We are Conjunctions

The Maqam Project Book of Healing Stone’s Salon

The holidays early this year. Earliest since 1899 I heard. We did the holidays elegantly at the Covenant House where we meet for special events. This year I was joined by some of my young co-players, members of Brothers Lazaroff rocking roots band with whom I do the Salon at the Kranzberg Arts Center (October 8, Second Tuesdays, see www.neveshalom.org) and the Hanukkah Hullabaloo (this year Wednesday, December 4 at Plush).

After Yom Kippur, fly out to San Diego to help my daughter move. Came back to Louis on Thursday, a gig in the Sukkah Saturday night, off to NYC on Sunday to do the gigs with Zackie.

Sunday afternoon direct to the Brooklyn book festival where my other daughter’s magazine had a booth and I ran into my cousin and listened to one of my favorite poets. What am I doing in New York? Magic. Recording Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus.

That night a rehearsal with some of New York’s finest working musicians in this form we are playing. Flute, violin, hand percussion, oud. We laid down some tracks, did a little recording, a good rehearsal. We rehearsed the book of Genesis.

I am working on a project with friends in New York City called The Maqam Project. My co-conspirators are Zach Fredman, formerly of St. Louis now rabbi of The New Shul in Manhattan, and his band called Epichorus. Zach conceived this project as an offering of his synagogue The New Shul. Each week we will post a piece on a variety of web sites.

We are working the maqams. A maqam is a Jewish-Arabic musical form, a musical figure, similar to a mode, that is played as a kind of structure over which one improvises. Maqam means Place, Hebrew cognate maqom.

In many of our middle eastern Jewish traditions, there is a maqam associated with every Torah portion. I have been writing poetry to the maqams of the Torah for the last four years.

The maqams are patient, inwardly drawn, they are roomy enough for poetry. We worked the concept of the give-and-take between music and poetry. We recorded everything, video and audio. We recorded all over New York City, some in performance at homes in Chelsea, in the Village, some in Washington Square Park, some in a studio in Dumbo near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, some underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, a few in a music store dense with hanging instruments in the West Village.

Generally we grabbed a piece of a tune, demonstrating the maqam with a deconstructed fragment of a longer piece, laid out a few taksim kind of improvisations, found a little groove to accompany me then I rise to give over the poetry.

After some starts and stops, we entered the groove and it felt good, good to live there. The pieces I wrote from Genesis are generally a little longer than the other pieces I’ve prepared, so I divided many of them up into meaning segments. Two at the most, none of the pieces are that long.

I started writing these pieces about four years ago. I posted the more refined pieces two years ago, in November of 2011, on various web sites calling it small alef poetry. There are about 127 pieces on my blog in the small alef poetry category. This is the first one in the series.

Then begin over
Start this time with gratitude
You are alive

This is what I heard
When I stood at the graves
And asked for help

This is what I was given
And this is what
I give

Small alef poetry;In the Beginning

The Maqam Project:


Back to Louis and we begin rehearsing for Stone’s Salon, another collaboration that came out of the Book of Healing.

I recently released a CD, my seventh; this one includes a booklet of poems because the project began as poetry. Healing poetry I call it because the pieces were originally written for friends who were going through a tough vigil with a family member. I put together a chapbook, a small book of poetry and stories, to read to a loved one by bedside.

I had given this piece, Book of Healing, to a friend who plays in the band Brothers Lazaroff. I had done another project with Brothers Lazaroff: during Hanukkah, the last two years, Brothers Lazaroff have hosted a performance art form — live music, poetry, hip hop, latkes prepared on stage, featuring a piece I wrote — a real scene at a music venue in the city called Off Broadway.

It was well attended both years and such a hot performance that we went into the studio and recorded the piece; words, music, electronics, eleven musicians, it’s spectacular. It’s called Eight Nights. Both CDs are available on www.bandcamp.com.

When my friends returned from their sad vigil, Brothers Lazaroff had some musical pieces that somehow matched my written pieces. How that worked I cannot say; if you had asked me before I launched in, I would have said this couldn’t be. I would not have put that music and my words together. For me, it was an unlikely convergence but what the heck.

It feels as if something important is happening: a spectrum of ages, races, backgrounds, something happens around Brothers Lazaroff and these projects I have participated in that is surprising, challenging, and beautiful. I love it when that happens and I know it’s rare.

Once I started working on the music, which were beats, a kind of electronic composition of samples done by two young beat makers one in St. Louis one in Boston, I found it almost effortless. We worked fast and efficiently and I loved the results. Brothers Lazaroff produced the CD, the beats from the beat maker Capo, myself adding a song/spoken word/rap format – a digital book of healing.

Our next project is an evening at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand, called Stone’s Salon, Second Tuesdays at the Kranzberg, on Tuesday, October 10th, 7 PM. It will be an evening of music, poetry, conversation, another mix through the spectrum of arts providers and arts recipients. We are mining the music and poetry mother lode. Our featured poet this session will be my friend Michael Castro.

A third Hanukkah Hullabaloo will take place at Plush, a three-floor venue in the city at 3224 Locust, Wednesday night, December 4.

It feels to me as if we are conjunctions; we are linking together nouns that do not frequently find their way to each other. We meet over music and poetry, story and spoken word, jazz and klezmer and hip hop. We find we belong together.