Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14, 1995.

I'm still staggered at the thought: It was 16 years ago today that I met Martin Stephen Kraar, the popular, respected, and sometimes feared executive vice president of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF). It would be a life-altering event. I was working for the Jewish Agency for Israel. Some 4,000 Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists had gathered in Boston for the CJF General Assembly. No one could have imagined that we would be converging upon Boston to collectively mourn the tragic death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Throngs of people were going through the motion of coming to town for their various gatherings that week, yet the crowd was shocked and numbed from the events of the day - not knowing what to do or how to absorb the information: Israel was an orphan. We were murderers. We were victims. We were orphans. We were lost. The people of the book were speechless.

Marty was doing what he did best: Managing. A black Motorola flip cellphone glued to his ear, Marty was working on logistics for the keynote speaker at the opening plenary. Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to speak, but Shimon Peres was the president and was next in line. Marty never lost his composure. His salt and pepper wavy hair was immaculate; he dressed to the nines; he wore power casual loafers. He never broke a sweat. You could not read him. He had a secret, and you wanted to know the secret, too, so you followed him around. He oozed that charisma everywhere he went. I would never knew him not to be a fashion plate: He did not disappoint on the day I met him.

Some of you know the story - I was geting my press releases ready for the media onslaught. I made plenty of copies of my three now-famous press releases (see below). I was feeling my prowess - dressed in a velour heather-grey short-sleeved turtleneck sweater and a black velour skirt cut above the knee; patterned black hose; black pumps. Screamingly understated. Center of attention. Much as I had dressed during my music career when I was playing my fretless Fender Precision/Jazz bass every night. I was still that rock star.

As I came out of the press area, I spied Marty and walked toward him, pointing to my name tag. We stood, frozen, and then we embraced, roaring with nervous laughter. In all the time I was preparing for the GA, which had been at least six weeks, including the assassination, I had never met Marty. We heard about each other. We were supposed to be at meetings together, but I was so wrapped up in my own work that I never left the office. We were about to head into a very tumultuous and uncertain time in Jewish life, and we both knew it: The thousands of us who were there at that moment could not escape from that uneasy feeling - what Marty used to call "free-floating anxiety," which has always been felt by the Jewish people.

Here it was, again, this time in our generation - and we were ordained to figure our way out of it. This time, anyway.

The rest is commentary.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Play Guitar Like A Pro!

I am accepting beginners through intermediate players ($60/hr.) in a variety of musical styles. I will help develop the students' love of music, while nurturing their desire to learn.

My specialties include:

- Acoustic guitar
- Electric guitar
- Electric bass

I will include some theory, reading, and harmony and work on ear training, enabling students to listen and reproduce what they are hearing.

In addition to the pure joy of playing our instrument, I use a variety of other resources, including my wealth of hand-picked "favorites" on YouTube and other sites. I'm user-friendly; my students can always email me, send me links, and ask my assistance between lessons.

New this year: In celebration of guitar great Django Reinhardt, and for those students who would like to learn the Gypsy jazz style, I will be teaching authentic comping chords, patterns and scales.

Whenever possible, I will host a special workshop or master class that will feature noted musicians.

Also new this year:

I am very excited to announce that I can accommodate one student who would like to learn how to play Renaissance lute ($90/hr). The student will use one of my Hieber 8-course lutes and will learn to read the musical notation that was used in the 1500s. Learn the music that Shakespeare heard, and find out firsthand why Sting loves the lute!

My prices are affordable (Renaissance lute is higher due to instrument maintenance), and my hours are flexible. Evenings and weekend hours are available and some mornings.

Play guitar like a pro!
Visit the hot link at the top of the page or visit 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Weizmann Institute to Broadcast Total Lunar Eclipse, June 15, 2011

On Wednesday, June 15, the Weizmann Institute’s Clore Garden of Science will open at 7:00 p.m. (Israel time) for a viewing of an unusually long total lunar eclipse. The event will include telescope sightings, a lecture and educational activities, as well as a large-screen viewing of the eclipse transmitted from the Martin S. Kraar Observatory at the Institute.
The telescopic view of the eclipse will also be webcast live via the Internet later in the night:

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the shadow of the Earth. Sunlight that will ring the Earth will cast light on the moon giving it a reddish glow.

