The Story of Eight Nights

The Story of Eight Nights

I do a series of concerts every year at my synagogue honoring my teachers, inspirations, and influences. Generally we honor our predecessors on or around the anniversary of their deaths – this is the Jewish way. I must have about ten concerts I do to honor those who have given over wonder to me.

One of those concerts is given in the memory of a tuneful rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whose complex connection between us I have tracked in a series of stories published in several places. Every year, around the anniversary of his passing, I do a concert featuring his music. This year I had to postpone the concert a week and it came out on the Saturday night before Thanksgiving. It wasn’t a good night for a concert so there was a small crowd.

As I launched into the music, a guy walked in carrying a guitar. This isn’t unheard of in my experience. One night I was doing a gig in Flagstaff, Arizona, a woman walked in with a violin and asked if she could sit in. The concert had been publicized and so it was well attended. I brought a few musician pals with me up from Phoenix to make the gig.

I figured anyone who carried around a violin and had the guts to ask to sit in was probably a decent player. She couldn’t play worth a darn and I was stuck with that the entire evening. I remember this story whenever anyone springs a spontaneous “can I sit in” on me; still, I’m inclined to say yes. It’s my nature. [Last week a guy brought a song he wanted to sing at our Hanukkah concert. He also brought a baggie full of ear plugs with him and passed them out while he was singing.]

So I said yes to the guy with the guitar. He could play. That was David Lazaroff. He accompanied me tastefully the entire night and during the break we figured we had done a wedding together along the way and he had an interest in the music of the rabbi whose tunes I was featuring that night. So I taught him the tunes and he gobbled them up.

The next time I heard from him he asked me if I wanted to make a late night Hanukkah celebration at Off Broadway. We had one rehearsal. We met the Tuesday before the gig and we ate dinner together and then myself and his group, the Brothers Lazaroff, made a rehearsal that was fantastic. We knew we had something going.

That Friday night we did services at the synagogue then my partner and I Will made it down to Off Broadway. We got on stage with about ten musicians and I was singing and reading poetry I had written around the themes of the Hanukkah holiday. There were many different versions of the lessons of the Hanukkah story and I wrote a different lesson into each night’s poem: the series is called Eight Nights. One of the groups with us on stage asked me if I had an edgy piece. “I have a ninth poem for an imagined ninth night,” I said, “real edgy.”

It was a fantastic evening at Off Broadway. The musicians folded into each other and we had a blast on stage. The wives of the Brothers Lazaroff, Julie and Gayle, set up a latke making station on stage and the whole evening was a major hoot. Everyone loved it: audience, musicians, all ages, fantastic.

The night was so strong that the Brothers booked a studio to record something approximating what we put out on stage at Off Broadway. It was a professional studio, well equipped. We ate dinner together first and then went into the studio and recorded Eight Nights of poetry and music. Almost everything was done in one take.

I thought it was clever that David kind of deconstructed the few pieces we knew; he took them from their A, B, and C parts and played with an A part for one poem, or a B part for another poem – simplifying the music and leaving a lot of room for spoken word. Later David filled me in on his process:

At first the idea was to play the 3 Jewish tunes we played that night and recite three nights over each tune: 9 nights, mixing in some drum loops, samples and sound design as we went. Stopping tape when we lost our way, but, I was concerned this approach wasn’t disciplined enough to work with 9 musicians who hadn’t played much together. I got a little nervous. I then started getting hit with ideas to make it a no-fail situation — break it up so that we create enough music for each night — really I started thinking about it as a hip-hop/spoken word album and less of a Klezmer-Experimental Rock thing. In the end we got something completely unto itself: improv ideas based on the three jewish tunes, most starting and ending based on sound design and loops, with very clear and defined music that matched up with each night. (Just play the A part of the tune over drum loop, waltz in the key of the tune, play the B section as a waltz, play the tune in it’s entirety, just jam in the key/scale of the tune etc.). I stayed up ‘til 3 am the night before reading each poem to make sure it matched up with the loops, samples and music — over and over — until it synched up just enough to leave room for plenty of happy accidents. The thing that really blows my mind is that it sounds like it took a year or two to make. The “eighth night” video pretty much sums it up.

I wasn’t sure how I would present the poetry for the recording session. I had sung pieces of the texts on stage at Off Broadway, but at the recording session in the studio it felt to me that the music was interesting enough to accompany the full spoken texts and that’s what I did. I declaimed the poetry [I heard somebody call it: I spat the poetry — n.b. I wasn’t spitting, spat is colloquial for poesying, I assume].

I laid down all eight nights of poetry over the music and everyone in the room knew we had something special. There were nine or ten musicians and we listened to each other carefully enough to lay down the entire piece in one night. I think we were all elated by what we had accomplished. Even the rough recording, without mixing, sounded great.

The whole thing happened in the space of two – three weeks. We all felt we had fallen into something wonderful and out of it we created a piece of art we could be proud of. The Brothers Lazaroff dedicated all proceeds to the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, and before we had hard copies from the recording, we were selling downloads on at a hearty clip. It felt like a phenomenon. I was along for the ride and exulting in every moment.
It’s out and still selling well.

Check out the YouTube video:

We now have hard copies too.

jsg, usa