jewish community here has had a long and very healthy relationship with
the African American community. It was the Jewish community that was
the first to open its doors to the African American community, and open
its store doors — clothing stores, furniture stores, appliance stores.
There are a lot of African Americans that still only purchase from
those furniture stores that originally sold only to African Americans.

“Rosenberg’s on Tulane Avenue was the first furniture store that opened
in an African American neighborhood, and to this day African Americans
are loyal to that furniture store. Overwhelmingly,” Jaffee said.

Allan Jaffe died in 1987, at the age of 51, of cancer. Ben was 16 at
the time. Sandra continued to run the Hall with her sister Risa, who
took over the day-to-day operations.

Ben Jaffe’s own involvement in Preservation Hall was not planned; it
just evolved. He grew up in the Quarter, living a few blocks away from
the hall. As a boy, he watched jazz funeral parades and Mardi Gras
marches, and he hung out at Preservation Hall, where he heard many of
New Orleans’ greatest performers. Without any conscious effort, he
absorbed it all. But he was more interested at that the time in reggae
and rock ‘n’ roll. New Orleans jazz — that was his parents’ music.

Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, Jaffe now says of hanging out at Preservation Hall: “That was my school.”

He went to Oberlin College, known for its music program, and the day
after Jaffe graduated in 1993, he flew to Paris and joined the
Preservation Hall Jazz Band as its regular bass player. I asked Jaffe
if he had to audition. He laughed, saying that it was a coincidence
that the bass player had recently taken ill and stopped touring.

“The timing could not have been better,” he said.

However, for him, “stepping into the band was a natural progression.”

Jaffe played some 200 dates a year with the band and eventually took on managing the band and Preservation Hall, as well.

“At the time I simply felt motivated to keep Preservation Hall open and
running,” he said. “I never really had a mission statement or a
business plan.”

No plan could have prepared anyone for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or
its aftermath. Knowing that Preservation Hall, being in the French
Quarter, was on high ground and that he could go there if needed, Jaffe
remained in New Orleans. “We weathered the storm,” he said, helping
musicians get out of town — among them banjo and string bass virtuoso
Narvin Kimball, then 95, whom Jaffe helped evacuate to Baton Rouge and
whose banjos and photographs he helped remove from his home — luckily,
because that’s all that survived the storm. (Kimball died in South
Carolina in 2006.)

“As everyone saw on television, it was a national embarrassment what took place here,” Jaffe said.

He said the financial hardship was great and continues: “Our lives were shaken around like a snow globe.”

Five out of seven members in the band lost their homes. They all suffered tremendous financial losses.

It’s hard to appreciate, Jaffe explained, but people who had school-age
children could not come back to New Orleans for at least a year —
there were no schools and hospitals — and those with special-needs
children could not get the services they needed. And once you’ve been
living in another place for two years, it’s hard to come back — who
wants to be uprooted again?

“There are a million stories,” Jaffe said, one for each of the
evacuees, and each is different and filled with its own pain and
difficult choices. “That’s the hard part to understand.”

That being said, Jaffe feels that the post-Katrina City of New Orleans
has made an even greater commitment to New Orleans Jazz. The Hurricane
Emergency Fund, which Jaffe co-founded, has evolved into “Renew Our
Music,” a grassroots community development organization. Jaffe released
the box set “Made in New Orleans: The Hurricane Sessions,” which is a
treasure trove and, in some ways, a collaboration between his late
father and himself, incorporating early recordings and sessions
interrupted by the Hurricane.

Preservation Hall has launched several education and outreach programs
for schools and children. Jaffe has also been able to work on several
projects with The Jazz and Heritage Foundation and the State of
Louisiana, including launching SYNC UP, cutting-edge online technology
that allows music supervisors to search for New Orleans musicians and
music to use or license for film and television.

More than 45 years after his parents established Preservation Hall,
Jaffe feels New Orleans’ music is rich in history and well stocked with
new generations of artists filled with a love of traditional New
Orleans Jazz (which is refreshed and reinvented each time it’s played).

Jaffe also has established a fairly exhaustive database of New Orleans
musicians: “I can’t tell you the last time I went to a show [in New
Orleans] and saw a musician and didn’t know who they were.”

He cites jazz trumpeter Mark Braud, grandson of trumpeter John
“Pickett” Brunious Sr., and nephew of Preservation Hall’s John Brunious
Jr., as being a fourth-generation jazz artist.

“Find me a fourth-generation anything, anywhere,” Jaffe said.

So, next time you head down to New Orleans, stop in at Preservation
Hall. Chances are you’ll find Ben Jaffe there, a fourth-generation
musician who’s the second generation to run the hall.

Tell him Tommywood sent you. That and $10 will get you a seat to hear
America’s indigenous art form, a living tradition that is the heart and
soul of a city, the music that made New Orleans.

Trumpeter gives cantorial classics fusion makeover

Ten years ago, this would not have been: Steven Bernstein, a jazz trumpeter whose most popular bands include the Sex Mob and a Kansas City-style big band, leading a group playing jazz-inflected cantorial tunes. But at a recent Sunday night gig at the Jazz Standard in New York, Bernstein was doing just that.

The show debuted Bernstein’s new album, “Diaspora Suite,” recently released on the Tzadik label, and by far his most original. It is Bernstein’s fourth album in the Diaspora series, which began in 1999 with the debut of the popular “Diaspora Soul” album. But unlike the previous three albums, where Bernstein took standard Jewish songs like “Rumania, Rumania” and “V’Shamru” and infused them with jazz rhythms, the latest album features entirely original Jewish melodies.

They are inspired by cantorial songs, but none are exact copies, and all are combined with the psychedelic sounds of 1970s jazz-fusion bands. Think Mahavishnu Orchestra laced with a Koussevitsky hymn.

“I never felt like I wanted to define myself as a Jewish musician,” Bernstein said, sitting at the bar of the Jazz Standard a few hours before his show. “My identity hadn’t been defined yet.”

Bernstein, 46, was referring to his early years as a musician in New York in the 1980s. He moved from Berkeley to attend Columbia University but dropped out after two years, spending most of his time playing with jazz groups downtown. He first gravitated toward Haitian and Latin bands but eventually became a member of a prominent punk rock and jazz-fusion band, Lounge Lizards, in 1990.

When Bernstein founded Sex Mob five years later, all these influences coalesced: a bit of Caribbean clave, the electronic instrumentation of fusion bands, even the hard-rocking sounds of new bands like Nirvana.

So when John Zorn, the pioneering musician and founder of the Tzadik label, approached Bernstein in the mid-’90s about doing a Jewish album, Bernstein hedged. The only Jewish songs he knew were from his bar mitzvah, and, he recounted, “I was really just a sideman.”

Sex Mob, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2006, was still in its infancy. Bernstein made a living playing in the ensembles of greats — Lou Reed, Sam Rivers, Levon Helm. “Basically I worked for other people,” he said.

Which made Zorn’s proposition seem like a mixed blessing — it offered Bernstein the opportunity to make his first album as a bandleader, but it might pigeonhole him as a “Jewish” musician. So he sat on it for a while, choosing first to produce a record with Sex Mob in 1998.

Meanwhile, his research for Robert Altman’s film, “Kansas City” (1996), for which Bernstein composed the score, hovered over this whole period. In addition to Sex Mob, he founded the Millennial Territory Orchestra in 1999, which was inspired by the marching bands that originated in New Orleans and moved into the Midwest territories.

“I was reading all these books about New Orleans [and] I was really thinking about all that history,” Bernstein said.

All along, Zorn kept asking about the Jewish album. And then it hit him at a bar mitzvah. “Chuzen Kalah Mazel Tov,” which he was playing for the bar mitzvah gig, had the same basic melody as “St. James Infirmary,” a jazz standard.

“I just started playing it like it was a New Orleans tune,” he said.

Not long after, he called Zorn and told him about the odd event. The Diaspora project was born.

The first album, “Diaspora Soul,” was released in 1999 and continued in the Bernstein tradition of fusing a smorgasbord of genres into a cohesive whole. “Diaspora Soul” mainly mixes cantorial, Jewish wedding and holiday tunes with the tropes of New Orleans marching bands, the Afro-Cuban cha-cha and bata rhythms and a few psychedelic riffs.

