Klezmer in the Ball Park 


This past Sunday, for the second year in a row, the Nu Haven Kapelye performed Klezmer for an hour before the Yard Goats  game at Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford.  We had a blast, and crowds gathered around the group to hear us play before the game.  

Mike Ruscoe shared some of his photos of the day with the group and here's a few choice moments:


Upcoming performances 

It’s been a while since my last music update. I’ve had a great musical summer that began in late June when Warren, Saskia and I were in Italy and gave an Afro-Semitic Experience concert on the steps of the Great Synagogue of Florence. Here’s a video of us performing Unity in the Community

As I prepare for the fall, I’ve got a busy few weeks coming up. Here’s a list of my various performances.

Saturday, August 19 5-7, Nu Haven Kapelye at Best Video Cultural Center, 1842 Whitney Ave., Hamden. Music outdoors in the parking lot of Best Video. Come to listen to some classic Klezmer and Yiddish songs but be prepared to get up and dance in a circle!!


Sunday, August 20 Hartford Yard Goats Game pregame music. The Nu Haven Kapelye is playing a set at Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford.  It’s Jewish Heritage Day and we’ll be we’re opening for the Hartford Yard Goats game.  You’ll have to get a ticket to the game to see us. The Yard Goats are having a great season so it will be worth staying to see the game!  Music at 11:30. Game at 1 pm.  


Saturday, August 26. I have been rehearsing a group of current and former students from the Southern Connecticut State University Latin Jazz Ensemble for a concert of Latin Jazz Classics at the Torrington Historical Society. The group will perform from 6:30-8:00 pm, in the gardens of Torrington's Hotchkiss Fyler House Museum as part of the Jazz in the Garden concert series hosted by the Torrington Historical Society. The Hotchkiss Fyler House Museum is located at 192 Main Street, Torrington, CT. I hope you will come and support these excellent young musicians and singers. 


Thursday, August 31 Afro-Semitic Experience at The Drake 44 North Pleasant Street in Amherst

Doors open at 7pm and the show starts at 8pm. Our first time at the Drake, please help us spread the word!

Here is the ticket link: https://www.thedrakeamherst.org/events/the-afro-semitic-experience


Tuesday, September 5, 7 pm, David Chevan at Café Nine, playing the music of S’lichos. Event hosted by the New Haven Jazz Underground. With Rosh Hashanah coming up, I’m planning a set of instrumental repentance music. This is the 20th anniversary of my Days of Awe album. That recording featured my arrangements of the high holy day music of Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt and others. After the music of repentance comes a jazz jam. My set begins at 7 pm. The jazz jam begins at 8 pm.


September 9, Afro-Semitic Experience makes our debut performance at the CT Folk Fest, 5:30 set. It’s a great lineup of artists and we’re excited to be opening for Maria Muldaur. We’ve just recorded a new album and we’ll be featuring some of that music.


Coming up in October: a CD release party for the Nu Haven Kapelye at Café Nine.

Letters from the Affair at the Tsitsit Fringe Festival 

I’m back from an extraordinary week of performing Letters from the Affair in London; a week with several near artistic disasters and quite a few small, but real triumphs. It all began back in May when Letters from the Affair was accepted for a performance at the Tsitsit Fringe festival. At the time that the work was accepted, my thinking was that we’d perform the work either live streamed or prerecorded. Then, as the summer progressed things began to open up. By the end of the summer, it became clear that it would be possible to perform this work live in front of an audience. 

Pre-travel planning and getting ready to go 

After several zoom meetings with Alastair Falk, the director of the festival, I began to lay out the logistics of rehearsing a work online.   My first decision was straightforward: I would need to play bass in the ensemble and lead the group and direct from within the show. My first job was to cast the leading roles of Camille Pissarro and Edgar Degas. I figured I could build everything else around those two performers. I knew that I would need to work with mostly London based performers. but I wasn’t sure how well things would go with a completely new cast and band. Within a few days of beginning my search for the leads I discovered the difficult challenge of getting people to be involved in a project with so many moving parts. The first question I was asked by every potential cast member was, what are the performance dates? And even as late as mid-September we weren’t exactly sure what those dates would be. The one thing that Alastair was sure of was that we were going to get to perform the work in the Stern Pissarro Gallery in London, a gallery owned by Camille Pissarro’s great granddaughter. 

As the performance dates materialized one by one the initial candidates for Pissarro disappeared. People had commitments and could not fit this work into their existing performance schedule. I had one performer who committed to the role and then his mother took ill, and he stepped out. Another performer couldn’t get time off from his day job (working at a synagogue). Yoav Oved, the person who accepted the role of Camille Pissarro was the one name that kept appearing over and over among the recommendations. I was able to watch a couple of his videos on YouTube and he seemed like he would be the right person for the part. It was his dramatic and haunting rendition El Male Rachamim that convinced me that he had something interesting and musical to bring to the part. 


