From the Desk Of: Eugene Marlow
What Is Jewish Music?

CantorMarlowsphere Blog (#144)

What is Jewish music? At its essence, Jewish music, like music of any identified culture, reflects Jewish values and experiences.

For example, an obvious, partial answer to the question “What is Jewish music?” is music of the synagogue, the schul: cantorial music, liturgical music, and cantillation. Melodies such as “Halleluyah,” “Heine Ma Tov,” “V’Taher Lebeinu,” “Yis Ma Chu,” “L’Cha Dodi,” “Avinu Malkeinu,” and “Kol Nidre.”

Then there are melodies sung and played at various Jewish celebrations—Chanukah, Passover, and Purim—in the synagogue and in Jewish homes, such as “Moaz Tsur,” “Chanukah, O, Chanukah,” “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” “Sevivon,” “Mishenichnas Adar Marbim Be-Simecha,” “Layehudim Haitah Orah Ve-Simechah, Ve-Sasson, Ve-Yakar,” “Adon Olam,” “Mah Nishtanah Halaylah Haze,” and “Eliyahu Hanavi.”

And there are countless folk melodies, for example “Ata Hu Hashem,” “Lahadam,” and “Erev Shel Shoshanim.” This catalog of Jewish music must also include Israel’s national anthem “Hatikva” and the most covered Jewish melody of all “Hava Nagila.”

There is also Klezmer: a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. Played by professional musicians called klezmorim in ensembles known as kapelye, the Klezmer Musicgenre originally consisted largely of dance tunes and instrumental display pieces for weddings and other celebrations. In the United States the genre evolved considerably as Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, who arrived between 1880 and 1924, came into contact with American jazz.

And there is nigunim: A nigun (singular of nigunim) (Hebrew: meaning “tune” or “melody”) is a form of Jewish religious song or tune sung by groups. It is vocal music, often with repetitive sounds such as “Bim-Bim-Bam”, “Lai-Lai-Lai”, “Yai-Yai-Yai” or “” Ai-Ai-Ai” instead of formal lyrics. Nigunim are especially central to worship in Hasidic Judaism.

In the 20th and 21st centuries the advent of Jewish music and music based on Jewish culture and themes extended beyond the synagogue and Jewish home, as in Broadway musicals, such as:

Fiddler on the RoofAmerike—The Golden Land (1982), Cabaret (1966), Falsettos (1992), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), I Can Get It For You Wholesale (1962), Milk and Honey (1961), Ragtime (1998), The Immigrant (2004), The People in the Picture (2011), The Zulu and the Zayda (1965), and War Paint (2017).

Films with Jewish “sounding” music and Jewish culture and themes are just as numerous, and include most famously “The Jazz Singer” (1927), “The 10 Commandments” (1956), “Ben Hur” (1959),  “Exodus” (1960), “Funny Girl” (1968), “Oliver” (1968), “Fiddler on the Roof” (1968), “Yentl” (1983), “Schindler’s List” (1993), “Eight Crazy Nights” (2002), “Munich” (2005), and “Defiance” (2008).

In the genre of jazz, the inventory of “jazz Jews” inspired British author and radio show host Mike Gerber to pen a 656-page volume titled Jazz Jews (published in 2009). Some of these Jews wrote a treasure trove of Yiddish music that found its way into the popular culture, such as Sholem Secunda’s “Bay mir bistu sheyn”

The list of Jewish composers and performers who contributed to the “Great American Songbook” is very long and includes such notables as Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Neil Sedaka, Carole King, and Bob Dylan. Berlin, who wrote close to 2,000 Neil Sedakatunes, famously wrote the most popular Christmas song ever, “I’m Dreaming of A White Christmas.” And Neil Sedaka, who wrote, among many others songs, “Stairway to Heaven” and “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” is aptly named. In Hebrew Sedaka means “righteousness” or more popularly “charity.”

Clearly, while Jewish music has its origins in religious observance in the schul and in the Jewish home and is a significant cultural glue that bounds the Jewish community in the diaspora, Jewish music as a reflection of Jewish culture and themes has spread globally thanks to information, communications, and transportation technologies in the 20th and 21st centuries..

So, what then is Jewish music in contemporaneous terms? Is it strictly the music of the synagogue, Jewish melodies sung in the home, or Israeli folksongs, et al? In the context of globalism these definitions, while correct, are too constrained. Can we not define Jewish music as music based on Jewish sounds, culture, and themes?