The album was a hit. National Public Radio, Down Beat and a host of other media outlets gave it enthusiastic reviews. To date, it has sold more than 10,000 copies, an impressive amount for an independent record, and for Bernstein, second only to a Sex Mob album of James Bond covers, he said.

After the surprise success, Bernstein went to work on a second Diaspora album, producing “Diaspora Blues” in 2002, which took more Jewish songs and put them to the blues. Two years later, Bernstein produced “Diaspora Hollywood,” taking inspiration from Jewish composers in 1950s Hollywood and combining their aesthetic with traditional Jewish songs.

Now comes “Diaspora Suite,” an entirely new venture. Zorn said that he wanted Bernstein to produce all original work, which meant no covers.

Instead, Bernstein drew from the Jewish cantorial melodies he has studied closely — those of Koussevitzky and Rosenblatt, mainly — plus the sounds of the Jewish Diaspora he’s absorbed while playing abroad in Spain, Moscow and even Ireland.

“I played in a bombed-out synagogue … in Cork, Ireland, in a pub,” Bernstein recalled.


Eight Jewish albums hit high notes in ’07

At the risk of sounding like Walter Cronkite, what kind of a year has it been in Jewish music?

It’s been a very good year, though you wouldn’t know it from this annual compilation of five-star records — there are only eight this year, the fewest in the decade I’ve been doing this. Long-time stalwarts like Joel Rubin and Budowitz released new records, another wave of Israeli jazz musicians has been getting lots of work and Jewish musicians are bending that hyphen that separates genres into a pretzel. Finally, even if it was a year with only eight five-star albums, it was also a year in which there were a lot of 4 1&’8260;2-star efforts, and that is good news.

As Cronkite would say, “That’s the way it was in 2007.” Have a good 2008!

Balkan Beat Box: “Nu-Med” (JDub). Say what you will about post-modernism in other areas of endeavor, but in music, it has been a delicious wake-up call, a practical example of the (admittedly few) benefits of globalization. And Balkan Beat Box, with their second album, are the poster boys.

This set is a glorious mash-up of bhangra, Bedouin and Balkan brass; swirling reeds; and skirling turntable scratches. In short, it’s world hip-hop with a strong Middle-Eastern flavor, danceable in the extreme and endlessly inventive.

Budowitz: “Live” (Golden Horn). A decade or so ago, the klezmer revival pushed the pendulum from the New World to the Old Country, and an increasing number of bands began to explore music driven by violin and cymbal, rather than brass and reeds. Budowitz was one of the spearheads of that new approach.

This all-instrumental, double-CD live set, recorded in Switzerland in late November 2005, is a superbly played introduction to that sound for those who are not yet familiar with it. The bulk of the 33 selections are traditional tunes arranged by band members, with seven originals that blend in quite nicely.

If you didn’t look at the track listings, you wouldn’t know which songs were written in the 21st century and which were handed down through generations. Budowitz draws its repertoire from across the map of Jewish Eastern and Central Europe, and there isn’t a stale tune in the bunch. This is a set worth a seven-year wait.

Anat Cohen and the Anzic Orchestra: “Noir” (Anzic). Released simultaneously with “Poetica,” this set features Cohen, mainly on sax, dipping into a repertoire that deftly combines standards with her beloved Brazilian jazz — how about a medley of “Samba de Orfeu” and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”?

The big band behind her features some very familiar New York City names — Ted Nash; Cohen’s brother, Avishai; Ali Jackson Jr.; and Erik Friedlander, among them — and the charts by Oded Lev-Ari remind me of the delicious blend of funk and elegance that distinguishes Gil Evans or Bob Brookmeyer.

Although it is her session, Cohen is very generous with solo time, and there are telling contributions from many of the players. But the centerpiece is Cohen, stomping hard on tenor (“No Moon at All” and a combustible “Cry Me a River”), making creative use of the clarinet’s lower register (“La Comparsa”) and generally swinging hard throughout. Don’t look now, folks, but this is the calling card of a major new jazz voice.

Peter Himmelman: “The Pigeons Couldn’t Sleep” (Himmasongs). Himmelman is back with another set filled with brawny rockers, ranging from the funkified 12-bar blues of the title tune to the lacerating guitar-driven lurch of “A Dog Can Drink Stagnant Water.”

As usual, his lyrics are somewhat cryptic but unmistakably carry a heavy charge of spiritual self-evaluation. Certainly, there can’t be a more appropriate line for the Days of Awe than, “There comes a time to mend your way, and that time is now.”

Most of the songs are terse and punchy, with sudden, unexpected flashes of a lyricism Himmelman keeps concealed most of the time. You have to love a guy who can use a word like “exhalations” in a lyric, then follow it with a coruscating guitar solo.

The CD comes with a DVD of an hourlong documentary about Himmelman, “Rock God,” which displays his rather unexpected humor, frequently self-deprecating and always charming.

The Joel Rubin Ensemble: “Midnight Prayer” (Traditional Crossroads). Like the Budowitz set, this is Old World-style klezmer, albeit with Rubin’s clarinet providing the main voice and the presence of trumpeter Ferenc Kovacs adding a little more heft. The set was recorded in four days at the Operetta House in Budapest, and several of the band members are Hungarian, but the tunes are drawn from the historical treasure trove of Soviet-era field work by Moshe Beregovski and his predecessors in the An-Ski Expeditions.

The set has a delightfully jaunty feel to its klezmer numbers, starting with the up-tempo section of the opening track, “Khabno,” while the other musical source of the recording, Chasidic nigunim, provides a soul-wrenching counterpoint. Rubin is in fine form throughout but particularly electrifying on the nigunim and, most of all, on the title tune, where he weeps with the best of them.

I particularly like Claudio Jacomucci’s lithe accordion lines and interplay between cymbalom master Kalman Balogh and the violinists, Sandor Budai and David Chernyavsky. I realize that Rubin is busier than ever with his teaching, writing and producing duties, but I hope we don’t have to wait 10 years for another recording of his own masterful playing.

Metropolitan Klezmer: “Traveling Show” (Rhythm Media). There used to be two complaints about live rock albums. Either the band just played their greatest hits exactly as they had on record — who needs a live recording that’s nothing but a reprise of the studio, only with the mistakes intact? Or they indulged their arty sides with long, dull solos.

Old-line klezmer wasn’t as much of an improviser’s art as, say, jazz, but contemporary new klez is much more so. And that means that a live set like this new one from the Metros is welcome.

Master of musical fusion blends klezmer with salsa

These days, the world is constantly getting smaller, and musical styles don’t respect national or traditional boundaries. Matisyahu, for example, has made a name for himself by fusing Eastern European Chasidic strains with Jamaican reggae.

At the Skirball recently, Chango Spasiuk performed songs that combine his Ukrainian heritage with his Argentine upbringing. Practitioners of world music are constantly exploring ways to fuse disparate musical strains in new and interesting ways.

Given all that, it should not be a surprise that there is a new group that combines klezmer with salsa. Odessa/Havana — “The Explosive Jewish/Cuban Musical Mash-Up” — a musical project that brings together these two musical traditions in a jazz context will perform at the Skirball Cultural Center at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29.

During a telephone interview, David Buchbinder — the Jewish jazz trumpeter who founded the group and who composes (or co-composes) much of its music — said that he first felt the close ties between Jewish and Latin music many years ago.

“Even in my early days of playing klezmer,” Buchbinder said, “I heard the connections and noted that they shared modes and scales, similar melodic approaches, a strong rhythmic drive and deep spiritual underpinnings”

Twenty years ago, Buchbinder was in a recording studio, laying down tracks for a klezmer CD.

“I was working a chorus into one of the pieces,” Buchbinder said, “when a merengue tune came out,” referring to the exuberant merengue music and dance from the Dominican Republic.

He included that merengue-style in the finished product. “This made perfect musical sense, and it remained in the back of my mind.”

In 2006, Buchbinder was nominated for a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) and was asked to put together a musical group for radio concerts. He invited pianist Hilario Duran — a fellow Juno nominee, originally from Cuba — to join him.