What I’ve summarized took more time than I could have imagined. Finding a person to play the role of Pissarro wasn’t easy. And I still needed to cast Degas. Without getting too deep into the weeds, I’ll just say how grateful I was that Alastair and I figured out how to bring Cantor Martin Levson to London to play Degas. Martin has a very long history with this work.  He’s played the part of Degas for the 2019 and 2020 seasons of the Providence Fringe and the November 2020 performance at Southern Connecticut State University. 

While I continued to put the rest of the group together, I began rehearsing with Yoav Oved via Zoom.  Here's a shot of Yoav singing and me listening:

Yoav and David rehearsing

We met at least three times online and rehearsed one time with Martin. I was at my piano in Connecticut playing cues here and there, but the lag time on Zoom made it impossible to do any more than that. But Yoav has a great ear and a great voice. He began to learn the songs that Pissarro sings and I knew we were on our way. 

As my departure date for London grew near, I found John Macnaughton, a great reed player. But finding an accordion player who could play the various musical styles in the work was more difficult. Thanks to the help of Ilana Cravitz and several other London musicians I had a good list of names to contact. Eventually I was introduced to Yair Schleider, and he joined the team. Ilana also connected me with a string shop in London that had a wide range of basses that I could choose from to use for the week. 

I was almost all set. The only part that I had not filled was that of the narrator. But I knew I had a narrator all set for our Birmingham performance so while I was worried, I was not overly concerned. 

Thursday, October 14 

I left for London on Thursday, October 14 and landed at Heathrow on Friday, October 15. I’d like to say it was a nice easy flight, because for the most part that is what it was, but it didn’t begin that way.  After we were all boarded our plane was stuck on the ground in Washington, DC for over two hours while a malfunction with some onboard system was repaired. After that, the flight was nice and easy. 

Friday, October 15 

I landed in London over two hours late with a lot to do. Fortunately, customs was fairly easy and I was able to get into London and then find my way to Golders Green, a part of London I’d never been in before where the festival was housing us.  Golders Green set the tone for my trip. My entire visit to London was filled with very Jewish moments and Golders Green, while not the only Jewish community in London, is a Jewish community filled with Kosher stores, restaurants and even a Kosher vape shop (look at where Martin is pointing and you’ll see). 

I saw this sign a lot during my trip

Martin pointing at the word

I checked into my hotel, the King Solomon, and then headed to the other side of town where a bass awaited me. I headed to a lovely luthier shop, Bridgewood and Neitzert and finally Ilana Cravitz in person (she works there part-time). She helped me to choose a bass with a great big voice and a nice overall feel (yes, I was very tempted to come home with a new instrument).

Ilana Cravitz, me, and the bass

I hurried back to Golders Green where I met up with Martin Levson, who had also arrived that day. We met up at Alyth, the North Western Reform Synagogue, also in Golders Green. I also briefly reconnected with Alyth’s wonderful cantor, Tamara Hope Wolfson. 

After services Martin and I had a tasty Shabbat dinner at Hosh, a Turkish restaurant and one of the few Golders Green restaurants that was open on Friday night. 

a little shabbos l'chayim!!

Saturday, October 16 

On Saturday we had our first rehearsal. Yair graciously offered us the use of his apartment and we ended up having all our rehearsals there. John couldn’t make it, so I spent the afternoon working with both singers and Yair.  Because of our online rehearsals Yoav was far along with his part and things came together quite smoothly. Yair and Yoav play Yemeni weddings together and have done some other projects, so they already had some good chemistry. We were able to get through all the music and even begin shaping things. When I listen back to this clip from the first rehearsal, I hear both how far we got and how much farther we had to go to tightening everything up. 

We took a break during rehearsal and Yair showed us the garden outside his apartment. It was idyllic. Just like I imagined an English garden to be.  Of course, we took a few photos and here are just a few of those:

Martin, Yair, Yoav and me in the garden

Two Americans in an English garden during a rehearsal break

After the rehearsal Yoav took us to a little place for lunch where we had Jochnun, a traditional Yemeni dish served on the Sabbath.

Yoav, who is Yemeni, told us that his grandmother’s Jochnun was much better, but that this was a good example. This lunch was another one of those moments where I felt how distinctly Jewish this trip to England was and just how inspired I felt from the experience. Yoav shared stories about his family and growing up in Israel and Kenya. 

Meanwhile, as Shabbat ended, Martin and I headed over to the King Alfred Phoenix Theatre to see the production that evening and get a sense of where would be performing on Wednesday night.

I also heard from Alastair who informed me that our plans for Sunday had completely changed. Instead of traveling to Birmingham, we were going to give our workshop performance in London at the Jewish Museum. The only problem I faced was that we still lacked a narrator for the performances. Alastair reached into his network and assured us that we would have a narrator in time for the performance at the Jewish Museum. 

