Wednesday, December 31, 2003

It's Time For A Quiz!

What key signature are you?

Battle of the Bands 2003 Reviewed

Here's an article about the Battle of the Bands 2003 event that was held to determine the opening act at this year's Chanukah concert at YU.

The essay concludes:
Not surprisingly, the best band of the night did not win the right to open at Yeshiva’s annual Hanukkah Concert.  Surprisingly, the worst band of the night did. This could be the case for a variety of reasons. Perhaps Emes took home the title because as one observer stated, “they looked most like the judges.” Or perhaps The Jason Caplan Quartet went home without the victory because in all honesty, can anyone see them opening for Yeedle? Or is it Schweky?
Thanks, E!

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Sgt. Cello's Lonely Hearts Club Date Band

Audio clips of rock cello! Check out their version of Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water."

Harmonica Virtuoso

Here's a great article on Harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy. Turns out he grew up going to an Orthodox shul. I heard him play with Rabih Abou Khalil's band a number of years ago. His playing is so, so beautiful. I never would have thought a harmonica could sound that good.


Xaphoon a.k. "The Bamboo Sax"

Interesting choice of sound samples on the site. The three songs used are "El Condor Pasa", "The Pink Panther", and "Oifn Pripitshek".

Ancient Musician

According to BBC News:"Habib Miyan retired from his job as a clarinet player in Jaipur's royal band in 1938."

NR on Music

I found the opening of this National Review Online article on the top ten of 2003 interesting.

Notable 'graphs:
It has been said, quite correctly, that whereas the objective of an industry is to generate a product, the object of a business is to produce money. That has certainly proven true in the arts. In music, commercial concerns have been important since the rise of a middle class created an increasing market for songcraft in the 19th century, displacing to the margins the most important former patrons, most notably the wealthy and the churches. Commercial concerns have risen to a peak since the 1970s and '80s, when the world's most important music companies were acquired by large conglomerates, which cemented their transition into being strictly businesses.
This has been quite harmful to the art of music, though it has been a boon for the production of entertainment, as the industry hares after every social trend in the quest to find new ways to pry money out of people's pockets. It is why visual styles are so important in this TV age, and why MTV was inevitable. And it is why music follows and fosters social trends both good and bad, without any evident concern for aesthetics, ethics, taste, or sobriety, and indeed often seems actively hostile toward such things.
As the social wheel spins, so goes music. Trends come and go. Today, emotional intensity appears to be the most important thing, but even so, some waves are receding as audiences show a preference for more positive emotions. Rap, once all but ubiquitous, seems to be waning, slowly but surely; the broader category of hip-hop, though, with its rather more positive social aura, is still going strong.
I think that there are some emerging trends along these lines in the Jewish music world as well. The days when anyone with a big enough recording/promotional budget was guaranteed a hit seem to be gone. This past year there were many high-budget releases that simply disappeared. And, people seem to be more open to lesser-known artists then they have in the past.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I Write The Songs…

There's an interesting letter exchange in this month's edition of Country Yossi magazine.

A reader writes:
Dear Country Yossi,
I happen to be a very avid reader of your Family Magazine and I do enjoy it very much. However, I read your response to a letter you printed in the November issue, written to you by a reader who complimented Pinky Webber on the great job he did adapting your song of the 'Deaf Man'. I realize how even though you did acknowledge the beauty of his work, you felt you should have been credited for originating the storyline. I find this very odd, being that your whole success is owed to your talent of swiping tunes from the great secular artists of our time, and interestingly enough, I don't recall seeing you credit any of the males or females who worked extensively writing and performing their songs making them the success they are now. You then just conveniently came along and benefited from their work without even the smallest bit of recognition.
Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with adaptation, but as you say, give credit where credit is due.
Yasha Zagu (via email)
Country Yossi responds:
Dear Yasha,
You make a good point, but let me explain. When I first wrote the songs for CY and the Shteeble-Hoppers in 1983 they were parodies of monster #1 hits that I assumed everybody knew and enjoyed. A big part of the charm of those songs was the cute re-working of lyrics to give them a Yiddishe message or slant. It never entered my mind that people would assume these were original works and I never claimed they were. It was only later when people started stopping me on the street to tell me Kenny Rogers and Johnny Cash were stealing my songs that I realized I should set the record straight. Thus, when we reprinted our inserts we made sure to specify which songs were parodies (and of which songs) and which were original (yes, I do write some of those too). Today all of our lyrics sheets feature that information.
But all that aside, I would think there would be a different standard within the frum community between artists who are readily available to each other and who want to use each others material. A quick phone call is all it would take to do things right. I remember R' Shlomo Carlebach a"h complaining to me about people using his material without permission or accreditation.
By the way, back in '83 I did try to reach the original artists for permission but couldn't get to them and was subsequently told that parodies and satires were permitted in any case (especially religious oriented ones for a specific ethnic market).
Be that as it may, I still think that if someone is going to, in effect, translate my lyrics into Yiddish on a recording he should at least have the mentchlichkeit to give me a call or at least credit inside.
It's a good thing it doesn't bother me!
The issue of properly attributing and compensating artists for their songs is not new. Here's one presentation of the issue. There are two separate issues here. One is the proper attribution of songs to their rightful composers.