“The musical idea in getting together with Hilario,” Buchbinder said, “was not necessarily to fuse klezmer and Cuban but rather to create and play jazz that has both influences in it.” And, indeed, their music, as heard on the promotional CD, is rich and complex, embodying elements that Jewish and Cuban music have in common: from foot-tapping, celebratory joy to moments of profound dirge-like sadness.

“The musical associations [between Jewish and Cuban music] are many-faceted, multilayered and rich indeed,” Buchbinder said, “rooted in their common ancestry on the Iberian peninsula and sharing Arabic, Roma — Gypsy — Sephardic and North African forebears…. After the expulsion of the Jews [from Iberia] … a minority went to Eastern Europe, so that stream flowed into Yiddish culture.”

Buchbinder’s first Canadian concerts with Duran, who also lives in Toronto, were sold out, and people were turned away, which is unusual for a new musical project.

“I think what happened,” he said, “is that people found the idea fascinating. I also think that Jews have been mightily attracted to Cuban music for many years. The Miami association, the whole mambo craze in the 1950s, was fueled by the American Jewish community.”

Buchbinder and Duran have composed music specially for Odessa/Havana. “People who attend the concert,” Buchbinder said, “can expect high-energy, unique music that is rich, dramatic, intense, challenging but ultimately very accessible.”

Buchbinder gives part of the credit for bringing different streams and traditions together to Toronto, which, he said, “Is truly a multicultural city…. It’s an incredibly diverse atmosphere, a rich mix of different cultures. And a mix between cultures.

“Toronto is moving … to what I call post-multiculturalism…. At first, the attitude was that one should celebrate one’s own culture, which meant looking backward toward the culture that people came out of. But then it changed, and now people are dedicated to creating new, unique art that combines different streams in new ways.”

Buchbinder practices cross-cultural fusion not just in his musical life but in his private life, as well. He’s married to Roula Said, a dancer-musician-actress.

How did he meet his wife?

“I met Roula in the large, floating group of musicians and performers that are part of the Toronto scene…. We knew people in common and met at a party about eight years ago. We liked each other and took it from there. She’s of Palestinian-Christian background. We have a daughter who’s 4 1/2. Some people can’t imagine how we did it, but we’ve aligned in life.”

Buchbinder and Said have also aligned in their art.

“We’ve worked together on several projects,” he said. “‘Feast of the East,’ which brought together different musical groups from the Middle East. And we did a series of concerts: ‘Imagine the Sound of Peace.'”

Both personally and professionally, Buchbinder is the master of fusion.

Odessa/Havana will perform on Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500

Sitcom superstars, sultry songstresses, literary diamonds


Bob Saget will forever be remembered as Danny Tanner from “Full House.” Now, instead of guiding the household with his wise advice and calm demeanor, Saget is exposing the sitcom family’s sexual exploits on cable television. “Bob Saget: That Ain’t Right” was taped in front of a packed audience at New York University and will debut on HBO tonight. His wildly inappropriate stand-up comedy routine covers such dirty ground as animal sex, snuff videos, prison and the personal sex lives of his former “House” mates. Although his sense of humor might make your rabbi blush, word on the street is that he is very entertaining. And a mensch.

10-11 p.m. Also, Aug. 30, Aug. 31, Sept. 4, Sept. 7, Sept. 10 and Sept. 20.


You’ve heard of Christmas in July … now you can have Chanukah in August! Grab your gelt and head to Thousand Oaks to take part in the creation of a real holiday treat cooked up by Harvey Shield, Richard Jarboe and Chayim Ben Ze’ev. “Maccabeat!” is a rockin’ musical take on the story of Judah the Maccabee and his cooler-than-thou Greek rivals. Forbidden lovers Judah and Allura force two different cultures to confront and learn from one another. A heated battle ensues and, well, you already know the rest of this tale. Hebrew hotties, Jerusalem Valley girls and a biblical boy band — it’s the Chanukkah story like you’ve never seen it before!

Part of the Thousand Oaks Festival of New Musicals, Aug. 25-26. 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. $24 (two-day pass includes admission to all four staged readings plus workshops, discussions and a festival party.) Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. For tickets call Ticketmaster, (213) 480-3232. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Sophie Millman” >

Sophie Millman’s golden blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes and delicate facial features recall the old days of Hollywood glamour. But this 24-year-old Russian Israeli Canadian beauty is no aspiring actress. She’s a jazz singer with a dark chocolate voice that’s set to take the U.S. by storm. Millman is touring New York and California in support of her new album, “Make Someone Happy,” and the predictions from jazz critics are that she’ll be making lots of music lovers very happy. Swoon to this chanteuse’s infectious crooning in “Rocket Love,” “Fever” and the particularly meaningful “Eli, Eli,” written by the Jewish Hungarian poet Hannah Senesh, who sacrificed her life to save her family from the Nazis.

8:30 p.m. $15. Catalina Jazz Club, 6725 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-2210. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Edward Schwarzschild’ >
“The Family Diamond” is a collection of jewels. Literary gems, that is. Early reviews for Edward Schwarzschild’s second novel, comprised of nine short stories, have been sparkling: “each story is as satisfying as a full moon,” writes one author. “An achingly beautiful collection,” writes another. To see the value of the diamonds with your own eyes, visit Dutton’s tonight and meet the author, his wife and maybe the rest of his family too.

7 p.m. Free. Dutton’s Brentwood Books, 11975 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-6263. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Dinah Berland”

If you’re a (Jewish) bookworm, this is your week! Not one, but two more book readings are taking place tonight. In Pasadena, teenybopper idol turned television director Robby Benson reads and discusses “Who Stole the Funny?” The satirical novel parodies the world of sitcoms and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the ditsy stars, meddling money-men and sexual escapades that Benson witnessed firsthand while directing more than 100 episodes of “Ellen,” “Friends,” “Dharma & Greg” and other hit shows. Back at Dutton’s, Dinah Berland covers a very different Jewish topic: prayers. She’ll be signing “Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women,” a restoration of a cherished 19th century prayer book.

Benson: 7 p.m. Free. Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. ” border = ‘0’ vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Clare Burson” >

Awarded one of 12 Six Points Fellowships for Emerging Jewish Artists in April, Tennessee native Clare Burson is hard at work on “Invisible Ink,” a 10-song album of original Jewish music infused with Southern Americana. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t diligently promoting her recent release “Thieves,” which showcases her warm voice and songwriting talents. She’ll be hitting up all the big towns, including ours, this summer and fall.

8 p.m. $8. Tangiers, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 666-8666.


Swingin’ Chanukah with Kenny Ellis; The Klezmatics at the Disney; Three More Tenors

Saturday the 16th

To our knowledge, only one man can claim all of the following titles: writer, director, actor, comedian and Dixieland jazz clarinetist. Artist of all trades Woody Allen focuses tonight on that latter occupation. He and his crew, a.k.a. Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band, perform in a rare large venue appearance at UCLA’s Royce Hall as part of their first North American tour.

8 p.m. $25-$125. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood.

Sunday the 17th

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Thursday the 21st


Arts in LA


Sat., Dec. 9

“Jamaica, Farewell.” Jamaica Cultural Alliance benefit performance of the one-woman show, written and performed by Debra Ehrhardt, about her bold escape from revolution-torn Jamaica in the early 1980s. Post-performance reception with Jamaican specialties and an exhibit of Jamaican artist Bernard Hoyes’ work. 7:30 p.m. $35. The Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. (323) 692-0423.

Filipino American Jazz Festival. Two-day festival features Filipino jazz vocal quintet Crescendo; pianist, conductor and arranger Toti Fuentes; vocalist Charmaine Clamor; and saxophonist Julius Tolentino, among others. Jazz-Phil. 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.; also Dec. 10, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. $25-$30. Catalina Bar and Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 512-5543, ext. 2.

Sun., Dec. 10

“Laugh Is Hope Comedy Club” Aboard the Queen Mary. Comedy, fashion, silent auction and dancing fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Featuring comedian Steven E. Kimbrough. 7-11:30 p.m. $65. (909) 631-0100.

Debbie Reynolds’ Show-Stopping Hits. Reynolds pairs with dance partner Jerry Antes in this musical revue. 3 p.m. $35-$57.50. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (800) 300-4345.