A.Z. Idelsohn We must now also define Jewish music in the current cultural context, which is: no culture is pure; all cultures are a mixture. And it has been this way for thousands of years. Cultures are influenced by other cultures. No less than the father of Jewish musicology A.Z. Idelsohn in his seminal work Jewish Music in Its Historical Development (1929) in the very first sentence of Chapter I “The Song of the Synagogue,” states: “In surveying the development of music in ancient Israel it is essential to consider the music of Israel’s ancient neighbors.” In other words, no culture, let alone musical culture stands alone. Outside influences have an impact.

For the Jews in the diaspora and even now in Israel, outside musical cultures must be taken into account. And the cultural flow goes both ways. Earlier I referenced “Hava Nagila,” the most covered Jewish melody ever. Quite apart from Harry Belafonte’s rendition, Machito, one of the progenitors of Latin-jazz in New York City, also covered this same melody. On a 1951 recording he called the tune “Mambo Holiday.” My own Heritage Ensemble Quintet has taken two dozen Hebraic melodies and morphed them into arrangements using various jazz, Afro-Caribbean, Brazilian, and classical genres.

All in all, Jewish music—while born in religious observance—has clearly evolved and incorporated the cultural diaspora into its musical catalog.

© Eugene Marlow 2019

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2019 Upcoming Events
July 5 Radio Play: Bobby Sanabria, host of WBGO’s “The Latin Jazz Cruise,” spins Eugene Marlow’s Latinized arrangement of “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem, from his 2011 “Fresh Take” album (MEII Enterprises). Recorded by Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble. WBGO is the most listened to jazz radio station in the world.
July 7 Composition: Dr. Eugene Marlow completes work on a 20-minute, seven piece suite for woodwind quintet entitled “Colors.” Of this work, award-winning composer/educator Dr. Alice Anne LeBaron (California Institute of the Arts) stated: “The harmonic choices, the contrapuntal activity, and the rhythmic vitality all conspire to make Colors a memorable piece that I’m sure wind quintets would want to program.”
July 12 Performance: The Heritage Ensemble (trio) provides live music for the Zicklin School of Business Executive MBA Program Graduation reception at the Pierre Hotel (New York City).
July 17 Radio Play: Multi-Grammy nominee Bobby Sanabria, host of WBGO’s “Latin Jazz Cruise” spins “Arco’s Arc” Eugene Marlow’s original composition from his “Obrigado Brasil” (2017) album. WBGO is the most listened to jazz radio station in the world.
August 2 Radio Play: Bobby Sanabria, host of WBGO’s “The Latin Jazz Cruise,” spins Eugene Marlow’s original composition “Enigma” from his “Obrigado Brasil” album (MEII Enterprises 2016). Recorded by Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble. WBGO is the most listened to jazz radio station in the world.
August 28 Dr. Eugene Marlow begins his 63rd semester teaching courses in media and culture at Baruch College (City University of New York).
September 2  CD Digital Release: “The Caverns at Carlsbad”: nine miniatures for trombone quartet composed by Eugene Marlow.
September 5 Dr. Eugene Marlow attends the annual awards ceremony of the MA Program in Arts Administration, Baruch College (City University of New York). At this event the annual Marlow Prize in Arts Administration is presented. The annual “consultancy paper” prize of $500 is funded by Dr. Marlow.  
September 11 Eugene Marlow begins his fourth semester hosting “Jazz: America’s Classical Music,” a one-hour weekly program on WBMB-FM (Baruch College Radio).
September 12 Performance/Private Event: Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble provides music for an event in honor of Department of English (Baruch College, New York City) Professor Saundra Townes who passed away suddenly in spring 2019. Professor Townes loved jazz.
October 5 Performance: Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble performs for the fifth year in a row for the Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School currently located at the 92nd Street Y.
October 7 Performance: Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble (duo) performs for Music That Heals at the New York University Medical Center, New York City.
October 24 Talk: The Departments of English and Journalism at Baruch College celebrate the collaboration between award-winning poet Dr. Grace Schulman (English) and eclectic award-winning author/musician/composer Dr. Eugene Marlow (Journalism) for their collaboration: “Blue In Green: Original Compositions by Eugene Marlow Inspired by the Jazz Poems of Grace Schulman” (MEII Enterprises 2018).
November 29 CD Release: “Lotus Blossom: Billy Strayhorn and The Michael Hashim Quartet” coincident with Strayhorn’s 104th birthday.
December 12 Performance: Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble (duo) performs for the Baruch College Department of English Wassail.
December 12 Performance: Three of Eugene Marlow’s original compositions for solo piano–“Three in Three”–performed by Craig Ketter at Marc A. Scorca Hall, National Opera Center (New York City), as part of a concert of new music mounted by the New York Composers Circle. 7:30. $20 contribution suggested.
December 15 Performance: Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble performs at Temple Beth-El, Jersey City, New Jersey.
January 27 Dr. Eugene Marlow begins his 64th semester teaching courses in media and culture at Baruch College (City University of New York).
August 3 Talk: Dr. Eugene Marlow gives presentation on “Jazz and Poetry” at the Aspen Composers Conference, Aspen Institute, Aspen, Colorado.

