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 jazz musician and author Gilad Atzmon and Copyright © Gilad Atzmon. The name 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.

Will The Real Artie Fishel Please Stand Up

or, Jazz Jews and Ghettoisation?

The following article first appeared on the Jazz page of this site and was duplicated on the Jewish Music page, on 28th October, 2010.


Mike Gerber, a writer for the Jewish Socialist Magazine, a publication of the Jewish Socialists' Group, and author of a tome somewhat dubiously titled Jazz Jews, announced in a press release last week that he is to host a new show on UK-based internet radio station, like his book titled, perhaps somewhat disturbingly, Jazz Jews. From Gerber's press release, it would appear that this is to be a "Jews only" show.

To quote from Gerber's press release, "My Jazz Jews show will feature: Jewish/jazz fusions of every kind; rootsy Jewish music such as klezmer; Israeli jazz; and there will also be a focus on Jewish Great American Songbook composers. I will play tracks by some of the many Jewish musicians who have contributed to jazz more generally...”

There are a number of problems with this "mission statement." Let's take them one at a time. "Jewish/jazz fusions of every kind" - well, it would appear that this would, for a start, severely limit the repertoire available to Mike Gerber to broadcast. Let's see - there's Herbie Mann's last album, Eastern European Roots, Mark Weinstein's Shifra Tanzt, the albums of David Chevan and his Afro-Semitic Experience, and perhaps, from this side of the pond, a couple of albums by woodwind virtuoso Stewart Curtis and a couple by Daphna Sadeh And The Voyagers. Even this brief list could be arguable, and there's certainly very little else that could lay any sort of serious claim to serious jazz credentials. Gilad Atzmon with his Orient House Ensemble does sometimes blend Jewish musical elements into his Middle Eastern jazz hybrids, but Atzmon would certainly not describe any of his music as any kind of Jewish-jazz hybrid (I am confident in stating that he would, rightly, view any such classification of his multi-cultural hybrid as an insult). Likewise, certain Jewish musical influences are attributable to some of Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise's early albums, but again it would be utterly ludicrous to speak of a Jewish-jazz hybrid here.

The above extremely slim repertoire could, by no stretch of the imagination, be termed a "Jewish Jazz" sub-genre, and indeed does not even constitute a "Jewish tinge" in jazz, any more than we could speak of, say, Russian jazz or Norwegian jazz just because there are jazz practitioners from these countries. Yet, it seems, Mike Gerber labours under the misconception that there is such a Jewish jazz sub-genre, akin to Latin jazz. However, the latter is a clear and well-defined genre that has been established for well over half a century, has a vast repertoire and a number of well-defined sub-genres based on regional/national musical styles (e.g., Afro-Cuban or Brazilian music) and is played by musicians of a vast range of ethnicities from outside the ethnic Latin sphere, indeed including by many musicians of Jewish ethnicity (the aforementioned Mark Weinstein clearly is today's leading example of this and indeed is a great innovator and pioneer in the genre). Iconically, the Latin jazz genre is generally credited as having been fathered by a non-Latin musician - the great Afro-American trumpeter Dizzie Gillespie, no less. Like all jazz, Latin jazz is a language of liberation, liberation from oppression, and from racial, ethnic, and national divides and other such artificial constructs, and the music itself is the message.

However, a few odd albums of one form or another, or even several, of Jewish music blended into a jazz context of some sort, simply do not make for a "Jewish jazz" genre. There just is no such thing. (Maybe, just maybe, we might see such a genre evolve in time, but that is another issue.) Gerber, tragically, seems incapable of grasping this. In this he is like Artie Fishel, the fictitious character invented by Gilad Atzmon for his 2006 album Gilad Atzmon Presents Artie Fishel And The Promised Band (a musical satire broadly based on comedy klezmer in a mostly jazz idiom), who insists that jazz is a Jewish art form that originated in the Jewish ghettos. (Indeed, Atzmon states that it was Gerber who was the inspiration for the character Artie Fishel.) Don Quixote without the inherent nobility of that poor deluded soul.