Mon., Dec. 11

Los Angeles Master Chorale’s “Messiah” Sing-Along. Music Director Grant Gershon conducts the Master Chorale and the audience in a singalong to Haydn’s masterpiece, including the “Hallelujah Chorus.” 7:30 p.m. Also Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m. $19-$64. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (800) 787-5262.

Tue., Dec. 12

Matthew Bourne’s “Edward Scissorhands.” Adaptation of Tim Burton’s gothic fairytale motion picture. Dance at the Music Center with Center Theatre Group. 8 p.m. $35-$85. Through Dec. 31. Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500.

“Slava’s Snowshow.” This theatrical extravaganza, created by master clown Slava Polunin, melds the art of clowning with visual images and fantasy, culminating in a snowstorm that engulfs the audience. UCLA Live series. 8 p.m. $32-$68. Through Jan. 7. Royce Hall, UCLA campus, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.

Thu., Dec. 14.

Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter. The comedians, two of the stars and creators of the 2005 TV show “Stella,” appear together. 8 p.m. $22.50. Wiltern LG, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-1400.

Fri., Dec. 15.

Tyne Daly in Scenes From “Agamemnon.” Stephen Wadsworth directs a small cast performing significant scenes from the first play in the “Oresteia” trilogy and explores Aeschylus’ dramaturgy, literary identity, and preoccupations as artist and citizen. Villa Theater Lab. 8 p.m. Also Dec. 16, 8 p.m.; Dec. 16, 3 p.m. $17. Getty Villa Auditorium, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (310) 440-7300.

Sat., Dec. 16.

Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band. Writer, actor, director and jazz clarinetist Allen performs with his jazz ensemble. 8 p.m. $25-$125. Royce Hall, UCLA Campus, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.

“Gold Rush!” Interactive programs allows visitors to discover the myths and realities of the American gold rush. 30-minute programs, ongoing between 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Sat. and Sun. Free with museum admission ($3-$7.50). The Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles. (323) 667-2000.

Thu., Dec. 21

Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s “Nutcracker.” More than 50 dancers from the Bolshoi Academy perform this family holiday classic to Tchaikovsky’s music. 7:30 p.m. Through Dec. 24. $15-$55. 300 East Green St., Pasadena. (213) 365-3500.

Fri., Dec. 22

Hoobastank. Alternative pop/rock group best known for their crossover hit “The Reason.” 7 p.m. $17-$20. The Key Club, 9039 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 274-5800.


Thu., Jan. 4

“Saul Bass: The Hollywood Connection.” Exhibition of the graphic designer’s work for the American film industry includes film posters, a montage of motion picture title sequences and an Oscar-nominated short documentary. Our California Series. Through April 1. Free. Related film screenings on Tuesday afternoons, through February. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Fri., Jan. 5

“Up Close and Personal.” Exhibition of Gilbert B. Weingourt’s candid photos of icons and public figures from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. 11 a.m.-midnight, daily through Feb. 15. Reception with the photographer Jan. 13, 6 p.m.-8 p.m. ArcLight Cinemas Galleries, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 464-1478.

Blues Traveler Concert. Hamonica Virtuoso John Popper performs with his blues and rock band, best known for their hit “Run Around.” 8 p.m. $25-$47.50. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (800) 300-4345.

Sat., Jan. 6.

Louis Malle’s “Black Moon” and “Lacombe Lucien.” Part of American Cinematheque’s “Overlooked and Underrated” series, showcasing films from the 1940s through the 1980s that received modest praise when released but have emerged as classics. Upcoming films include Jules Dassin’s “10:30 PM Summer,” Edward Dmytryk’s “Mirage” and Robert Mulligan’s “Baby, the Rain Must Fall,” among others. 7:30 p.m. Through Feb. 4. $7-$10. Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 466-3456.

Art Garfunkel. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend performs his greatest hits and personal favorites, including “Mrs. Robinson” and “Sound of Silence.” 8 p.m. $32-$57.50. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. (800) 300-4345.

Melody of China and The Hsiao Hsi Yuan Puppet Theater. Director Hong Wang narrates an exploration of Chinese music played on traditional instruments. Also, southern Chinese traditional puppet theater, “budai that,” with stage movements and vocal styles adopted from Peking Opera. World City Series. 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Free. W.M. Keck Foundation Children’s Amphitheater, Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3379.

Tue., Jan. 9.

Justin Timberlake’s “Futuresex/LoveShow.” Accompanied by a 14-piece band and back-up dancers, Timberlake will perform in the round. Includes special guest Pink. 8 p.m. $56-$97.50. Honda Center, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim. Also Jan. 16 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. (213) 480-3232.

Fri., Jan. 12

“Defiance.” Set in 1971, this second play in John Patrick Shanley’s trilogy that began with “Doubt!” explores race relations on a North Carolina military base. Through Feb. 18. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. (626) 356-7529.

Versatile Israeli Violinist Gains ‘Dream’ Hip-Hop Hit

Perusing the hot R & B/Rap Billboard charts, one does not expect to see a red-headed Israeli artist — replete with a classic “Jewfro” mop of curls — represented by the No. 3 song. ” TARGET=”_blank”>Miri Ben-Ari, however, doing the unexpected is standard fodder; so it should come as no surprise that her new single, “Symphony of Brotherhood” (featuring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech weaving in and out of an extended string solo) topped the charts just one month after its radio release.

Given the violin diva’s penchant for multitasking high-profile projects, it also should come as no surprise that topping the charts is just a drop in the bucket for Ben-Ari. Since April, she has been featured on billboards internationally as the poster girl for Reebok’s “I Am What I Am” campaign; in May, she and Israeli hip-hop mogul, Subliminal, recorded a video, “Classit VeParsi” (Classical and Persian) — which topped Israel’s video charts.

Next Ben-Ari went on national tour with the popular hip-hop group, The Roots, even as she was getting ready to release a hip-hop single about the Holocaust. Meanwhile, VH1 announced her as a new artist working with its Save the Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to restore instrumental music education in U.S. public schools.

For many, it’s exhausting just to read Ben-Ari’s list of accomplishments, but the artist is full of energy. She is, after all, on a mission: “I want to bring music back,” she said matter-of-factly. “In an era where everything is music samples, I’m representing a movement that’s turning to live music again.”

Ben-Ari grew up as a classically trained violinist in Israel, and as a child prodigy, she caught the attention of violin virtuoso Isaac Stern. Though she bowed to the top of one music competition after another, Ben-Ari was convinced that the classical scene was not for her.

“The whole time, I knew I wasn’t going to be a classical violinist,” she explained. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I was really good with the violin. It was fun playing so fast on the instrument — almost like a sport. But I wasn’t feeling the orchestra thing.”

At 17, Ben-Ari won a scholarship to study music in Boston, where she was exposed to jazz for the first time. After hearing a Charlie Parker CD, she knew where her future lay.

“I had to study whatever it was that Parker was doing,” she said. “I had to be able to improvise like he did. I had to learn that language!”

Following obligatory service in the Israeli army, Ben-Ari packed her bags and moved to the Big Apple — where she hustled gigs every night. “If I walked into a club, and there was a stage,” she said, “I’d pull out my violin and play. If there was no stage, I’d still play. At first I’d get my ass kicked. But you go home, practice all day and go out and get your ass kicked again.”

Persistence and gutsy acts — which Ben-Ari attributes to Israeli chutzpah — got her noticed by jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis and the late Betty Carter, as well as by hip-hop moguls like Kanye West and Wycleff Jean. Once the heavyweights got into her act, it was not long before Ben-Ari had played Carnegie Hall, The Apollo, and Jay Z’s Summer Jam — where she received a standing ovation from 20,000 screaming audience members.

“I was a nobody,” Ben-Ari chuckled, “but I had the second feature, after Missy Elliot.”

Since then, Ben-Ari has gone on to record and perform with pop icons like Alicia Keys and Britney Spears, and she won a Grammy in 2004 for her violin chops on Kanye West’s smash-hit single, “Jesus Walks.”

It is heartening to know that someone so openly Jewish and Israeli can receive so much love from the non-Jewish world.