Sunday, October 17 

I woke up and still had no narrator for the afternoon performance, but Alastair assured me that he was on it. Martin and I headed over Yair’s apartment for our last rehearsal before the performance. Yair had told us that Sigmund Freud’s London house was just down the street, so we stopped there for a moment to see it before we arrived. 

standing in front of Sigmund Freud's London home

John was able to make this rehearsal and we were able to work on his parts as well as further develop the vocal parts. We were all getting into focus around the work, and it was beginning to have some shape. 

Jon, Martin, and Yair at rehearsal

We ended rehearsal and headed over to the Jewish Museum. John, Yoav, Martin and I clambered onto a bus while Yair, who had a gig later that evening, zipped his gear over to his gig and then met up with us at the Jewish Museum. In the meantime, I’d heard from Katie, our narrator for the performance. She was coming to London by train. Could I please send her the script? I immediately forwarded her a copy of the script. When we got to the museum, we finally met Alastair Falk, the Tsitsit Festival Director, in person. 

  Alastair Falk, Tsitsit Fringe director with Yoav, Martin and me at the Jewish Museum in London

We were escorted to the room where we were giving our performance. As we arrived in the room, the sound people were in the process of removing all the sound equipment from the room and moving it to another location in the museum. It was precisely at that moment that we learned we were not going to have the expected sound reinforcement for the performance. Fortunately, there was an extra techie on the team named Tim who agreed to stay and help run the PowerPoint part of the performance. I handed Tim a copy of the script with all the slide cues and he and I went through the show in record time. Tim did a great job during the performance and later he sent me the only photo I have from that performance.  

It was getting close to performance time and Katie still hadn’t arrived at the museum. We set up our instruments and did a little running through of the pieces. Without any sound reinforcement this was going to be a tricky performance to pull off. The audience started coming in and I saw that Ilana Cravitz was there with a couple of friends. 

Finally, two minutes after we were supposed to begin Katie showed up, out of breath and apologetic. She asked me for a copy of her script as she didn’t want to read it from her phone. The only extra copy of the script I had with me was an earlier draft that was out of date and filled with typos. I warned Katie about that, and we all took the stage to begin the performance. The energy of performing carried us into a great realm and this workshop performance went far beyond my expectations. The chemistry between Martin and Yoav as Degas and Pissarro was fantastic and the two played off one another in ways that we’d barely explored during the rehearsals. Katie did a great job, and she managed to get through this earlier draft in a way that still kept the show flowing.  I wish I had some photos of the performance, but that was not on my mind. We had a great time and I think everyone in the group learned a lot from this performance. The conversation with the audience after the performance went in some great and lively directions. All-in-all it was an auspicious start to the week of performances. Katie was apologetic for her performance, but I really thought she did a great job and she told me that she was in for the other two performances, I just needed to send her the details. 

our stage at the Jewish Museum in LondonTim's photo of us before we began the performance, that's Katie in the lower right hand corner

After we were finished the cast and band along with Ilana Cravitz and her friends all ended up at a nearby restaurant where we celebrated our first performance together. 

  Post-performance meal with Martin, Yoav, Ilana, her friends, Yair, and me

Monday, October 18 

I woke up early Monday morning to an email from Katie. Her schedule would not allow her to be a part of the Thursday performance at the Stern Pissarro gallery. Fortunately, Martin and I were already planning to have a breakfast meeting with Alastair. At the meeting we discussed getting a narrator who could do both Wednesday and Thursday performances. We then mapped out a plan for the Thursday performance at the Stern Pissarro Gallery. My job was to liaise between the gallery, the festival and the videographer that had been hired to record the performance.  We also discussed reaching out to the King Alfred Phoenix Theatre to arrange for that performance to be recorded as a sort of back up. 

After we went our separate ways, Alastair and I had a number of email exchanges around finding a narrator. We got help from several people who put out calls to various lists. Around 1:00 pm we heard from Chantal, an actress in London who was very interested in the part.  She was available for both performances and quite interested in being a part of the work. I sent her a copy of the script and connected her with Alastair. My only concern was that she was not going to be available to rehearse with us before the performances. 

I then called the Stern Pissarro Gallery and within minutes was talking with David Stern, the gallery owner. We agreed that I would swing by the next day to see the gallery space and make some decisions about how we would record the performance. After I spoke with David, I called the videographer, and we discussed our plans for making the video at the gallery. All in all, this was turning into a very productive day. 

Monday evening, we had a rehearsal at Yair’s apartment. After Sunday’s performance we had plenty to discuss and to clean up. It was a surprisingly smooth rehearsal. Everyone was focused and we were able to get a lot done in a short amount of time. We were all having a blast and all of the songs in the work were beginning to click.  During a break I looked at my phone. I’d gotten an email from Chantal. She had changed her mind. She was out. Once again, we were without a narrator. 