The second issue is the matter of compensation to the original artist when their song is used. I'll leave that lengthy discussion for another post.

With regard to the first issue, this example will illustrate the problem. In 1999 Michael Steinhardt wrote: (scroll down)
First off - Michoel Schnitzler has a new tape, called "Simcha Chassidit" (A Hasidic Simcha), on which he includes some original compositions, and quite a few covers. All the latest wedding tunes from MBD, Dedi, Dachs, Fried and the rest are jumbled into Schnitzler's medleys. He's entitled - Yochi Briskman (the producer of 'Simcha') has been doing similar work with Neginah Orchestras and the Project X series of albums. Needless to say, Briskman credits each composer on the album insert.
Except for one song. And the song is unmistakable. It is Ata Takum by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, zt"l. The album's producers credit "Traditional" with composing this tune. I find this extremely insulting and egregious. If they don't want to associate Reb Shlomo's name with the album - they shouldn't use the song. I think everyone with a shred of conscience should prevail upon Yochi Briskman and Michoel Schnitzler to rectify this mistake. It's not just stealing; it's stealing from the departed.
I find it hard to believe that they didn't know it was a Carlebach tune and agree that it should have been credited as such on that album. I think that all artists should acknowledge their sources whenever they use someone else's work. This should apply whether the tune they are covering has Jewish or secular origins.

Questions, Questions, Questions

Naomi Chana has a few Chanukah related music questions:
Should we turn down the TV [currently playing Yet Another Christmas Concert on PBS] before we light the menorah? Should we turn it off? Do we need to leave it down/off until the candles burn out? Does it matter if the music in question is "Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland" versus "O Come All Ye Faithful"? What if the music changes -- do we interrupt the lighting?
Why is there no Hanukkah sheet music for banjo? (Not that we can't figure it out -- "Mi Y'malel" sounds awesome with a clawhammer technique.)
Incidentally, is there some reason "It Came Upon The Midnight Clear" doesn't qualify as Hanukkah music (the more eschatologically oriented sort, of course)?
As they'd say in Yeshiva... She's asking good!"

Thursday, December 25, 2003

eBay item 2582879829

Only about 3 hrs. left and no bids yet.

Looks like someone's trying to unload his free promo CD.

Thanks, Peter!

Interesting article on the StandWithUs concert in LA in the Jewish Journal Of Greater Los Angeles.

Notable 'graph:
├╝ber-entertainer Peter Himmelman dedicated “Mission of My Soul” to the StandWithUs staff and called out the Jewish performers who sing about “giving flowers to the terrorists.
... and on their home turf, no less!

On Wagner (not Honus)

Here's an interesting article on the Wagner Barenboim controversy that gives a good summation of Wagner's antisemitism and how it differs from the antisemitism of many other famous artists like T.S.Elliot, Renoir, Degas, Liszt, and Brahms.

What's the point?

EphShap links to this Aderet release. I listened to the sound clips and just don't see the point. I do hope that the profits are going to the victim's families.

On JM Marketing

As I see it, the JM industry needs to reassess the way it has been marketing its products. I believe that it needs to do this on two levels.

The first is the fact that the methods used to market product to the community – whether it be an artist, a concert, or a recording – have devolved to a lowest common denominator approach of false or misleading advertising, half-truths, and misrepresentations. I believe that many in the business who conduct themselves in line with the current standards are simply going along with what everyone else is doing, without thinking too much about it. It's become viewed as the way to get the message out to the public. These practices are wrong and should be changed.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, it is possible to put the same message in the same medium and obtain the same effect, without resorting to the guile that has become commonplace. I cited Ari Goldwag's promo piece in Country Yossi magazine as an example. Ari chose to write an article describing his thoughts about his album and what was meaningful about it to him. The same audience was reached, and I'd bet that his sales were the same for that album as if he'd opted for the fictitious article that most artists have been using.

I think that for the most part, the producers and artists who are engaged in this sort of behavior simply haven't thought about this too deeply. They're just doing what everyone else is doing. But the notion that "everyone else does it" doesn't justify what's been going on. The status quo is unacceptable and needs to be changed.