“Wycleff Jean and Jay Z put me on the map,” Ben-Ari said with passion. “They were not Jewish white people. I’ll never forget that. This is also why I relate to [African American] history. I’ve been working with them. I got embraced by the black community, more than any other community — including the Jewish community. They loved me like one of their own.”

The fact that she is Israeli, Ben-Ari continued, actually strengthens her connection to African Americans, whether Jewish or not. “Struggle relates to struggle,” she said. “They appreciate that I’m from Israel, because I’m coming from struggle.”

That mutual struggle, Ben-Ari continued, was in fact the inspiration for her recent hit single: “MLK is the hero for the black American struggle. Of course, if you’re coming from a struggle yourself, you can’t help comparing…. It always crosses my mind — if we had MLK in Nazi Germany, would it have helped?

Would it have affected the outcome of the Jewish Holocaust?”

These kinds of questions are what led Ben-Ari to work on the Holocaust hip-hop single, due to be released in the coming months.

“It’s almost like they say, ‘music is therapy,'” she explained. “It’s a way to deal. There is no other way for me.”

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday, July 15
Pretty Charlize Theron plays chairwoman for Los Angeles Free Clinic’s ninth annual “Extravaganza for the Senses.” The food and wine event features tastes from some 40 local restaurants — ranging from high-end Angelini Osteria to lower-end but highly tasty Poquito Más — and some 100 wineries. Also on the bill are live music and a silent auction.

6-10 p.m. $90 (general), $200 (VIP). Twentieth Century Fox, 10201 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 330-1670 ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Sunday, July 16
Make some time for “Zero Hour.” West Coast Jewish Theatre’s latest is this one-man show, written by and starring Jim Brochu, as Zero Mostel. The play tells Mostel’s life story, from his youth growing up on New York’s Lower East Side, through his early highs as a stand-up comedian and lows when he was blacklisted, to his ultimate huge success on Broadway.

8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Sun.). $20-$30. Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 595-4849.



Monday, July 17
Funny girls perform for tonight’s charity benefit, “4 Women For Women,” supporting the Women’s Clinic and Family Counseling Center. Julia Sweeney hosts, with Laraine Newman, Melanie Chartoff, Ann Randolph and Terrie Silverman each offer some comic relief. Also scheduled is a silent auction, special eBay auction of black bras worn by the stars and a kissing booth with “special guest smoochers.”

6:30 p.m. (reception), 8 p.m. (performances). $100. The Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 376-9339. ” target=”_blank”>


Tuesday, July 18
Jack Rutberg Fine Arts goes big for summer, offering an exhibition of more than 50 major paintings, drawings, original prints and sculpture by heavyweight artists including David Hockney, Ruth Weisberg, Arthur Dove and Marc Chagall. “Summer Selections: Portraits, Places, Perspectives” runs through Sept. 9.

357 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 938-5222.” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Wednesday, July 19
An expansive art exhibition can also be viewed, and purchased, at the Workmen’s Circle. “Curating a Better World: 10th Anniversary Show” features donated works from artists who have participated in the Circle’s 62 previous exhibitions over the last 10 years.

Through Aug. 25. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, July 20
Got a kitschy song in your heart? Head to the Aero Theatre for the first night of its “Can’t Stop the Musicals” series. In this installment, the series pays homage to the guilty pleasures from “an era not normally thought of as rich territory for filmed musicals: the 1970s and 1980s.” Tonight, that translates to a screening of Menahem Golan’s “The Apple.” Head back other nights for “Flashdance,” “Rock ‘N Roll High School,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Tommy,” “Hair” and “All That Jazz.”

July 20-30. 7:30 p.m. $6-$9. Max Palevsky Theatre at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456

Friday, July 21
Gay Men’s Choruses of Los Angeles and Orange County each put on worthy shows this week. On Saturday, July 15, head to the O.C. for Men Alive’s fifth anniversary concert, “Curtains Up! Light the Lights!” The song and dance tribute to Broadway will feature special guest star and Grammy nominee Michael Feinstein. And this weekend, stay local as the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles presents “The Look of Love: The Music of Burt Bacharach.”

“Curtains Up! Light the Lights!” Sat., July 15, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. The Irvine Barclay Theatre, 424 Campus Drive, Irvine. (866) 636-2548. ” target=”_blank”>


Dad’s Gone, but His Melody Lingers On

When a person is slightly famous mostly for one thing, that thing becomes the one thing about him when he dies. So it was that Dave Blume, my father, over and over again in late March was noted as the composer of that likably odd 1966 hit, “Turn Down Day,” a pop turn on what began as one of his jazz compositions.

He used to joke that every middling musician had one good tune in him, but he wasn’t actually talking about himself, because he wrote many good songs, even if that added up to just one hit record.

But even one song, even one moment, can encapsulate a lot if you probe beneath the surface, or, in this case, beyond the catchy but saccharine arrangement by the Cyrkle. The song’s lyrics, written by Jerry Keller, portray the languorous side of the anti-war, anti-age, free-love 1960s, the part of the youth culture that wanted sometimes just to tune out instead of tuning in:

Soft summer breeze and the surf rolls in
To laughter of small children playin’.
Someone’s radio has the news tuned in,
But nobody cares what he’s sayin’.
It’s a turn-down day,
Nothin’ on my mind.
It’s a turn-down day,
And I dig it.

There was something of dad in that easygoing, live-and-let-live frame of mind. It was, in a way, a jazz sensibility set down to words. But the melody, dominated by minor chords, also hinted at something more — something a little deeper, a little melancholy.

The tune originated during dad’s Army days in Fayetteville, N.C., where the draft had dragged him, a native of Boston, and his wife, Charlotte, during the Korean War. Dad was a noted hater of needless exercise and early morning schedules, so he devised a night-owl gig for himself. He persuaded the brass and a local radio station that soldiers on the graveyard shift needed something to keep them alert. Did they really want these sleepy soldiers to be a safety hazard on duty or on their commute? How about some music?

Officers already knew of dad’s musical skills. By this time, he’d sort of conned his way into the coveted base orchestra by presenting himself as a glockenspiel player — it was the only opening. He’d given himself a crash course in the instrument and played a passable glockenspiel — but it wasn’t long before the orchestra took advantage of his jazz keyboard, arranging and conducting skills.

The overnight radio show followed. He wrote and performed, with some pals, the theme song: “680, 12 to 5.” The song got its name from the station’s place on the dial and the airtime: midnight to 5 a.m. Because of the show and his frequent performances — all on behalf of the U.S. government, of course — dad didn’t meet at least one of his commanding officers until his day of discharge.

My parents were both building a notable life in this small Southern city all the while. In the 1950s, my mother used her talents to open a dance school and start a ballet company. Her first classes outside the base had only black students, because she refused to segregate or teach only white students. Dad, meanwhile, soon opened the region’s first bowling alley, to which he attached the region’s first jazz club. And he also refused to segregate.

At one point, the city informed him of a regulation that kept blacks out of white restrooms. If his new business were not to be “whites only,” he’d have to build four restrooms. Dad responded by asking if there was a law saying that men and women had to have separate bathrooms. A city official replied that no such law was needed, because no one would ever put men and women in the same bathroom.

In that case, dad said, he would have one bathroom for black men and women and another for white men and women. The city official left in frustration, and when the business opened, dad simply had a men’s room for all men and a women’s room for all women. His key innovation, however, was in The Groove, the music club where the staff, musicians and audience all were integrated.

Neither of my parents ever got into trouble for this. One reason, of course, was that they were white — and maybe being Jewish separated them from a sort of peer pressure. It didn’t hurt that my mother could stare down a charging bull, and dad could accomplish the same with charm and a silly pun.

Dad had a fine old time in Fayetteville. He was the first public address announcer for the city high school’s football games. And his jazz band was the talk of the town and beyond. He made fast friends with the local rabbi, a Holocaust survivor who’d been a writer and radio man himself in pre-war Germany, when that was still possible. And dad had two sons, who were growing up in a white house across from an elementary school that had two sapling maple trees in the front yard.