Please check back often as updates with new dates and more details
will be added to the schedule.

Click here to learn more about Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble


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Record of the Year: West Side Story Reimagined

Album of the Year: "West Side Story Reimagined" Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band

Eugene Marlow’s bembé arrangement of
“Maria” kicks off the second CD
of the two-set album.


According to the JazzHeads label “Maria”
is one of the top 3 tracks streamed from this album.


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Marlow’s “Jazz in China” Book Nominated for “Best Jazz Book” by the Jazz Journalists Association

BREAKING NEWS! April 15, 2019: Dr. Eugene Marlow’s book Jazz in China: From Dance Hall Music to Individual Freedom of Expression (University Press of Mississippi August 2018) has been nominated by the Jazz Journalists Association in the
“Best Jazz Book” category. Voting ends April 28.Jazz in China: From Dance Hall Music to Individual Freedom of Expression by Eugene Marlow, Ph.D.

January 2019: The New York City Jazz Record names Dr. Marlow’s Jazz in China book one of the “five best books on jazz in 2018.”

November 2018: Reviewer Kevin Canfield writes: “Jazz in China: From Dance Hall Music to Individual Freedom of Expression is a sweeping, informative work of history.” (New York City Jazz Record).

October 2018: Tom Cunniffe (Jazz History Online) calls the Jazz in China “a pioneering study.”

August 2018: University Press of Mississippi publishes Jazz in China: From Dance Hall Music to Individual Freedom of Expression.

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“Blue in Green” An Award-Winning Album of Poetry and Jazz Coming April 2019

Blue In Green: Original Compositions by Eugene Marlow, Inspired by the Jazz Poems of Grace Schulman“Blue In Green: Original Compositions by Eugene Marlow Inspired by the Jazz Poems of Grace Schulman”—a collaborative album of 10 poetry tracks by world-renowned, award-winning poet Grace Schulman and 10 original jazz compositions by award-winning composer/arranger Eugene Marlow—will be released on April 30, 2019, International Jazz Day. April is also both Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) and Poetry Appreciation Month.

Dr. Grace Schulman, a Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College (City University of New York) —who contributed and recorded the jazz poems on this album—will be inducted in the American Academy of Arts and Letters on May 22, 2019.  She is also the 2016 Robert Frost awardee from the Poetry Society of America.

Hear Now Official Selection 2019“Blue In Green” has been selected to be part of  National Audio Theatre Festivals (NATF) Playhouse’s 2019 PODCAST  PALOOZA at the 2019 HEAR Now Festival. The Festival’s podcast pages opens the day of the Festival, June 6, 2019, and runs through August 1, 2019.

“Blue In Green” is also a March 2019 recipient of a Silver Medal Award from the Global Music Awards.

2019 Silver Medal AwardNumerous jazz musicians are referenced in Schulman’s poems, including: Art Tatum, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Bill Evans, and Thelonious Monk, as well as classical violinist Itzhak Perlman and Danish author Chris Albertson.

Marlow’s challenge was to create compositions that reflected—in whole or in part—the content or tone of each of Schulman’s 10 jazz poems.

“Blue In Green” will be available on April 30, 2019.

Advance copies of the CD can be purchased for $15 + S&H by contacting Eugene Marlow at Use code word “BING” in the subject line.

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