NYMJH Festival — Day 2

Take Ten
by David Kelsey
Not everyone is sure if they know Dave Brubeck’s music. But they do. They at least know his quartet’s 1959 rendition of “Take Five,” indisputably the most famous song with five beats to a measure, even if heard only on an elevator, or in a dentist’s office.
It sounds a lot better loud, though.
The concert at Frederick P. Rose Hall at Lincoln Center featuring Brubeck’s works and Brubeck himself, now 85, was introduced by producer Michael Dorf, who noted that only he and Cantor Alberto Mizrahi would be the Jews on stage at this performance of the New York Jewish Music & Heritage Festival. Dorf explained that this underscored the inclusive nature of the festival.
The Quartet performed classic Brubeck jazz in the first act of the show, including Dziekuje, which is Polish for “Thank You,” a hauntingly beautiful tribute to Chopin. Brubeck played softly at the beginning, but his intensity picked up, particularly on his solos, and the band grew louder on London Flat, London Sharp. The audience applauded after each instrumental solo as is the standard, even if in the formal setting of Lincoln Center, and Brubeck smiled and nodded at the audience graciously when it was his solo they were applauding.
For Act II, the jazz master and founder of “cool jazz” returned to the classical world from where he came, and tonight was the World Premiere of his six minute choral work, The Commandments , replete with an eighty-member chorale, the Providence Singers. While this work is new, the inspiration is not. It is based on his experience as a soldier in WWII. Brubeck explained in statement that he witnessed “most of the commandments broken during World War II. It has taken me almost 60 years to compose something I wanted to write when I was still a young soldier in Europe. I do my bit to try and get a few people to listen…there isn’t time left for the world not to try and understand each other.” The piece is a choral masterpiece, and ends with a plea, if still a demand, to “Keep my Commandments!”
The final piece performed was The Gates of Justice. This piece was created in the 1969 as an appeal to blacks and Jews to salvage the breakdown of their alliance forged during the civil rights movement in the early 1960’s. The UAHC commissioned the work for a mere $5,000, an exceptionally low sum even then for someone of Brubeck’s enormous stature, and had nothing to do with the negotiating skills of Rabbi Mintz, but stemmed from Brubeck’s own belief (he himself is not Jewish) in the common ground between the two peoples, as well as universal truths and problems to be learned from them for man’s relationship to both God and other men, and explained these lessons in his program notes.
“Because of their long history of suffering, Jews and American blacks know better than any other people the consequences of hate and alienation.”
But Brubeck admires not just Jews, but Judaism. “One of the basic tenets of Judaism is that man can become God-like by the pursuit of holiness; and the answer to alienation is to realize that man is not separate from—but a part of—God’s total creation. If our minds could grasp this fact as well as do our cells that turn to dust.”
The hall, though well attended, was not fully packed. This event, like the rest of the festival, was well publicized, and the fact that there wasn’t overwhelming interest in this specific event, particularly when it contained a world premiere performance from a maestro of Brubeck’s caliber is a bit of a shande to the New York Jewish community. A lot of the explanations given for the interest of Jews in hip-hop, if correct, should have translated into interest for a concert which included a piece specifically about Jews and blacks. The fact that there were so few young people suggests that these reasons are not why they are interested in crossover or mutli-culturalism bands and singers per se, but that they are, rather, in search of a “scene.” If so, let’s be more honest about exactly what the motivation is.
Never the less, Brubeck and the chorale, the conductor, the cantor, Kevin Deas, and the quartet received a long, standing ovation. At first it seemed perhaps there would be an encore. But it was already 10:15, the audience was older, and people were straggling out.
Right before announcing the intermission, Brubeck had said, “you can’t say you didn’t hear something different.”
Brubeck is terribly modest. “Different” is the least of it.
A Exclusive

5 thoughts on “NYMJH Festival — Day 2

  1. I went to the opening night concert and while the performers were amazing, the turn out was not so much. Mostly older members of the tribe.
    Don’t rag on the younger generation here… most my friends got turned off by the name “Jewish Music festival” It doesn’t spark interest in the 20-30 something crowd. Probably, if I didn’t know who the performers were- and know they were great, I would assume that this was a festival for my parents… not for me.

  2. “One of the basic tenets of Judaism is that man can become God-like by the pursuit of holiness; and the answer to alienation is to realize that man is not separate from—but a part of—God’s total creation. If our minds could grasp this fact as well as do our cells that turn to dust.”
    – true that

  3. If we’re being honest, I would assert that the reason that the hall was less than full, and full of ahem, older folks, was the forbidding ticket prices. When the cheapest seats are 48 dollars, you’re limiting your demographic right off the bat. This is especially true when one is confronted with a jam packed festival calendar and one must make tough decisions about where to spend one’s limited funds. I’m not aware of any student tickets or other sliding scale arrangements for any of the big festival events.

  4. As a member of the chorus (if not a MOT) it was a mighty thrill to perform with Brubeck both at the Rose Theater and last summer at Newport Jazz Festival. It was a marvel to watch Brubeck totter onto the stage showing every one of his 85 years–until he sat down to the piano. What a transfiguration!!!
    We of the Providence Singers hoped that those who __were__ able to afford tickets and see the performance were as moved as we were by the work.

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