But Fayetteville could not contain dad’s musical drive, and he’d leave home to travel long distances for gigs, especially ones that offered a chance to break through, like his “Today Show” appearance in 1962. And then came the 1966 hit “Turn Down Day” — a re-imagined pop version of his old theme: “680, 12 to 5.”

He expected his wife and two boys to follow him north when the time came. His wife expected that a man in his 30s could settle for a stable life in Fayetteville, where she’d built a formidable dance school.

The truth is, my parents never really belonged together in the first place, even though the marriage seemed so perfect when the glamorous young ballerina married her college sweetheart, the same wunderkind who wrote and conducted the college musicals in which she’d starred. In the end, neither was inclined to follow the other’s star.

I was 6 when the divorce became official in 1967. My father ruefully told me years later that it was the hardest thing to leave town at the end of his visits, when I’d start crying. David Blume wanted to be the best dad possible, which, to him, included being around. He fulfilled this ambition in his second marriage, the one that gained me a wonderful stepmother and, eventually, two delightful kid sisters. My mother never forgave him for the marriage that failed or the unsteady financial contribution, but I concluded long ago that, sometimes, even for devoted parents, leaving is the best option available.

My brother Leo and I got by with phone calls, letters and a few weeks a year with dad. Occasionally we took trips with him, but it also was fun just to be where he was, romping around New York City and later Los Angeles, after dad moved west. We’d hear a lot of music, stay up way past midnight, play with his Persian cats, discover food they didn’t have in Fayetteville and stage an annual World Series with made-up teams, a plastic bat and a ball made up of paper encased in masking tape. Leo and I played the parts of all the players. Dad was the umpire, a gravel-voiced character who took the name Gower Cahuenga, after two streets in Hollywood.

He was cool, with his long hair and leftie politics. He wore a bolo tie and a black leather cap, and tied his black locks into short ponytail in the back. And he could identify the year, make and model of virtually any car on the road — and recite chapter and verse on the world’s greatest ocean liners, its tallest buildings and the major suspension bridges.

And he never failed to do interesting things — like running Café Danssa, an Israeli folk-dancing club in West L.A., or quietly lobbying to save a majestic bunya-bunya tree that the city was going to cut down.

He never had another hit like “Turn Down Day,” but he forged a respectable career as a composer, producer and collaborator with his second wife, singer Carolyn Hester. And he eventually got that stable job, as a copy editor with the Los Angeles Times. In truth, he didn’t especially like the implied message of “Turn Down Day” if applied beyond a day or so. His lyrical essence was more rooted in another song, “I Have a Dream,” a plea for justice and family, which he wrote with Jerry Keller the night the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. died.

At the close of our visits, dad would send us home with records he’d produced or custom-made tapes of songs he liked: He didn’t want us growing up with unsophisticated musical tastes. But without his steady presence, our piano lessons lapsed.

And though he laughed with us as we told tales of mom’s unlucky second marriage to a man who turned out to have mental health issues, I’m sure he was worried. But at an elemental level, he trusted his first wife to take care of his boys.

My brother and I never felt we quite got enough of him, which, in recent years, had more to do with managing our own families and careers than him not being available. This sense of needing to catch up for lost time partly explains why my brother, the informal family archivist, started interviewing dad on videotape. Dad would complain, mostly in jest, that the process implied that his demise was impending.

I always assumed that someday there would be time to catch up properly; he’d probably felt the same way watching his boys grow up, mostly from far away. Too late, I realized that in the last year, he was slowly leaving us, as his health problems mounted. When he died, his wallet contained a list of favorite songs that he could refer to if called on to play at any moment.

My brother and I were in Fayetteville early this month, and we stopped by the old white house. Our grade school across the street has become the campus for teenage “delinquents” — information provided by the security guard who accosted us when she noticed us taking pictures.

The two sapling maple trees are giants now, dominating the yard, if not the neighborhood. I couldn’t recall whether it was dad who’d planted the maples. Leo didn’t know either. There was no doubt that dad had nurtured these trees when they were small. It was in his nature to care about such matters.

In past years, dad would ask us how the maples were doing. We’d show him pictures.

This year, so far, the maples are doing fine. Maybe they haven’t been looked after every moment, but they’re green and strong, and making it on their own.

Howard Blume is the former managing editor of The Jewish Journal.


Show Celebrates Spectrum of Arlen Songs

It’ll be nostalgia time at the Ford Amphitheatre when Harold Arlen’s greatest tunes come alive again for the concert “The Wonderful Wizard of Song.”

The show’s title is a not-so-subtle allusion to “The Wizard of Oz,” which featured Arlen’s Oscar-winning hit, “Over the Rainbow.”

A prolific composer, Arlen wrote 500 songs featured in 20 Broadway shows and 30 movies, of which more than 20 will be played at the June 1, 2 and 3 evening concerts.

Included in the program are such romantic classics as “Stormy Weather,” “Blues in the Night,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Get Happy,” “I Got the World on a String,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”

Putting on the show will be Arlen’s son, saxophonist Sam Arlen; George Bugatti’s Three Crooners; a 12-piece orchestra; and an on-screen tribute to the composer by Tony Bennett.

The concert is part of an extended national celebration of Harold Arlen’s centennial; he was born Hyman Arluck, in Buffalo, the son of a cantor and grandson of a rabbi.

In a storyline akin to that of “The Jazz Singer,” Arlen’s father expected him to follow the family tradition and become a cantor or rabbi, or, at least, a classical pianist.

Young Harold sang in his father’s synagogue in his teens, but after moving to New York he became part of the lively jazz culture of the 1920s, Sam Arlen recalled in a phone interview.

After success on Broadway, Harold Arlen worked in Hollywood for the next 20 years and kept sending his songs to his father, the cantor. Eventually, Samuel Arlen started including snippets of his son’s songs in his prayers, telling his Harold, “I think you’re on to something.”

Another family story recalled by Sam Arlen speaks to his father’s creativity and working style. The composer and his wife were driving down Sunset Boulevard when he suddenly told his wife to stop the car and pull over to the side.

She did so, and within a few minutes Arlen had composed the melody to “Over the Rainbow,” which the American Film Institute recently selected as the No. 1 song of all-time.

“There’s a special meaning to having this show in Los Angeles,” said Sam Arlen. “My father, who died in 1986, was an avid golfer, and he loved the city and its atmosphere.”

“The Wonderful Wizard of Song,” 8 p.m., June 1,2 and 3. $32-$29 (adults) $12 (children). For reservations or information, phone the Ford box office at (323) 461-3673, or visit


Jazz and Classical in Perfect Harmony

Throughout his career, musician Uri Caine has gambled that he could find a niche in unconventional musical settings — and he’s usually won. His body of work includes hard-swinging jazz, contemporary imaginings of Jewish musical themes and controversial reworkings of hallowed masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven and Mahler. Not only has the 49-year-old Caine dared to alter the notes written by classical masters, but he’s also incorporated decidedly nontraditional sonic elements into his recordings — like D.J. effects and the voice of a Sephardic cantor.

For his next daring feat, as the composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), Caine will debut a concerto for two pianos and chamber orchestra this month in Los Angeles, incorporating improvisation between his piano and the piano of LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane, as part of a salute to Mozart in the year marking the 250th anniversary of his birth. Caine’s piece is hardly a clichéd “jazzing up” of Mozart. Instead, the new composition uses the Austrian master as a point of departure for a composition written in a contemporary musical language that is very much Caine’s own.

“People ask me, ‘How do we categorize this music?'” says Caine, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with his wife, artist Jan Caine. “‘Should we put it in the classical department or put it in the jazz department?’ As an idealist, I say put it in both. See what happens.”

LACO’s Kahane, whose musician son Gabriel first urged his skeptical father to explore Caine’s music, says that because of the composer’s unusual level of mastery in multiple genres, Caine does far more than simply translate a classical style into a jazz idiom.

“He’s literally reimagining the music and placing it in a great many different contexts,” Kahane says. “His stylistic vocabulary is so vast, and he’s so skillful in moving from one vocabulary to another, that he’s able to use all these different languages as commentary on the piece — and uses the piece to comment on other pieces, and other pieces besides the piece to comment on it. One of the wonderful things about Uri is that you don’t know what’s going to come out.”

