The younger generation is amazing though. I've been teaching Jewish music for 30 years at NEC; this past fall I had absolutely the best group at the school that I've ever had. I had about 15 students, and they can definitely give the KCB a run for their money. Educationally, for me, the big priority is still cultural rescue. It's finding Holocaust survivors who have hundreds and hundreds of songs in their heads that no one's ever been interested in. You teach them to students because I'm in a department — the Contemporary Improvisation department — that's post-genre and all about sharing cultures. This stuff immediately becomes a point of departure that should have been there a long time ago. But it's fascinating to see what people do with it.
WHEN YOU SAY JEWISH MUSIC ARE YOU SPECIFICALLY TALKING ABOUT THE EASTERN EUROPEAN TRADITION? Yeah. I'm a big fan of Sephardic music and a lot of things in Jewish music — when I like it. But I have a PhD in ethnomusicology where the entire focus was Eastern European Jewish music. The Festival is not about that, it's a celebration of God knows what [laughs].
JOEY WAS TALKING TO ME ABOUT RANDY NEWMAN. There you go. In my mind I find the Jewishness of Randy Newman is kind of like the trace elements of peanuts you see in chocolate bars. Joey would say, "It's in his attitude." I say, "That's American." At some point you have to draw the line and say, "That's part of American culture." Jewish-American culture is sarcastic, ironic. Everything Randy Newman is you can probably find 10 Irish and Italian musicians from that background who also have irony and sarcasm.
But I'll tell you, a few years ago I had Michael Wex, who's a Yiddish writer, translate "Lonely at the Top" into Yiddish for one of my concerts. He made it about a has-been Yiddish singer — and it really sounded like a Jewish song. You can definitely find where Randy Newman can't help but project something that sounds kind of Jewish. But basically he's not that different from Tom Waits..
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