I reached out yet again to Alastair about getting another narrator. Meanwhile, everyone in the group started reaching out to people they knew. John, Yair and Yoav were both texting friends and reaching into their networks. They could not have been more supportive and helpful. After the rehearsal Yoav finally reached a friend of his, Maya Kay. I didn’t know it at the time, but Maya and Yoav worked together at the Westminster Synagogue. Yoav reached Maya by phone, and they talked for a bit, then he handed his phone to me. Maya and I talked about the show, and she seemed interested in doing the performance, she asked me to send her a copy of the script. After I emailed her the script, we all headed to a nearby pub. Despite the concerns regarding the narrator things were looking pretty good. 

Martin, Yair and Yoav on our way to the pub

Yair, Martin, Jon, and Yoav--the amazing leads and the band!!

pre pub selfie with Martin, Yoav, Jon, and Yair

Tuesday, October 19 

Tuesday was originally going to be my free day in London, but that was no longer the plan as I needed to see the Stern Pissarro Gallery. I awoke to a very positive email from Maya.  She really liked the script and wanted to set up a time for a rehearsal. We texted back and forth while Martin and I traveled to the Stern Pissarro gallery. We decided to meet at Kent House that afternoon for a read through of the script.  

I was excited to finally arrive at the Stern Pissarro gallery. We were greeted by the owner, David Stern and we met his son, Dotahn Pissarro Stern (Camille Pissarro’s great-great-grandson). David Stern showed us around the upper area, which included a bust of Camille Pissarro. He then took us down a spiral staircase to the lower gallery. The entire lower gallery was filled with works by the entire Pissarro family. I saw paintings, prints, and sketches by Camille Pissarro, his sons, their children, their children, and their children! 

David Stern at the Stern Pissarro gallery by Camille Pissarro's bust

I took plenty of pictures to share with our videographer so he would have a sense of the layout of the room. David Stern discussed changing some of the pictures so that all of the images that would be seen during the video shoot would be happy by Camille Pissarro. Dotahn agreed to stay to mind things while we did the shoot. We had a plan!! 

The staircase down to the Pissarro family gallery


Martin gets an art history lesson from David Stern

A wall of generations of Pissarro pieces

Martin and I were elated by the experience. We then headed off on foot to Kent House to meet with Maya, our new narrator. We got to see quite a bit of London before we arrived at our destination. I called Maya to come down to meet us at the door. A few minutes later, she called me to ask where we were. I told her we were standing right in front of the house come up, but she said, “No, I don't see you anywhere.”  I told her that I could see the sign Kent house right in front of me and then she asked, “Did you put Kent house in your GPS or Kent house Rutland gardens?” Oops!! I didn't know that there was more than one Kent house in London!! It turned out Martin and I were a good 45-minute walk away from our actual destination. We jumped into a cab and scooted over to Kent House Rutland Gardens. When we arrived, we saw the sign Kent house on the building, and we also say saw that it said Westminster synagogue. It had never occurred to us until then that Maya and Yoav worked at the same place. Once we arrived, Martin, Maya, and I got right to work. We sat in the synagogue library and rehearsed the script from beginning to end several times. We had finally found our narrator and she was amazing. As she walked us out, Maya asked us if we were at all interested in seeing the Czech survivor Torahs. She said that she'd ask the chair of the survivor Torah committee if he could meet with us and give us a tour. 

table reading rehearsal with Maya KayMartin rehearses lines with Maya Kay

Martin and I then headed to the king Alfred Phoenix Theatre to see the performance that evening of two plays by Rob Messick, the director of the theater. We caught a night fascinating theater. Rob is a very good writer and director. It was cool that he included his father in one of the works! 

Wednesday, October 20 

Show day had finally arrived. I was in touch with Rob Messick, and we set up a time to do a tech run of the show. There were two Tsitsit Fringe shows that evening. Ours was the later performance so Martin and I made arrangements to arrive at the theater early to run through everything with Rob and Matt, the tech person.  

The day flew by. I had a phone conversation with the videographer and sent him pictures of the gallery so that he had a sense of the layout. Martin and I did a little walking in downtown London and got caught in a sudden rainstorm. I also heard from Maya. The chairman of the Memorial Scrolls Trust would meet us on Thursday morning for a tour of the Czech Memorial Scrolls Museum. 

After a quick and early dinner, Martin and I arrived at the King Alfred Phoenix Theatre. We worked with Rob and Matt on the technical issues that need to be resolved for the performance. At one point when we were working on did guys letter about going for the inhalation, I jokingly suggested that we could use the fog machine. Rob said there was no reason to kid about it, of course we could use it!! 

Everyone arrived on time, and we all set. It was showtime. The performance began and it was magical, just as I'd hoped it would be. There were no dropped lines, the songs came together, and everyone was in focus. Fortunately, Rob shot a video of the performance and I'm hoping at some point will be able to air all of it. Until then, here's a little excerpt from the performance that night. It features Yoav Oved and is one of Camille Pissarro songs to his son at the peak of the Dreyfus Affair:

When the play was over, the audience gave us an incredibly nice response. It was weird, I was so focused on the performance that I’d forgotten that this is what audiences do. I was so happy that everyone who performed so well got that support from the audience.  We'd done it!!! 