Caine has had his ears wide open to a broad musical palette ever since he was seduced by the jazz, classical, funk and pop music of Philadelphia as a teenager in the mid-1970s. His musical education also had a distinctive Jewish flavor; as the son of two professors who diligently taught their children “Eliezer Ben-Yehudah” Hebrew, Caine ended up hearing a lot of Israeli pop and Sephardic music. The family would sing Jewish folk songs together around the table.

“My parents grew up in the generation of young people after the Holocaust — and they were embracing the Hebrew movement,” Caine says. “They weren’t religious necessarily, but at some point they thought about moving to Israel, even though they never left — they still live in Philadelphia.”

After studying with prominent composers George Rochberg and George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvania, and heading off to nighttime jam sessions that sometimes included jazz legends Philly Joe Jones and Hank Mobley, Caine spent time finding himself. After stints in Philadelphia and Israel, Caine decided in 1985 to move to New York City, perhaps the most vibrant but challenging jazz city in the world.

Caine credits his successes today to a willingness to stick with his musical vision through lean times.

“Follow that instinct,” he urges young musicians. “It’ll happen, if you work hard, and you can keep moving somehow.”

Caine’s critical buzz arrived with the release of Urlicht/Primal Light, a bold re-imagining of various Mahler compositions, released in 1997. While tradition-minded listeners objected — some walked out in protest at a 1998 performance in Toblach, Italy — the piece received a composer’s prize for best Mahler CD of the year.

Caine thought of the Mahler project in the manner of a jazz musician interpreting an established work. Just as in the 1960s, Miles Davis would reconceive a tune written by Cole Porter, so Caine would transform Mahler’s teeming stylistic soundscapes. Inescapably, some listeners saw the piece as an artistic reaction that embodied Caine’s Jewish identity, because of Mahler’s ultimate conversion to Christianity.

“Maybe, if you’re a German, you’re looking at the project as this New York Jewish person reinterpreting Jewish music — on the one hand, that seems very racist, because everything is reduced to that,” Caine says. “On the other hand, I understand it. Mahler’s life is a very interesting subject from that point of view.”

Caine is fascinated by the complexities of Jewish identity, but resents having the aesthetic breadth and complexity of his work reduced to a simple religious or political message: “The artist should be free — I mean everybody should be free — to like what they like, and not have to be pressured by the group.”

Still, Caine is hardly dismissive of his Jewish background: “It’s that conflict between an individual just trying to embrace different things and use everything that is out there. And also the reality that you come from a tradition. A very long, proud tradition of survival and innovation and creativity.”

Caine’s own work is also marked by inventiveness. And yet, say admirers, he’s the rare bird who can take on intellectually demanding projects without drowning in pedantry. His work can be complex without losing its playful vitality.

Uri Caine will premiere his “Concerto for Two Pianos and Chamber Orchestra” on May 20 at 8 p.m. at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Boulevard, Glendale, and May 21 at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA campus. $22-$80. For more information, call (213) 622-7001 ext. 215, or visit


Tova’s Songs Good for Yiddish’s Image


As a youngster in Calgary, she was the Yiddish valedictorian of her high school. As a theater major in Edmonton, she was “the first Jewish Medea.” Later, she became known across Canada as a character in a popular prime-time drama.

Now Theresa Tova is Canada’s reigning diva of Yiddish song, and she’s on her way to Los Angeles.

Tova will bring her smoky contralto to Gindi Auditorium at the University of Judaism on Dec. 24 in a concert that will culminate the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language’s sixth annual Winter Yiddish Intensive, “The Art of Yiddish,” this year subtitled “Knights, Mystics, Partisans & Scribes: Heroes of the Yiddish World.”

While not well known on the West Coast, Tova has a following on the East Coast, across Canada and in Yiddish and jazz circles. About 15 years ago, she began singing Yiddish standards such as “Belz,” “Papirosn,” and “Sheyn vi di Levone” infused with jazz syncopations and a sensuality that turns nostalgic reminiscences into walks down a dark street, and love songs into pillow talk.

“She lends a whole new image to Yiddish music,” said the institute’s director, Miriam Koral.

Tova, 50, was born in Paris, the daughter of Polish Jews. Her father’s family survived World War II after fleeing to Russia, while her mother, who lost her entire family, fought with the Polish partisans.

The family moved to Canada when Tova was a baby, and she grew up in Calgary, whose Jewish community was large enough to support three synagogues and two Jewish day schools. Yiddish was her mama loshen, and she attended the Yiddish day school in town. She then studied acting at the University of Alberta.

“I didn’t know I had a Jewish accent until they told me,” Tova told The Journal.

Her greatest visibility as an actor came as a regular on the Canadian series “E.N.G.,” a newsroom drama that ran from 1989 to 1994. It was during this time that Tova started performing as a cabaret singer.

She had a steady gig at a Toronto gay bar and, just for fun, would sometimes sing a Tin Pan Alley song in Yiddish. One night, a representative of a Jewish gay and lesbian group recruited her to sing for the local Holocaust Remembrance Committee.

“The next thing I know, I have these five Jewish matrons with bouffant hair sitting there in the gay bar checking me out,” Tova said. After that, she became a frequent performer at events for Jewish organizations.

In her performances, Tova mines the realism and grit of Yiddish lyrics. “I love the sexiness, the earthiness of this music; I love the stories,” she said.

Her live performances and two CDs also include Yiddish translations of American standards such as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and “Night and Day,” cabaret favorites in English, and, recently, a contemporary song by New York poet Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, “Der Saksafon Shpiler,” about a sax player on a subway platform.

Tova has been criticized for giving the classic Yiddish tunes too much of her own sassy personality and musical stamp, but she replies that she’s applying her actor’s skills to the material.

“That’s the way I hear it in 2005,” she said. “Are we just historical preservers, or do we want to keep this language, God forbid, alive?”

Besides, she suggests, other people who first heard these songs as youngsters are willing to come along for her ride. When they hear the jazz beat, Tova said, “those old [folks] are sitting there saying, ‘Hey, this is a sexy tune!'”

Well acquainted with the Jew’s outsider status in society and acting roles far removed from her own experience, Tova uses Yiddish music to be Jewish and to be, well, Tova.

“I can stand on a stage 60 years [after the Holocaust] and announce who I am … we ain’t hiding any more,” she said. “To be able to come back to this music and back to who I am is such a joy.”

Theresa Tova and the Strauss/Warschauer Duo will perform Saturday, Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. $40. For tickets, call (310) 745-1190.



The sixth annual Winter Yiddish Intensive presented by the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language (CIYCL), to be held Dec. 18-24 at the Skirball Cultural Center and the University of Judaism, will focus on “Heroes of Yiddish Culture.”

The week kicks off with a Sunday “Yiddish Experience.” Each weekday morning will feature Yiddish language classes at four different levels of reading ability, plus two levels of conversational Yiddish. In the afternoons and evenings, scholars and entertainers from across the United States, as well as Europe and Israel, will present lectures and workshops on a number of cultural topics.

Admission is available to the entire program and any of its components. To see a brochure with program details and ticket prices, visit or call CIYCL at (310) 745-1190.

Exodus of Family Hits a Low Note

Earlier this summer, Shana Leonard gave up her Fairfax District apartment to move to New Orleans and be near her 82-year-old father, legendary jazz photographer Herman Leonard. But late last month, the 33-year-old single mother, who also cares for her wheelchair-bound 10-year-old daughter, India, found the three of them among the thousands racing to escape from New Orleans.

In the early hours of Aug. 27, the Leonard family became part of the Crescent City’s massive, pre-Hurricane Katrina automotive exodus. Unable to fit everything into their minivan, the family left behind India’s expensive medical equipment. It was soon engufled by the overflowing Lake Pontchartrain.

Also flooded was the first-floor photo studio of Herman Leonard, whose seminal black-and-white photography captured 20th century jazz greats, such as singer Sarah Vaughan at Birdland in 1949 and Duke Ellington in the Paris of 1958.

“We had to get out so fast that we couldn’t take everything,” Herman Leonard said.

He believes that all of his photo equipment is ruined. But the news is better regarding the priceless photographic negatives of such musical icons as Miles Davis becoming one with his trumpet and a young Tony Bennett cradling a microphone.

