Purim is coming! Have some music!

Mishenichnas Adar, marbin b’simcha.
“When the month of Adar enters, we increase in joy.”
— Gemara (Taanit 29b)

Quick primer: Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Adar. In fact, it’s the first day of the second month of Adar, since this year is a leap year — which, in the Jewish lunar calendar, means not just adding an extra day but a whole extra month (known in those years as Adar I).

The point is, it’s less than two weeks until the festival of Purim, when we celebrate the Persian Jews’ deliverance from persecution in the fourth century BCE, as detailed in the Book of Esther.

So I wanted to share some little-known Purim music collections… the perfect soundtrack for your hamantashen baking.

First, The Ramaz School in NYC (where I was the webmaster from 2011-2014) produced an album of Purim songs in 2012, featuring both students and faculty. The whole collection can be played or downloaded for free at web.ramaz.org/purim/index.html. Brush up on standards like Mishenichnas Adar and Shoshanat Yaakov, and enjoy some new and original compositions. Yasher koach to Ramaz for being leaders in Jewish education and music education, as well as service to the greater community.

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Second, I would be remiss not to point out the two Purim-themed operas by David Bass, The Coronation of Esther (2001) and its sequel Springtime for Haman (2004). The North Cambridge [MA] Family Opera Company hosts recordings of both operas:

Chodesh tov and shabbat shalom!

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Upcoming gigs with The Bliss Jockeys: Tammany Hall and Mercury Lounge

I’ve updated my website performance calendar to note my next two upcoming gigs with The Bliss Jockeys:

  1. 2013 FINALE SHOW– Triple Bill!!
    Saturday, November 23, 2013 • 7:00pm
    Tammany Hall: 152 Orchard Street (btw Stanton & Rivington), NYC
    $5.00 (advance) / $10.00 at the door

    The Bliss Jockeys share the stage with Myriam Phiro’s Swing Party and Victor V. Gurbo & Co. — each act turns in a 50-minute set for three full hours of music! Come join us for our FINAL SHOW of what’s been our most triumphant year yet! We’ll be closing out 2013 just the way we began it: by tearing it up all night at a hot venue down in the Lower East Side with a couple of other GREAT BANDS. Myriam Phiro and Victor Gurbo are making great things happen in each of their careers: Myriam’s freshly returned from a three month international tour, and Victor’s band won both the WNYC & WQXR Brooklyn Borough Champion and WNYC & WQXR Audience Choice Awards this year. Not too shabby!
    Order tickets | RSVP on Facebook

  2. Note: the BJs are also playing the Brighter Than Today: A Secular Solstice festival on Saturday night, December 14, but I won’t be with them. Sniff! Instead I’ll be performing at Town & Village Synagogue’s 25th Annual Cantor Louis Moss Memorial Concert, featuring the T&V Choir and Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars! $30 at-door, $25 by December 12; students $10, 18 and under get in free. 7:30pm: 334 E. 14th St. (at 1st Ave), NYC.

  3. 2014 KICK-OFF SHOW– Triple Bill!!
    Wednesday, January 15, 2014 • 6:30pm
    Mercury Lounge: 217 E Houston St (btw 1st Ave & Ave A), NYC
    $10.00 (purchase in advance)

    The Bliss Jockeys’ New Year’s Resolutions for 2014:

    1. Play at epic venues that are known around the world.
    2. Open for international touring sensations.
    3. Share the bill with NYC’s BEST & HOTTEST bands.

    Well, it looks like The Bliss Jockeys will be able to check off all 3 of these resolutions only 15 days into the new year! The Bliss Jockeys will be opening for international touring sensation the Villalobos Brothers. Also on the bill are our good friends, Victor V. Gurbo & Co.!
    Order tickets

Big performance news: The Bliss Jockeys

Yesterday, I signed on as a backup vocalist with NYC rock band The Bliss Jockeys, fronted by the remarkable and charismatic Phil Robinson and backed by a gospel-choir-style ensemble of 7 female singers. “Part rock, part gospel & part jam band, The Bliss Jockeys feature a large, over-the-top sound and deliver an energizing and delirious experience every time!” Their debut album, The Birth of Bliss, is close to complete and will be forthcoming in 2013 from Roomful of Sky Records.

How it came about: Last weekend was my 20th (shhh) college reunion at Brandeis University. Phil, along with two of his ’98 classmates (having their 15th), were assigned totally at random as my suitemates in the reunion housing on campus. All of them turned out to be completely awesome and the best thing about my weekend. On Saturday night, after the class dinner, we all sat up until about 2am drinking bourbon and singing a cappella harmonies to the Indigo Girls and Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel, and finally Phil turned to me and said “Hey! You are awesome and should join my band! I need a female vocalist! We rehearse on Monday nights!”

… Now it happened that, within just the past few weeks, I had started having the thought, “Hey, I would really like to look for an a cappella/vocal group to join again. I bet I could find one of those somewhere in NYC that would take me.” (As longtime acquaintances know, in Boston I was a member of Jewish a cappella group Honorable Menschen from 2003 to 2011, and only quit when I moved to NYC. So it was a huge part of my life for 8 years.)

Also, Monday is one of the few nights in the week I had totally free.

While this obviously isn’t a cappella, the opportunity is close enough that it is going on my archival list of “things that have fallen into my lap precisely when I needed and asked the Universe for them”.