Gerber's "mission statement" moves on to include "Israeli jazz." As before, can we really, seriously speak of an "Israeli jazz" sub-genre, any more than we could speak of, say, Russian jazz or Norwegian jazz just because there are jazz practitioners from these countries? Of course not - a ludicrous proposition. It needs to be acknowledged, of course, that Israel has been and indeed continues to be a seemingly bottomless well of jazz (and, for that matter, other musical) talent (and of course acknowledged giants of contemporary jazz such as Gilad Atzmon himself and Asaf Sirkis originated from Israel, though now British). Even if Gerber meant "jazz from Israel", this would present several problems. Wouldn't this amount to a kind of musical ghettoisation and even racism? It certainly seems like that here and would be comparable to having a programme focused exclusively on say "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant jazz", or "Aryan jazz", or what have you. Wouldn't that result in huge protests all round?

Above all, such ghettoisation of jazz musicians who happen to be Israeli or Jewish, or musicians who happen to blend Jewish music with jazz, does not do those musicians any favours at all. On the contrary, such isolationism is totally counter-productive - Israeli and other Jewish musicians in this arena have to stand or fall along with everyone else and have to be judged with everyone else or not at all. It is also completely contrary to the spirit of jazz and would indicate that Gerber is either totally ignorant of this spirit - and hence lacking any kind of insight into or understanding of jazz - or in utter contempt of it. The whole thing smacks of some kind of Israeli nationalist agenda, something that is totally alien to jazz and completely incompatible with it.

This "Jazz Jews" radio show of Gerber's is also to include "rootsy Jewish music such as klezmer." Well what on earth is this show, on a jazz radio station, to be focused on - jazz, or ethnic Jewish music? Now there is absolutely nothing to be said against ethnic Jewish music of any kind, and indeed I am a great aficionado and indeed champion of Jewish music myself, and it features prominently on this site, but where is the connection to jazz? There isn't one. One could, just conceivably, argue that as American klezmer musicians were influenced by jazz from around the 1930s onwards, as can be witnessed in for example what came to be known as "Yiddish swing" - big band klezmer music that swings - this constitutes a link. However, this is entirely the "wrong way round," the influence is jazz on Jewish music, not Jewish music on jazz.

Furthermore, in such an exclusively Judeo-centric show as "Jazz Jews", would "rootsy Jewish music such as klezmer" then exclude non-Jewish practitioners of the art, of which there are many today?

Again, a focus on ethnic Jewish music here amounts to ghettoisation. Ethnic Jewish music of any kind would surely be far better represented in a general world music or even popular music context. Isolationism, exclusivity and ultimately ghettoisation aren't doing anybody any favours, least of all the musicians themselves. (Several Jewish musicians broadly within this genre or roughly on its periphery that I have spoken to either felt more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of being thus ghettoised or downright objected.)

According to Gerber, "there will also be a focus on Jewish Great American Songbook composers." Yes, many of the composers of Tin Pan Alley and others happened to be ethnically Jewish. But is there even a trace of an influence of ethnic Jewish music to be found there? Of course not. While the great number of ethnically Jewish contributors to the Great American Songbook no doubt would merit study in its own right, where is the relevance on a "Jazz Jews" radio show? Bear in mind especially also that most of this music did not start out as jazz in any way, shape or form but rather, for the most part, was written for Broadway musicals. The classics from these were only adopted, and adapted, by jazz musicians.

And finally, according to Gerber's press release, he "will play tracks by some of the many Jewish musicians who have contributed to jazz more generally...” Hmm... Why on earth is Gerber trying to marginalise some great jazz musicians who happen to be of Jewish ethnicity but don't ever use any kind of Jewish elements in their music? As with Israeli jazz musicians, this is ghettoisation, pure and simple. Again, what if a hypothetical show focused on "WASP musicians" or "Aryan musicians" and their contributions to jazz? I'm sure nobody but some kind of white supremacist or other racist would accept such a show. So why should anybody accept such a show in a purely Jewish context? This smacks not only of ghettoisation but apartheid. (Now a general jazz programme that occasionally focused on particular contributions of one nationality or ethnicity or another might be an entirely different proposition, but we are not discussing a general jazz show here.)

Any kind of exclusivity, isolationism, ghettoisation or apartheid have no place in music. If you feel likewise, be sure to let and Mike Gerber know.

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