“We got those out,” said Leonard who was able to store them in a fifth-floor vault of a New Orleans office building, where he hopes they are high, dry and undisturbed.

After leaving the New Orleans area, the family spent three days in Houston, and then came to Los Angeles, where the Leonard family and Shana’s boyfriend stayed this week with friends in Studio City.

The Leonard family has been adopted by members of Rancho Park’s Reform synagogue, Temple Isaiah, where funds are being raised to care for India, who suffers from cerebral palsy and also microcephaly, a condition in which the brain grows improperly. India neither walks nor talks, her mother Shana said.

India’s equipment includes a special bathtub seat and a prone stander to align her spine. They would cost at least $10,000 combined to replace. The equipment’s paperwork, including key serial numbers needed for obtaining replacements, were still apparently underwater early this week, Shana Leonard said.

“The family needs a place to live, and India needs her medical equipment replaced,” said Temple Isaiah member Jo Winett

Shana Leonard spent part of this week trying to get a hearing aid for her father. The disruption in their lives has been “pretty devastating to me,” she said.

“But I think it’s harder on my father,” she added. “He lost all his prints, his darkroom, everything was on the first floor. The negatives are safe, but who knows when we’ll be able to get to them?”

Herman Leonard’s three-story home is a block-and-a-half from Lake Pontchartrain and was directly in the floodwaters’ path.

He is not sure he wants to train his photographer’s eye on the current state of New Orleans. “I don’t know that I really want to record that,” he said. “I’m gonna stay here. That’s the primary concern. We’re just waiting it out.”

Longtime musical friends have been checking in to see how he’s holding up. “Quincy Jones, a very close friend of mine, called,” Leonard said.

Leonard went online and was able to track down satellite images of his home, much of it now submerged.

“I know it’s my house,” he said. “I know it’s my roof.”

Those wishing to aid can send funds to Leonard Family Help Fund, Care of Jo Winett, 10716 Esther Ave., Los Angeles, CA, 90064. Or donate online via PayPal:


7 Days in the Arts

Saturday, July 16

Who says chicks can’t be funny? Tonight, comedians Marie Cain, Annie Korzen, Ann Randolph and Betsy Salkind each take a turn onstage as part of “Tickling Adam’s Rib: An Evening of Four Ferociously Funny Females”…and dare you to not laugh.

8 p.m. $20. Steinway Hall at Fields Pianos, 12121 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 471-3979.


Sunday, July 17

Call him an alarmist or seer, but controversial New York Times best-selling author and investigative journalist Kenneth Timmerman will not be ignored. The Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee, Republican Jewish Coalition and StandWithUs co-sponsor his appearance today at the Museum of Tolerance to discuss his latest book, “Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran.”

7 p.m. $10. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 772-2527.


Monday, July 18

Labor politics and humor collide in the latest traveling exhibition, “The Traveling Wobbly Show: Comics and Posters,” at the Workmen’s Circle. Wobblies — a common term for members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) — have a rich history of producing humorous political cartoons and songs. The Circle’s show consists of 25 Wobbly prints gleaned from Paul Buhle and Nicole Shulman’s book, “Wobblies, A Graphic History.” Other events coinciding with the exhibit continue throughout July and August.

1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Tuesday, July 19

Imprisoned in seven concentration camps over four years, Kalman Aron survived by painting the portraits of the camp guards for their wives and girlfriends. At the time, he was a young man, and he later went on to paint the portraits of author Henry Miller and President Ronald Reagan, as well as numerous landscapes and paintings of people in his trademark style of “psychological realism.” This week through Nov. 15, the acclaimed artist opens his studio to the public for a rare retrospective exhibition.

1550 S. Beverly Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 922-1200.

Wednesday, July 20

Sandra Bernhard and other artists pay tribute to American cinematic jazz and swing greats in tonight’s “Play It Again: The Movie Music of Woody Allen” at the Hollywood Bowl.

8 p.m. $6-$34. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000.

Thursday, July 21

A little more night music tonight, this time at the University of Judaism. The DeLuca-Karamzyn-Sussman Trio performs an informal concert of Schumann’s “Fantasy Pieces,” Brahms’ “Piano Trio in B Major” and Peter Schnickele’s “New Goldberg Variations.” The pieces have been described as “romantic,” “lush” and “downright silly,” respectively, and those attending the performance will be privy to stories about the composers as well as the music.

7:30 p.m. $10. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246.

Friday, July 22

UCLA Film and Television Archive goes ahead and makes your day with its Don Siegel retrospective series. The director of tough crime dramas like “The Killers,” “Dirty Harry” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is honored with a host of screenings through Aug. 7. Tonight, see “Hitler Lives?” The documentary short won the 1946 Academy Award, and although uncredited, Siegel acted as the principal director of this anti-fascist compilation film.

7:30 p.m. $5-$8. James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 206-3456.


7 Days in The Arts

Saturday 25

Israel Prize laureate Ehud Manor passed away in April but his beloved songs live on in the hearts of Israelis. Tonight, the UJ pays tribute to his memory with a concert by Einat Sarouf, accompanied by Tali Tadmor and other guest artists.

9:30 p.m. $40 (includes wine and hors d’ouevres). Gindi Auditorium, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246.

It’s official. Poker is now everywhere. Tonight, American Friends of Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel raise funds “in support of our historic mission of preserving the democratic future of Israel.” And what better way than with some Texas Hold ‘Em? A tournament and black-and-white party complete with jazz ensemble and party lounge fill out the night of “Poker at the Shore.”

3:30 p.m. 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica.

Sunday 26

It’s official. Poker is now everywhere. Tonight, American Friends of Citizens Empowerment Center in Israel raise funds “in support of our historic mission of preserving the democratic future of Israel.” And what better way than with some Texas Hold ‘Em? A tournament and black-and-white party complete with jazz ensemble and party lounge fill out the night of “Poker at the Shore.”

3:30 p.m. 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica.

Monday 27

Big-time comedy in the comfort of your own home now comes courtesy of Big Vision Entertainment. “The Comedy Shop” host Norm Crosby has released a five-disc collector’s series of best-of moments from his show titled “The World’s Greatest Stand-Up Comedy Collection.” Watch three- to four-minute sets by more than 300 comedians including Jay Leno, Garry Shandling and Phyllis Diller until your stomach hurts.


Tuesday 28

Yiddishkayt L.A. partners with ALOUD at Central Library today for a unique conversation between film critic Kenneth Turan and Aaron Lansky, aka “the man who rescued a million Yiddish books.” Lansky also authored a book about his quest to save Yiddish literature, a read that Cynthia Ozick said is “as stirring as it is geshmak.” Live klezmer by the L.A. Community Klezmer Band rounds out the evening.

7 p.m. Los Angeles Public Library, Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (213) 228-7025.

Wednesday 29

In “The Talent Given Us” the retired parents of three adult children decide to embark on a road trip with their two unmarried daughters in a quest to see their uncommunicative son who lives in Los Angeles. In a novel concept, Andrew Wagner directs his real-life parents and siblings in this comedy about familial angst that has been hailed by critics. Catch a sneak preview tonight at the Egyptian Theatre or a regular screening tomorrow and next week at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

7:30 p.m. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles.

Thursday 30

In “The Talent Given Us” the retired parents of three adult children decide to embark on a road trip with their two unmarried daughters in a quest to see their uncommunicative son who lives in Los Angeles. In a novel concept, Andrew Wagner directs his real-life parents and siblings in this comedy about familial angst that has been hailed by critics. Catch a sneak preview tonight at the Egyptian Theatre or a regular screening tomorrow and next week at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

7:30 p.m. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles.

Friday 1

“Layali Al Saif.” Translated from Arabic, it means “Summer Nights,” an apt title for the sensual offerings of this dance show, which runs for three days only. The multicultural celebration of Middle Eastern dance includes Egyptian raqs sharqi (women’s solo dance), Persian banderi, Rom (Gypsy) circus and Turkish styling, as well as fusion pieces.

8:30 p.m. (June 30 and July 1 and 2), 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (July 3). $20. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 315-1459.