Sunday night I returned to NYC; Monday night I sat in on a rehearsal, and I was thoroughly delighted. The rest is history. I will (tentatively) be making my debut with the band on Thursday, July 18, at Tobacco Road in midtown Manhattan.

Talk about bliss: While the BJs’ list of musical influences includes Bruce Springsteen, The Animals, Phish, the Indigo Girls, Cat Stevens, Etta James, KT Tunstall, and musical theater, their “non-musical influences” are specified as Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Case in point: We’re booked to play the Center for Symbolic StudiesMidSummer Festival—Ancient Mysteries, Modern Psyche. The CSS, located just outside New Paltz, NY, is “a healing and performing arts center exploring the psyche through the window of myth.” When I realized that this was the "Midsummer Festival" on our gig list, I about fell over and died; I had blithely assumed it was a music festival. COOLEST. VENUE. EVER. [Edited to add: Sadly, this appearance was later cancelled; the festival has chosen to feature performances more directly theme-related, so, ancient Greek music and the Rap Odyssey. Can’t argue there. But the BJ’s are nonetheless still considered the “house band”.]

I am incredibly excited and energized to be a part of this project. Join the email list or follow on Facebook!

I’ve also updated my performance page accordingly. Obligatory geek side note: The brand-new accordion tabs under “Past Appearances” were created with some nifty Javascript from Elated.com. The MP3 embed utility is, I’m almost sorry to say, Yahoo’s WebPlayer, but it’s actually quite slick; a single line of script, and it will auto-embed YouTube links as well as local MP3 and video files.

Music more people should know about: Mark Ettinger

Twice in the past week, I’ve had occasion to share songs by Mark Ettinger with people in totally unrelated contexts, and it occurs to me to write more generally about it.

Backstory: The last social outing I ever had with my ex-spouse J was to go with him and his sister to see the Flying Karamazov Brothers (October 1, 2009) at the Merrimack Rep in Lowell, MA.

I’d seen the FKBs a couple times over the years: I know I saw L’Universe at the Wang Center in Boston back in 2000-2001, and I’m pretty sure there was another in the interim, maybe Life: A Guide for the Perplexed? J, who is a juggler himself, was actually acquainted with one of the guys (Rod, a.k.a. Pavel) from the local juggling shop back in DC. So we had gotten these tickets and, well, despite having just split up, we were certainly still going.

This particular show was called Flings and Eros. It was a riff on Romeo and Juliet (partly a four-man retelling, partly a convoluted and slightly bizarre but charming frame story), and it got some bad press, but I totally loved it. I may have been a little primed for the Shakespearean theme right at that moment. But part of what I dug about it were the songs, which, it turned out, were mostly written by Alexei, a.k.a. Mark, the resident songwriter.

There was a talkback/Q&A after the show, and one of the things I raised my hand to ask was “Are you going to put out the soundtrack?” That got a smile from Mark. “Oh, did you like it? Yeah, we’re totally going to record it… real soon now…”

They never did, of course, but there is some stuff on YouTube courtesy of the Merrimack Rep:

Anyway, so, we ended up hanging around the theater lobby waiting for them all to come out and chat, and among the swag for sale were Mark’s solo CDs. There were two, and Mark himself talked me into taking the newer one, In This World  ( Amazon | CDBaby ).

It’s been on my regular rotation ever since. It’s great. A bit folksy, a bit bluesy, a bit James-Taylor-y, a bit silly in places, pensive or tender in others. Lots of great instrumentation, lots of evocative sound pictures. Terrific road-trip music. I was hooked.

Come to find out, I should have also grabbed the older disc (Songbirds of Tralfamador, a Kurt Vonnegut reference) while I had the chance, because it apparently was never actually “released” as such, and now it can’t be obtained for money nor love. Literally. In 2010 and 2011 the FKBs had a long-term gig in NYC, at the Minetta Lane Theatre in the West Village, and one day while on a spring-break visit to my now-partner T, I treated myself to a ticket and went. (March 26, 2011: that was 4PLAY. It was quite awesome.) I stuck around and chatted with Mark afterwards and told him I’d bought In This World 2.5 years previously and was now keen to buy the other album. “Oh,” he said, “I’ll send it to you! Email me!” But I did (with some fangirly* trepidation) and, of course, he never did.

*Fangirl much? Me? Point of evidence: last spring I finally read Dostoyevsky’s actual, factual The Brothers Karamazov, both for general literary exposure and also, I admit, to get the full effect of the “source material”. I have to say it enhanced the effect to keep mentally mapping the FKB to the written characters. :-) But don’t read the cheapo translation by Constance Garnett, spring for the David Macduff from Penguin Classics. You’re welcome.

Mark is actually based here on the UWS (not exactly right in our neighborhood; the other side of the park, over on the Columbia side toward West End), and while Google stalking research suggests that he’s doing occasional house concerts and the like, his own website is woefully out of date. He’s got a MySpace playlist up with some full-length songs, but no events calendar, no Facebook fan page, no YouTube channel, etc etc. (I apparently need more hobbies, because I’m fighting off the impulse to contact him saying “You need a marketing and social media team! Pick me!”)

In fact, it’s only LinkedIn (of all things) which suggests that he has perhaps ceased touring with the FKB as of last year, and among any other gigs is currently in Seattle through April 14 heading the band The Naked Truth for the Moisture Festival burlesque/variety series. Now there’s something I bet is worth seeing.

Anyway, enough. Go listen. I won’t tell you which 2 tracks are my favorites. — Okay, maybe in comments.