After the performance at the King Alfred Phoenix Theatre: Yair, Yoav, Martin, Jon, me and Maya

Thursday, October 21 

Thursday was our last full day in London. Once we’d made the video at the gallery we’d be done with our work in the city. I was looking forward to returning to the Westminster Synagogue to see Museum of the Survivor Torahs. Martin and I got an early start so that we would not be late. We were met at the front door of the synagogue by Jeffrey Ohrenstein, the chairman of the Memorial Scrolls Trust.  He took us upstairs to the rooms where the remaining scrolls are stored and sat us down at a large conference room table. 

“What do you know about the Czech memorial scrolls?” he asked. 

I proceeded to tell him what I had heard at both my sons’ bar mitzvahs. About how the scrolls had been rescued by a British businessman. And how the scrolls had originally been taken by the Nazis to be used in a museum dedicated to presenting artifacts from the annihilated Jewish Race. 

“I’m afraid that things aren’t quite as that story might seem,” replied Mr. Ohrenstein. He then proceeded to tell the story of how, in 1942, a committee of Jews in Prague were responsible for collecting Jewish artifacts from across Czechoslovakia to preserve them until after the war. The story about the Nazi museum was, according to what Mr. Ohrenstein could surmise, a fiction that was invented during the Communist regime in that region. Martin and I learned about the history of Jewish Czechoslovakia and how the collection came to be.  It was transfixing. We easily spent an hour just hearing story after unbelievable story. 

Finally, we entered the Czech Memorial Scrolls Museum. It was an emotional experience so particular and so unique, so I don't quite have the right words to describe it. The first room that we entered was a vast collection of the various paraphernalia that's around the Torah. There was a display of the feathers the ink bottles and the table that one of the soferim used to repair the broken scrolls. There were vast displays of Torah binders, something I never given thought to, but they were clearly an integral not part of Jewish lives in Czechoslovakia. We saw wooden scrolls finally Mr. Ohrenstein brought us into the room with the scrolls themselves. 

These pictures tell the story far more eloquently than I ever could. Being in this room with all these scrolls rolled up some so damaged that they will never ever be unrolled again what's unlike anything I've ever experienced before. It was harsh reminder the devastation of the Holocaust is anything I'd ever experienced in my life. 

Jeffrey Ohrenstein explaining the history of the Czech survivor scrolls to Martin Levson


Torahs too damaged to be used by a synagogue













Our visit lasted just over two hours. Martin and I were both exhausted from the intensity of the experience. We headed back to our rooms to rest for the video session. 

I'd been in touch with the videographer, and we agreed to meet at the gallery at 5:00 PM. Martin and I arrived a little early and brought our gear down the stairs to the Pissarro gallery. David Stern was getting ready to go home and wished us wished us well on our performance. It was almost 5:30 when I finally heard from the videographer.  He wanted to know where we were. I told him that we were at the gallery. He wanted to know which gallery? The Pissarro gallery, I responded. For some odd and still unclear reason, the videographer had thought we were recording at the Jewish Museum, not the Stern Pissarro gallery. On the phone he told me that he could not come to the Pissarro gallery with that he quit the project. Just as he quit the rest of the group began to arrive at the gallery. 

We were stuck. It was less than an hour before the scheduled time for the video shoot, and we were without a videographer. I called Alastair and told him what was going on.  We struggled to come up with an alternate plan. The best we could come up with was to shoot the work on a cell phone. But we didn't have a tripod nor was there a tripod anywhere in the entire gallery. Alastair suggested that I head over to Piccadilly Circus (which is only a few blocks away from the gallery) and see if I could buy one from one of the shops. I immediately headed out. In the meantime, the rest of the cast and band arrived. We told them what was up and asked if they knew anybody who could help us. Maya texted a few of her friends and within a matter of minutes we had a videographer on his way over to film in the performance. It was a good thing, because the tripod I ended up getting was a piece of junk and fell apart when we tried to set it up. 

As soon as Maya’s friend Cinar arrived we got to work. We set up our music stands, warmed up, tuned up and began the opening notes of the show. I think that the combination of the stress of the moment with the performance from the night before had energized everyone because we gave such a powerful performance that night in front of Pissarro’s paintings and sketches. Yoav and Martin took huge risks with their singing that felt so strong and right in the moment. And there was Cinar, capturing it all on his video camera. I even snuck a photo of everyone during the performance. 

during the recording of Letters from the Affair at the Stern Pissarro gallery. Videographer Cinar, Yoav, Maya, Martin, and Yair

Once we got started, the adrenaline kicked in and everything flowed from beginning to end. Sure, there were a couple of mistakes here and there, but we wanted to keep that live feeling in place, and we didn't do any retakes. The energy sustained itself from beginning to end. When we were finished, we all looked at each other with big smiles on our faces.  Here's some photos from the end of our evening:


After the session LtoR Alastair Falk, Yoav Oved, Jon Macnaughton, Maya Kay, Cantor Martin Levson,  me, Dotahn Pissarro Stern, Yair Schleider

We did it and don't we look happy! Jon, Maya, Martin, me, Yoav and Yair  Such a crew!!!

