One of the major contributors to jazz has been musicians from the Jewish faith. Credit it to the call of the cantor, the rich minor chords of agony, or simply the swinging dance beat from songs like the Horah or Yemenite, but a valid argument could be made for the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have influenced jazz from the beginning of the Swing Era up to this very day.
In honor of celebrating two of the Tribe’s 2 most important holidays this month, namely Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, we’ve made a list of some (but obviously not all) of the major contributors to America’s great music. We’ve even thrown in a bonus for composers!
- Willie “The Lion” Smith-Yeah, I know the line, “He doesn’t look it,” but Smith claimed his father was a mentsch by the name of Frank Bertholoff, and he was even bar mitzvah’d at age 13! He even was a cantor in Harlem in his later years.
- Benny Goodman-The King of Shwing was the poster child for Big Band music, but his small groups with Lionel Hampton broke the color barrier before Jackie Robinson. Also, Ziggy Elman played a hora on “And the Angels Sing.”
- Artie Shaw-the more classical sounding clarinetist from the Swing Era. He also delved into the bop era, something his contemporary essentially eschewed.
- Stan Getz-As John Coltrane said “Everyone wants to sound like Stan Getz.” His bossa nova albums, as well as his duets with Kenny Barron, are state of the art.
- Lou Levy-Getz’s pianist for years, he also was featured on many Ella Fitzgerald albums and was the anchor for the Charlie Parker revival band Supersax.
- Lee Konitz-One of the creators of the “Cool” school of sound. With Warne Marsh, he made some sublime and sophisticated sounds, and still improvises with the best to this very day.
- Eddie Daniels-The modern equivalent of Artie Shaw, his 1985 Breakthrough album is a classic, as is his work with Roger Kellaway and with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.
- Fred Hersch-possibly the most important living pianist. His solo and trio albums set today’s standards
- John Zorn-the iconoclastic alto saxist has created some of the most exciting modern sounds around.
- George Gershwin-where would we be without songs like “Summertime,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Rhapsody in Blue” among hundreds of others.
BONUS Mel Torme’ and Irving Berlin-of course they could have been included here as singer and songwriter, but where else but in America could two Jewish guys write our favorite Christmas songs, “White Christmas” (by Berlin) and “The Christmas Song” by Torme’? IS THIS A GREAT COUNTRY OR WHAT?!?