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Knew Blue

May 2020

Judaism and Jazz both serve as vehicles that drive us to a liminal state by putting us at time’s mercy in an attempt to cultivate the most awareness possible for the sake of infusing life with meaning.  Both traditions are built from a lineage of conversation and have shared and equal interest to create order, form, and ultimately pleasure as perceptions collide. This album contains expressions of my exploration of the intersection between Judaism and music as I attempt to discover and articulate: what makes music Jewish? 

“Where the Sun Rises”, is an original composition, a portrait piece of Jacqueline Kahanoff. Because this is a portrait piece, its understanding calls for greater narrative and context. Jacqueline Kahanoff was born in 1917 in Cairo to an Iraqi Jewish father and a Tunisian Jewish mother.  She was a radical thinker and essayist who criticized immigrant absorption and Zionist perspective in Israel. She considered these ideas in a style of writing that was unknown to Israel at the time in which she develops a narrative but leaves it open with many different escape routes. Her most well known cycle of essays is entitled, “The generation of Levantine”, written in 1959 in which she considers the notion of Levantism within the Israeli context. The fourth essay, the most famous essay, begins with traveling by train in Israel. The train is bustling with different characters, a clashing of different Jewish expressions and an exhibition of different essentialization of identities in a post WWII context. It is on this train that Jacqueline is misidentified as an Ashkenazi Jew. Due to her demeanor, she “passes”  and is seen as a member of the majority. My piece not only evokes the mad energy of a busy train, but also the internal discordance she feels.  This comment provokes her discussion not only about the relations between Ashkenazi and Mizhari Jews but also, more importantly, about an identity which occupies a third space, the Levatine Hybrid —as she is a woman of Mizrahi heritage placed in western culture. She saw a Levantine as one who is rooted in the Eastern corner of the Mediterranean and who bridges and arbitrates different influences and cultures within oneself. Levantism requires an open-mindedness influenced by 1,001 identities. She applied her aching vision for civilization to a nascent Israel which had the opportunity to create open society. To her despair and perplexity, each group encountered different Jews that disturbed each other and were made foreign to them.  She witnessed the sacrifices that Jews had to make to adopt an Israeli ethos and how the European Jews created a hierarchy of white superiority within a Jewish-Jewish symbiosis. Levantisim demands integrated life in which everyone feels comfortable and enriched by one another, a multiplicity that comes from the understanding that when you take time to learn and know someone else’s culture and language, you are forced to give up your dogma. She says, “people are like birds and each have their own song and God understands every one of them but everyone only understands one part of God. So it can’t be said that only Jews or Muslims or Christians are right but everyone should know what his own song is and try to understand the song of others.” Her ideas have still yet to fulfill their aspiration.

 “Shabbat's Delight”, is also an original composition and my interpretation of a niggun. It celebrates the temporal sanctuary that is Shabbat that seeks to preserve human life. Shabbat is a window into the infinite, where rest and holiness are of the world to come. This piece is my praise of the seventh day. The style, repetitive nature, and vocal qualities of the piece aim to challenge the musician as well as the listener with time as well as teach them to revel and learn from it. 

The third piece is my arrangement of Oy Chanukah. I prepared this arrangement for Northwestern University Jazz Orchestra’s Holiday Concert. It is my piece that made this concert a holiday concert as opposed to a Christmas Concert, the University’s objective. I think it is very important to continue to interact with Jewish music that is familiar to us and give it new life because these melodies are fun, relevant and carry a lot of tradition. One of my aims is to create a catalogue of Jewish music that can be adapted to different and contemporary contexts.

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