Alastair Falk, Pissarro's painting and me Alastair Falk, Pissarro's painting and Cantor Martin Levson








We had accomplished what we had set out to do. Maya and Alastair had to leave, but John, Martin, Yair, Yoav and I went out for a celebration dinner. No, I don’t have any pictures from that meal, but you can well imagine that we were all in such good spirits. And with that, we were done. 

What a week!! I’d faced numerous challenges and had some extraordinary musical and theatrical moments. I had a week of adventures in London with a dear friend (we had so many good talks and experiences together that I left out of this already rather long narrative) and made some new friends. I’d had a distinctly Jewish London experience. And we mounted and performed a play in three locations.  All in all, this was a very good week!!! 

After returning the bass to the shop Friday morning and taking one last bus ride through the city, I headed to Heathrow.  My flight home on Friday was easy and (gladly) uneventful. I arrived in Connecticut around midnight and Julie was waiting for me at the airport. Home again!!! 


Scenes from a photoshoot 

The Nu Haven Kapelye had its first ever photo shoot today.  We met in Edgerton Park in New Haven and Harold Shapiro, working with Cynthia Astmann organized a great morning of photos.

Here's some pics I took on my phone while we were together:

Klezmer in Edgewood Park 

This past summer I played quite a bit of Klezmer with a trio of musicians.  Here's a clip of us playing the Broyges Tantz at the Edgewood Park Famer's market in New Haven.  Enjoy!

Featuring Dana Astmann on accordion and David Sasso on mandolin.


Baba David Coleman 

Baba David Coleman, drummer, teacher, priest, and founding member of the Afro-Semitic Experience is suffering from stage IV cancer that has spread throughout his body. 

He is being cared for by his family in Ohio.  

They don’t have the financial resources to cover his medical expenses or even his day-to-day expenses.  If you can help, your generosity will be greatly appreciated. Over the years many of you have been touched by Baba David's loving spirit and he has brought his love to so many around the world. This is truly his moment of need. 

 Here is the link for the Go Fund Me page to support Baba David Coleman: 



Remembering Stacy Phillips 

  What a musical year it has been.  There were some high points and real lows.  The hardest moment this year came on June 4 when I got a call the day after playing an Afro-Semitic Experience concert and learned that Stacy Phillips had pulled over on the side of the road on his way from our concert to another performance and had a massive heart attack.  When he died many of his friends and family came together and we gave him a farewell party at Café Nine that lasted the entire day.  And while that gave us all a bit of closure, I find that every Afro-Semitic Experience and Nu Haven Kapelye performance leaves me feeling his absence and his presence.  

I’ve been playing on and off with Stacy since about 1997.  He was one of the first musicians to join the Afro-Semitic Experience and his presence in the band was so critical to the formulation of our sound.  He was, in his own way, incredibly open minded.  He played many different styles of music and did so in a way that both honored the musical tradition of the style he was performing and allowed for his own personality to come out in the music.  I met Stacy because we both had an interest in Jewish music.  He wrote one of the first contemporary books that included performable transcriptions of historical recordings of Klezmer and his approach to Klezmer was deeply informed by those transcriptions.  He was a stickler whenever we played one of his arrangements.  

In 1998 a group of musicians began a tradition of playing a concert of Jewish and Yiddish music on December 25, a tradition that celebrated its 20th anniversary just a few days ago.  And Stacy was a part of that group and participated in the annual concert and in the ensemble, the Nu Haven Kapelye, that grew out of this.  He arranged songs for the Kapelye and he usually spent time with the newest and youngest members of the Kapelye, encouraging them and sometimes writing special simplified arrangements as features for these new musicians.  Stacy played in the violin section on the Nu Haven Kapelye’s CD, “What’s Nu?”  At Stacy’s request I added a name to the credits on the album.  It was his own private joke, but he allowed me in on it and if you look at the jacket of the CD you will see a name listed in the violin section, Mosheh Savitsky.  That was Stacy’s sense of humor. Sometimes private and sometimes hilariously broad.  

One thing that I was struck by as I sat at Stacy’s memorial concert at Café Nine was the depth and breadth of his musical knowledge and how, as a result of that, so many of us knew Stacy in genuinely different ways.  For over 20 years Stacy and I played so many types of music together: jazz, Klezmer, gospel, Yiddish songs, funk, synagogue songs, blues, Hazzonos and I don’t know what else. In all that time on all of those gigs there was, at least on the surface, almost nary a moment of Bluegrass.  And yet surrounding me that day in Café Nine was a lot of Bluegrass.  And the Bluegrass people I met knew Stacy incredibly well, so incredibly well—they knew him through a lens I had not experienced firsthand. We’d had complete and genuine experiences of this musical person that could not be more different.  I know we are all complex people, but Stacy really took the cake.  Complex, smart.  Those are easy adjectives to use for him.  And for all that people knew him or felt that they knew him, he kept a lot private.  The only reason I knew his actual birth name and his birth date was because I booked the flights for the band.  Believe you me, he swore me to secrecy on that.  

