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Festival Explores Interplay of Jewish and African-American Music

Rural Intelligence ArtsAs every great American composer, from Gershwin to Duke Ellington to Leonard Bernstein, would have explained without missing a beat, Jewish and African-American music not only have a lot in common — they helped create the distinctly American art forms of jazz, blues, and popular music of yesterday and today. On Tuesday, the Summer Celebration of Jewish Music kicks off with a concert that confirms this point, exploring the many forms of Jewish music and its commonalities among different cultures and musical genres.

The opening concert, Jewish/African-American Fusion, is headlined by saxophonist Charles Neville, the second oldest of the famous Neville Brothers from New Orleans, who is known as the member of the clan with the most musically diverse background — perhaps because he is the only Neville brother to have lived beyond the Big Easy, in places like Memphis and New York City.

Rural Intelligence ArtsNeville performs with singer-songwriter and folklorist Laura Wetzler, series co-director Paul Green (right, in photo by Len Radin), and a rhythm section of some of the region’s best jazz musicians. Presented at Congregation Knesset Israel in Pittsfield, the concert will weave the narrative of both the African-American and the Jewish experience through spirituals, folks songs, jazz and blues tunes, and sacred music. The program elucidates the interplay of cross-cultural influences with works from Yiddish Theater that reveal an early fusion of Jewish music and jazz, as well as selections from the blues and gospel repertoire that share Jewish elements.

Rural Intelligence ArtsGreen, a classically trained clarinetist who is equally adept at Klezmer and jazz, says he has developed a musical kinship with Neville based his appreciation of the famed saxophonist’s masterful jazz musicianship and depth of musical feeling. You can expect that the two musicians, along with the evening’s other performers, will make beautiful music together as they reach across cultural borders. Neville and Green will follow up the next day, Wednesday, May 30, with a lecture-demonstration at the Berkshire Music School in Pittsfield that further explores the interconnections between their respective musical traditions. The Summer Celebration of Jewish Music continues with Klezmer concerts, a choral concert in conjunction with Shabbat Across the Berkshires, and a chamber music recital showcasing the works of Jewish composers.

“Jewish music has a connection to the blues,” Green says, pointing out the similarity between one of the prominent Jewish scales to a blues scale. He cites the famous spiritual Go Down Moses as representative of songs of struggle and spiritual coming together that are prevalent in both cultures. “These musical traditions are truly a melting pot,” says Green, “a rich stew that serves up a great selection of thought-provoking and entertaining repertoire.”

Sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, this year’s Summer Celebration of Jewish Music has been programmed in the spirit of one of the songs in Tuesday’s concert: Hine Ma Tov, “Behold how good and pleasant it is for people to dwell together.”

The Summer Celebration of Jewish Music
May 29 - June 17, 2012
Opening concert: Jewish/African-American Fusion
Congregation Knesset Israel, 16 Colt Road, Pittsfield
Tuesday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $18; reservations: 413-442-4360, ext. 10

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