Also, people regularly go on the record in print and on the radio, decrying the pernicious effect of secular influences, while at the same time recording, promoting, or performing that very same music. The hypocrisy of pandering to the "frummies" by spouting platitudes about the evils of secular influences while at the same time producing music aimed at their market segment that uses those influences ought to stop.

If someone legitimately believes that secular influences are wrong, that's fine, but then it should be reflected in the music they release and promote. When in the context of promoting a new release, the producer or artist publicly makes statements about the negative effects of secular influences and such; sentiments that are contradicted by the music on the album being promoted -- as is regularly happening these days-- then it indicates that the sentiments are insincere and are simply being cynically used to lure people into accepting a false impression of what the artist/album is about. This needs to stop. And, such statements need to be publicly challenged.

The second is that the industry needs to reconsider what it markets to the community. For example, I've posted several times about Blue Fringe and my disapproval of the fact that they are being marketed to the "Yeshivish/Chassidish" community. I have nothing against the band, they do their thing well, and I think they would be a great band to book on college campuses and the like to increase Jewish awareness and pride. I just have problems with the aspect of their marketing that has been targeting the "heimish" community.

Here's a thought example to illustrate the problem as I see it. Firstly, let's set aside the fact that many in the "heimish" community –and many others as well – would have a problem with the concept of the song "Flippin' Out" or with the lyric "my parents will kick my 'tuches'." Is it reasonable to assume that a yeshiva kid who buys this CD in Eichler's, for example, might visit the band's website? If he did, a pop-up window informing him of the band's upcoming performance in a NYC bar could greet him. Is it reasonable to assume he might then go? For a teen from a sheltered background, going to such a venue and being introduced to the NYC nightlife scene could easily have a strong negative influence on his religious development, more so than on someone from a more "Modern" background who has the savvy to negotiate in such an environment. And, even if he didn't attend the concert, he would still be exposed to the cover versions of pop/rock tunes the band has on their sound clips page, something his community doesn't approve of. The current version of the website has the band's cover of "Rapper's Delight" from the concert on it. In the past they've had covers of "Mrs. Jones", "I Will Survive", "White Room", and other secular songs on the site.

Artists, promoters, and especially distributors need to be sensitive to the values of the community they are marketing to!

There are many "Jewish" bands I haven't taken to task despite the fact that their material is much less suited for the 'Frum" community then groups like Blue Fringe and the Moshav Band. However, they aren't marketing themselves towards the frum community. In a similar vein, there are many Jewish groups who are clearly using secular influences, i.e. Metallish, whose music is marketed towards the Yeshiva community with whom I have no issue with (aside for questions of musical taste) because they aren't luring kids in to inappropriate venues.

Third, the industry also has to work hard to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

A recent "Live by Request" concert will illustrate this point. At the Avraham Fried concert at Queens College last month, there were eight requests made by a total of six requesters. Five of these requesting songs were music business insiders. At least one of the requesters has confirmed that his "request" was stage-managed and orchestrated by those in charge. Whether or not all of the requests were staged, the impression many have is that they were.

In the U.S. when a company runs a sweepstakes or contest, its employees are not eligible to win. The reason for this is to avoid any impropriety, or even the appearance of such. The JM industry should consider adopting similar rules and practices.

Also, frequently, promoters/producers go on the air to announce that either an upcoming concert was "sold out" or that the lower priced tickets to a given show have "sold out" even when this isn't true. Also, sometimes, after the fact, they'll make claims that a concert was "sold out" when in fact it wasn't. Such behavior is unethical and needs to be stopped.

Yiddish Fantasy

Interesting Klez/Jazz suite here.

They're looking for a balalaika player who can swing!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Book Review

Here's an interesting review of Scott Benard's "Stars of David- Rock n' Roll's Jewish stories" by Seth Rogovoy.

Incidentally, Seth's book "The Essential Klezmer" is a great read for those who are into the neo-klez scene. It is somewhat outdated already, though.

Woody "Klezmer" Guthrie

Here's the NY Times review of last Saturday night's Klezmatics concert.

More from the Discussion Board

A concert goer has this to say on the Discussion Board about the recent Miami Boys Choir/Dedi event he attended.
"I thought Yerachmiel was arrogant, stole the spotlight and in general managed to turn off the audience. Dedi was great and the opening act which was twins who just came out with a tape was excellent, but MBC was very disappointing. And I was a big fan of MBC as a kid, but the song quality has gone downhill in a major way."