The memorial event at Café Nine was documented by Brian Slattery for the New Haven Independent and you can read his great article that summarizes the day and has some videos of the music that was played here: 


I’ve found myself sharing memories Stacy wherever I go and play with the Afro-Semitic Experience and with the Nu Haven Kapelye. But some moments are not shared, they just happen.  With the Afro-Semitic Experience I find there are moments in performance where I expect him to come in with his part and even when it isn’t there, I can hear it in my mind’s ear.  And we’ve had moments in songs where Stacy’s part was supposed to come in and we all just look at each other and almost stop playing.  It’s that intense.  That real. That momentary remembrance of what we had together and how musical and full of energy it was.  And then, the moment is over as one of us plays the part that was developed by Stacy and we move forward in the song.  The first time we played I wish I knew how it would feel to be free without him was probably the hardest.  When we got to the ending section where Stacy usually played a duet with our percussionist, we stopped.  We hadn’t thought about what we were going to do there. We all looked at each other and we almost didn’t finish the song.  Then Will Bartlett stepped up and played a brief and emotionally filled duet with Jocelyn Pleasant.  That moment stays with me. 

We recently played The Creator Has a Master Plan at the Opera House in Havre de Grace, Maryland.  We dedicated that performance to Stacy’s memory. Here’s a video of that performance: 

The Creator Has a Master Plan: https://youtu.be/oRyiDaFtbxU 

At the Nu Haven Kapelye’s annual December 25 concert just a few days ago we dedicated many of the songs to Stacy and we played several of his arrangements for the group.  One of the songs was Stacy’s arrangement of National Hora for the violins.  Ari Kagan, who had grown up under Stacy’s tutelage, spoke briefly before we performed that piece. Here’s a YouTube clip of that moment in the concert: 

Ari Kagan remembers Stacy Phillips and we play National Hora:  https://youtu.be/kk_kGCUouJI 

I’m going to close this remembrance with two photos.  Stacy’s last gig was a concert with the Afro-Semitic Experience on June 3, 2018. I took a few candid photos while we were setting up for the concert. These photos capture some essence of Stacy that those of us played with him all knew—his humor and his seriousness are present in these last images.  He’s ribbing Jocelyn as he talks to her. If he was feeling ill he sure wasn’t letting on.  But that was Stacy Phillips.

l to r: Abu Alvin Carter, Sr., Jocelyn Pleasant, Stacy Phillips

Jocelyn Pleasant and Stacy Phillips

New video, MLK service and jam session 

Just a few weeks ago I had the honor of playing with the Afro-Semitic Experience at the opening plenary session of the Biennial conference of the URJ, the Union of Reform Judaism. We played a brief set just before the keynote speaker, Reverend William J. Barber. The performance was streamed and recorded and here’s a link to our performance: 

The Afro-Semitic Experience Live at the URJ Biennial 2017: https://youtu.be/lZgT2cF-x_M 

Here’s a link to something I think is also of importance and value, Reverend Barber’s speech. His words that evening were a call to action and a powerful reminder that there is still much to do in our nation to achieve equality and equity for all our citizens. I hope you will take some time to watch or at least listen to what Reverend Barber said that evening. I do believe that our message and our music harmonized with Reverend Barber’s prophetic words at the URJ Biennial. 

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber - Biennial 2017: https://youtu.be/lmr7f3XoHPE 

Our performance was only the beginning of a great experience for me as over the next four days I attended services, concerts, and learning sessions where I got to meet many rabbis, cantors, professionals and lay people who are involved in trying to make a positive difference in the struggle for social justice. The learning sessions on criminal justice and racial justice were among the high points of my experience. I heard from so many people who are involved in the fight for social justice in their communities, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but always striving. As I observed and participated in these sessions and services I felt moved and I felt empowered. 

week, on Friday, January 12, the Afro-Semitic Experience will mark its 20th anniversary by sharing our music at an interfaith service to celebrate and honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year we’ll be sharing our music at Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden, Connecticut, it’s the synagogue where we first started our project twenty years ago. This year is Rabbi Herbert Brockman’s last year leading the service as he will be retiring from Mishkan Israel in June. So this is a service that will be emotional and intense on many levels as Rabbi Brockman has always served as a beacon for social justice in the New Haven area and while we welcome change, in this case it will be bittersweet. The service is at 7:30 pm, but we will be giving a short pre-service concert beginning at 7:00 p.m. I hope you can join us for the entire evening as it sure to be one filled with hope and tears. Congregation Mishkan Israel is located at 785 Ridge Road in Hamden, Connecticut. 

