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Please Note: The character of Artie Fishel referred to in the title and in the body of the following article is entirely fictitious. Artie Fishel is the invention of the acclaimed jazz musician and author Gilad Atzmon. Any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, named Artie Fishel is purely coincidental and unintentional. The name and character of Artie Fishel is here used only under the terms of "fair use" and does not imply nor express any kind of approval or other association of the copyright owner of the character name of or with this article or its author's views.

A Brief Guide To Artie Fishel And The Promised Band

Album Cover - Artie Fishel And The Promised Band

Album Cover of Gilad Atzmon Presents
Artie Fishel And The Promised Band

Who exactly is Artie Fishel, you might ask. Artie Fishel is an alter ego that jazz legend Gilad Atzmon created for himself for the 2006 album, Gilad Atzmon Presents Artie Fishel And The Promised Band. As should be self-evident, the name derives from a play on the word 'artificial.' (Although, purely coincidentally, it is also a real name.)

Gilad Atzmon’s album Artie Fishel And The Promised Band is essentially a very humorous satire that Atzmon based on the genre known as comedy klezmer, but in a jazz context.

Briefly, Artie is a klezmer/jazz saxophonist and 'schwartzephon' (as he insists on calling the clarinet) player, his band is called The Promised Band, a pun on 'The Promised Land.' (And, like Artie Fishel himself, a metaphor, as we shall discover.)

(An exclusive abbreviated, unofficial 'biography' of Artie Fishel is in preparation.)

Artie vehemently insists that jazz – here, Atzmon’s metaphor for Zionism and its relationship to the land of Palestine - is not an art form of Afro-American origin, but rather was invented in the Jewish ghettos of Eastern Europe and is, therefore, an essentially Jewish art form.

This is but one, and the major, aspect of Artie’s brand of extreme Zionism and serves to expose the essential bigotry of his stance, the racism and bigotry of Zionism itself and of its 'historic' claim to all the territories of Palestine and pieces of neighbouring countries as lands belonging exclusively to Jews as – according to the Thora (the first five books of the Old Testament) – this is the Promised Land, given to the Chosen People by God.

A somewhat more complex question is that of the musical origins of Artie Fishel And The Promised Band, especially for British and European listeners. These roots can be found in a – appropriately – Jewish form known as comedy klezmer, but set in a jazz context.

Comedy klezmer is a sub-genre of klezmer – a form of traditional Jewish music that has its origin among the Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews – that evolved in the United States around the 1930s (classic examples from this era include The Barton Brothers – a compilation album of some of their best material is reviewed here) and reached its peak half a century ago in the 1950s, most notably under the acknowledged outstanding master of the genre, Mickey Katz. Outside American Jewish circles, and within jazz circles, this name may be familiar from (Afro-) American clarinettist Don Byron’s 1993 tribute album, Don Byron Plays The Music of Mickey Katz.

Comedy klezmer combines Jewish comedy – often of a satirical nature here – with klezmer music. This is usually achieved through verbal jokes or dialogue leading into a musical piece. Often, the music itself can also take on a comical character.

Through this use of the klezmer-derived comedy klezmer (together with jazz) as the music of Artie Fishel, Atzmon not only emphasises the Ashkenazi and specifically Yiddish cultural ‘roots’ of the character but also acknowledges the richness of Yiddish culture itself. It also serves as a further condemnation of the ‘founding fathers’ of modern Israel, who rapidly engaged in attempts to mold the new state into a completely artificial homogeneous society based on modern Hebrew as its language by, among other things, rigorously suppressing the Yiddish culture and language of the majority of its Ashkenazi immigrants. Yiddish culture in the context of Artie Fishel also symbolically stands in for all the other cultures that Israel’s founders tried to suppress.

With Artie Fishel And The Promised Band, Gilad Atzmon took this comedy klezmer as his starting point and blended biting satire with jazz and elements of klezmer, all in a contemporary idiom. The jazz credentials on this album are, of course, of the lofty standard that one would expect from Atzmon.

Mostly sadly ignorant of comedy klezmer (and perhaps somewhat humour-impaired and missing Atzmon’s acid wit), many British reviewers, alas, missed the point of Artie Fishel And The Promised Band, and therefore tended to more or less completely pan the album at the time of its original release.

The satirical metaphors of the album and its music should by now be perfectly obvious and not need further explanation. The brief appearance of Artie Fishel’s opposite, another of Atzmon’s alter egos in the shape of the Grover Washington., Jr. like 'smooth jazz' virtuoso, Jihad Axman and his Palestinian Funketeers, and the eventual blending of his music with that of Artie Fishel, signals something more hopeful. It hints at the solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict by integration in a single state with equal rights for all.

Of course, Artie Fishel was also a way for Atzmon and his co-conspirators on this album to take a break and have some fun – true greatness usually is accompanied by a tendency to not take itself too seriously, at least not all the time. The result is an album that is highly subversive, anarchic, and above all, hilariously funny, while also presenting some outstanding music.

Artie Fishel’s 'Promised Band' was made up of, to quote the sleeve notes:

Peter Foreskin aka Asaf Sirkis - Schlog Sahne
Jaco Pastrami aka Yaron Stavi - Boss und Abu Boss
Shimshon Gib Shoin aka Eyal Maoz - Gitoyer
McGoy Tyner aka John Turville - Piane
Gesher Rozen aka Guillermo Rozenthuler - Voical
Salim Dion aka Koby Israelite - Accordion und Voical
Ovad Fretless aka Ovidiu Fratila - Fiddler on the Groove

Another great bit of fun and quite self-explanatory!

Sadly, both the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Zionist Federation tried their utmost to sabotage the album’s launch gig and more. Happily, they were unsuccessful.

This is Razor Bris, signing off!

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