On the Discussion Board

A discussion on the Discussion Board shows that some people need to bone up on their "lomdus" terminology.

The "drash" was a nice try, though!

Chanuka gift advice

Don't buy your kids these!

Shwekey, watch out!

Avraham at Protocols warns that "Abodi is coming!"

Arnold dances the Hora!

Jewschool has a pic of CA Governor Arnold Scwartzenegger dancing the hora!
The caption:
"The 'repentant' Governor son of a Nazi SA guard dances the horah with San Diego Chabadniks..."

Monday, December 22, 2003


Ari Boiangiu comments about this post on the recently released album Sameach @ The Wheel that he was featured on. He says that the album was not an in-house Neshoma project. Neshoma was hired to supply the music, but it wasn't "their" project. They were simply supplying what the client, in this case Sameach, wanted.

Chanukah Present

Free Chevra Sheet Music!

This is actually a good idea. (I've previously posted some of these links here, here, here.) I'm surprised that more people aren't doing this. Also, sometimes singers send their new CD's and the accompanying sheet music out so that the bands will add their songs to their repertoire. This is great because it's a lot easier to add a song to the playlist if one doesn't have to go to the trouble and expense of buying a CD, deciding which songs one would like to play, and then either buying or transcribing a lead sheet and/or arrangement.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Enter, Wal-Mart!

Wal-Mart joins the licensed music battle offering online music downloads for less than the competition.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Pro Tools, anyone?

This is interesting.
"They don't sell classical music like they used to. Back in the day, if piano titans such as Rudolf Serkin or Artur Rubinstein hit a rough note in the middle of a concerto, engineers would simply patch it up to make it sound perfect. It's called 'sweetening,' and the practice has become such a routine part of the music business that many performing musicians look down on recordings as artificial and illegitimate.
Now for the predictable retro backlash: it has become chic to put the wrong notes back in. The latest Vladimir Horowitz release is a 'cleaned up' version of his 1965 comeback concert in Carnegie Hall. In other words, it does away with all the fixes the original recording engineers patched in from rehearsal tapes. (Luckily, a second unedited tape of the concert was preserved.) For pianists and Horowitz aficionados, this new release boasts not only the quietest digital processing, but the original 'raw' performance without any audio band-aids."

Chanukah Rap!

Kid Kosher, the Hip Hop Hebrew is in tha' house!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Song Lyrics

From the Soulfarm website, here are the lyrics to "Oovnay" by Reb S. Carlebach (scroll down).
ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
(Alternate with Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh)
ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh"
Thanks, guys.

Chanukah Party

When I criticize certain bands for luring "frum" kids into inappropriate places, and deliberately scheduling these performances for Chanukah, Purim, and other times when people in the "Yeshiva" community are looking for entertainment, this is what I have in mind.

Thanks E!

Lofty Goals

Here's an article about someone who is trying to start a local klezmer band in Roanoke.

They have the sheet music. They just need some more musicians.

This part is nice:
"If we did get a band together and and they got some gigs, we could go to nursing homes," she said. "They'd get off their rocking chairs."

Moshe Yess In The News!

This is surreal!

No comment needed!

Klezmer in Jail!

Interesting article:
"A younger band are taking klezmer further still. Members of She'Koyokh (which translates roughly as 'have strength') have brought it to the inmates of Wormwood Scrubs, and the group's accordionist, Jim Marcovitch, is planning to work with people who are at risk of becoming drug users."
Klezmer, the solution for the "kids at risk" in the frum community!


A reader emails:
So I know it's a punchline, but you are not far off the mark. One of the glaring deficiencies in Yeshiva education is the lack of real Music programs. And no, I don't mean Music appreciation or clubs with eight guitar players and the one loser whose parents made take violin lessons.I mean, in fourth grade, you choose an instrument, either brass, woodwind, string, or percussion, and learn to play in a band setting in a comprehensive school music program. It's not an automatic "cure" for kids at risk, but it is another way the Yeshiva day School becomes a hospitable place for all kids, whether they express themselves academically or not.
Did you notice, by the way, that as the Orthodox community becomes more obsessed with materialism and academic achievement as a means to wealth, that the "Kids at Risk" problem becomes bigger? its amazing that the Orthodox community responds so often by trying to fix the relationship the kids have with Yiddishkeit, instead of addressing the emptiness ofmodern life for all members of the family. Perhaps the people who need
the fixing aren't the kids, but their parents.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Hip To Be Hebrew!

Here's an interesting Guardian article.
Notable 'graph:
"The Jewish influence in youth music is becoming huge. It ranges from popular Jewish rappers such as the Hip Hop Hoodios, whose music is winning black Americans fans, to the many Jews prominent on rap record labels, such as Lyor Cohen of Def Jam or Eminem's manager Paul Rosenberg. "
I wouldn't compare a manager to a producer or artist though.