This Sunday, January 7, I will be playing at the jazz brunch at the Elm City Market with my group Bassology. For this performance, I’ll be joined by Warren Byrd on piano, Saskia Laroo on trumpet and Jesse Chevan on drum set. Music begins at 10:30 and goes till 1:30 p.m. Also, musicians are welcome to bring their instruments and sit in. Come on down to get some groceries, eat some brunch and dig some sounds.

September Services and Sundry Soirees 

One thing I enjoy as a musician and a creative person is developing/creating works that are spiritually and musically moving and satisfying. I enjoy the intricate challenges of merging my religious/spiritual life with my musical life and I have thrived on that for as long as I can remember. My Days of Awe and Further Definitions of the Days of Awe projects are good examples of how I have been able to find new ways to express traditional synagogue songs and music for the high holy days in an entirely new light. To that end I am excited to let you know about two synagogue services coming up this month that I have helped to develop and arrange and will be playing with the Afro-Semitic Experience. 

The first service is coming up next weekend. We are playing a Selichot service in West Hartford at The Emanuel Synagogue. Yes, we’re beginning the High Holy Day season with some spiritual music making here in the state where I live. Playing a Selichot service is nothing new for the Afro-Semitic Experience. We’ve been involved in playing that service now for the past 15 years or so, ever since we began work on the music for the Days of Awe CD that we released back in 2003. And this year we are going to give a service not with one, not with two, but with five cantors!! We have some new pieces and some revised older pieces planned for the service. And yes, we are going to give a little sermon in song during the evening so look out for an Afro-Semitic Experience moment in the midst of it all. tiny tangent of respect and gratitude: One direct result of the Days of Awe project was that we were introduced to Cantor Jack Mendelson. We played our first Selichot service with him and accompanied him at his synagogue for over a decade. And through our experiences working with Cantor Mendelson our knowledge of the liturgy and music for Selichot also grew. Even though Cantor Mendelson is now retired we continue to be invited to play at synagogues and to share the music we have arranged and developed and we continue to be grateful for the guidance and support he gave us during those many years of learning together. 

Our second synagogue service is going to be in South Orange, New Jersey at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel. We are going to be playing two services for Rosh Hashanah eve, one at 5:30 p.m. and the second at 7:30. For me this is a moment of arrival as I have wanted to make music for these services for a very long time and now we are getting to play not just for the service that comes just before the High Holy Days, but actually on the eve of Rosh Hashanah! How cool is that!! I mean, how many bands do you know that are playing for Rosh Hashanah services? I could imagine there might be a few, but the only one that I know about is the Afro-Semitic Experience. We’ve been talking, planning, and rehearsing these two services with Cantor Rebecca Moses and both services are going to be open to the public so if you wish to attend the synagogue will welcome you with open arms as long as you call in advance. If you want to observe Erev Rosh Hashannah with a wonderful community and share in our musical celebration of 5778 please contact the temple office of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel at 973-763-4116. The early service is going to be very family friendly with moments for dancing and interaction. The later service will be a little more somber and we’re planning some pretty interesting arrangements that are intended to bring you into the High Holy Days in a way that is spiritual and visceral. Please call the synagogue if you wish to join us. 

Other gigs in the coming weeks. 

This Saturday evening, September 9, I am hosting a jazz jam from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at Fornarelli’s in New Haven. I’ll be joined by Drew Fermo on piano and you are all invited to come hang out to hear the music. Musicians please come on over and sit in with us. We’re looking forward to a good evening of music making. Fornarelli’s Ristorante is located at 99 Orange Street in downtown New Haven. 

Next weekend (not this one) is just before my birthday so I am going to celebrate my birthday at all of my gigs (well, maybe not my Selichot service, but who knows). The weekend begins with a Friday night performance (September 15) with my group Bassology at the 323 Restaurant and Bar. Music begins at 7:30 p.m. I’ll be joined by Will Bartlett on sax, Warren Byrd on piano and Jocelyn Pleasant on drums. The 323 Restaurant and Bar is located at 323 Main Street in Westport. 

At 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 16, I will be playing with the Nu Haven Kapelye at the Whitneyville Fall Festival in Hamden. Enjoy a great community event with live music including our set of Klezmer. The festival takes place on the fields of the Whitney Cultural Commons, 1253 Whitney Avenue in Hamden. And later that day I will be in West Hartford for the Selichot service. 

Then on Sunday, September 17, I am playing at the jazz brunch at Elm City Market with my swing and blues group, Bassology. For this performance, I’ll be joined by Will Bartlett on sax, Warren Byrd on the keys, and Jesse Chevan on drum set. Music begins at 10:30 and goes till 1:30. What a perfectly morning, you can shop, eat brunch, hear great jazz and then wish me a happy birthday. Elm City Market is located at the corner of State and Chapel streets in downtown New Haven. 

I hope you will join me and my friends at one of these upcoming performances or worship services. 

For all of you who celebrate I wish you a very Happy and Sweet New Year,