With God's Help, We'll Release a Disc

Here's an interesting article comparing Christian rock and Jewish rock.
I think the concluding sentences are telling.
"Christian rockers perform mainly in the United States, where religion is marketed almost like a commercial product. They look outside and want to become full-fledged rock stars, and sometimes succeed. The Jewish rockers are still looking inward, looking for spiritual content, and have modest material demands."


Here's one way to ensure you won't get the call for next year's gig!

Watch Your Backs, Chevra!

Here comes Khevre.

Thanks to Jewschool.

Someone's Listening!

Here's a post on Protocols commenting on the song selection at a recent wedding.

Monday, December 15, 2003

We're Back!

As I noted in my previous post, last week was an interesting one. A number of events converged at the same time all of which required my attention. The first and most important one was a misunderstanding with friends that had been occurring over my attempt to preserve my anonymity. That issue has been resolved – it was a major miscommunication -- and is off my plate.

The next issue was that the blog was "noticed" by people in the industry and I began receiving numerous emails about the blog. Through the course of a number of emails and conversations, I realized that some of the posts were being taken in ways other then I had intended. I noted one such example in my previous post.

Additionally, at the about the same time that I was commenting on a new album – incidentally, it will probably sell well for the exact reasons that I didn't like it – someone else posted an extremely negative post on the Yahoo Jewish music board about that album urging people not to buy it. I was made aware that there were some who were speculating that I was behind the post. Needless to say, I wasn't.

And, of course, this all occurred as I was swamped with work.

The awareness that this was all going on at about the same time made me decide to temporarily remove the posts while I considered how to address these issues. I didn't remove them to try to hide them -- something that is impossible to do in practical terms anyhow; I removed them because some of them were being taken in ways other than I'd intended, and, I wanted to consider what --if anything -- I should do about it. I should note that it was only a few posts that were at issue, but lacking the time to go through and edit them properly then, I decided to remove them for the moment.

I've decided that the best way to address those issues at this point is simply to offer to publish correspondence with regard to any of these posts. If you feel I was unfair, please let me know and I will be glad to post your comments. All of these posts are archived here:

July '03
August '03
September '03
October '03
November '03

They should appear back in the sidebar soon too!

In general, though, I stand behind what I've written and hope that those of you in the industry who are now reading this blog will do what you can to help change things. Of course, I would like to express my regret if anyone was hurt in a way that I did not intend.

I am also considering having guest bloggers posting periodically. Please let me know if you have any interest in participating.

In closing, I'd like to thank all who emailed their thoughts and support. I received many such emails, but this one really summed it up.
You are the true voice in JM critiquing. It is so important to have that kind of voice in the industry to keep it honest. People need to toughen up if they're going to put things out to the public (I'm talking about the musicians who can't take professional criticism). Some people will like it and some people won't. You support all your opinions with specific examples. It's very hard to find such a good reviewer in any industry.
Maybe find a good Rabbi and get some help with this decision. You are providing an excellent service to the public. I don't think its loshon hora or denying someone a living. Musicians should be held responsible for what they promote, perform or publish.
There is nothing that exists like your blog anywhere. There is no critical voice for JM. I hope you find the strength to put back all your old posts and to continue.
It is clear to me that many of us feel the same way about a lot of these issues. Let's join forces and make a difference!

Thursday, December 04, 2003

About This Blog

The last few days have been interesting. I've been receiving emails from many people in the JM business. Some of them were supportive and positive, some demanded to know who I am, and some asserted that they knew who I was.

Among these people were some close friends who have been hurt by the fact that I wouldn't/didn't identify myself to them. Those friendships are important to me and are more important than preserving my anonymity – something I expected would only be short term. As such, I have decided to acknowledge myself to them.

I am also putting the blog on hiatus while I rethink its role. I have decided to remove the posts while I consider all of this.

In the last 24 hours, I have reread all of my posts and I feel that the points I raised are ones that I hope the industry will address, but I can see how people may have taken some of them personally even though this was not my intent. For example, in one post where I referenced unsuccessful albums, I can see how people could have inferred a criticism of the singers themselves, rather than simply the material on the album. The reality is, that in most of those cases, I have no knowledge of or opinion about the singer's talents. The one case where I have met the vocalist, I know that he is extremely talented. Upon rereading that post I can see how others would have thought I was saying he had no talent, which was never my intent.

I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by anything I wrote. And, as always, I will be glad to post a response to anything I've written.