This eclipse will not be visible in North America, and we can take pride in knowing that the Weizmann Institute joins a handful of observatories around the globe who will be broadcasting the event over the Internet, in the true spirit of bringing science to the people and encouraging global science literacy.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Weizmann Institute Observatory Captures Images of a New Supernova

REHOVOT, ISRAEL—June 6, 2011—Exploding stars are the “factories” that produce all the heavy elements found, among other places, in our bodies. In this sense, we are all stardust. These exploding stars – supernovae – are highly energetic events that can occasionally light up the night sky. Such an explosion generally involves disruption in the balance between gravity – which pulls the star’s material inward – and the thermonuclear reaction at the star’s core – which heats it and pushes it outward.
Certain types of stars that go in this way have a much bigger mass (10-100 times) and are much younger than our sun. In them, the nuclear reaction begins like that of our sun – fusing hydrogen into helium – but the fusion then continues, producing heavier and heavier elements. The nuclear reaction eventually stops with iron, as there is no energy benefit to the star to fuse the heavier atoms, and the balance between gravity and thermonuclear activity comes to a halt. Gravity then takes over, and the mass of the star collapses quickly, releasing so much energy in the process that the explosion ensues. The star hurls its outer layers into space, and a new “bright star” appears in the night sky where none was seen before. Just such a new star was observed in the night sky between May 31 and June 1 in a spiral arm of our galaxy’s close neighbor, M51.
The first to identify the supernova were amateur astronomers in France, and soon after it was detected by the PTF Sky Survey, in which Weizmann Institute scientists participate. The phenomenon was also photographed in the new Martin Kraar Observatory at the Weizmann Institute, as well as in Tel Aviv University’s Wise Observatory in Mitzpe Ramon. Israel’s place on the globe enables its scientists to follow supernova events when it is daytime for many other observers, and thus to add significantly to the data collection.
The new supernova is being studied by an international team of researchers, including Dr. Avishay Gal-Yam and his research team including Drs. Ofer Yaron, David Polishook and Dong Xu, research students Iair Arcavi and Sagi Ben Ami and Director of the Kraar Observatory, Ilan Manulis, all of the Weizmann Institute’s Particle Physics and Astrophysics Department, as well as scientists from the US, England, Canada and other countries. They have already noted that the material thrown into space in the explosion contains a wide variety of elements. The mix they observed is atypical of supernova events at such an early stage of the explosion, and they plan to investigate this phenomenon.
The last supernova observed in M51 (which is a mere 26 million light years away) occurred in 2005. Supernovae are thought to appear about once in 100 years in any given galaxy. The high occurrence in M51 can be explained by its interaction with a nearby galaxy, which causes the process of massive star formation to accelerate, thus increasing the rate of collapse and explosion, as well.
Gal-Yam: “We invite any amateur astronomers who may have viewed the event to send us their time-dated photos. Collaboration with amateurs is very important to us and, in this case, it might help us pinpoint the exact time of the explosion.”
Any photos of the M51 galaxy taken between May 30 and June 2 can be sent to If the image is used in scientific publications, contributors will receive credit.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

HOLD THE DATE! Franglais @ Jalopy Theatre May 19 @ 10 pm

New York, NY May 11, 2011 - New York-based Gypsy swing band Franglais will be celebrating the arrival of their new CD, Un Grand Bonheur (Great Happiness), with a release party at the Jalopy Theatre on Thursday, May 19 at 10 p.m.

The new CD is a blend of music old and new, with layers of influence and a continuing conversation between the generations of a great American art form, namely, jazz. But how American is it? The CD poses a musical conversation on the topic.

“If Gypsy jazz is what happens when Django, a Manouche Gypsy, interpreted American jazz, then Franglais' music is what happens when American jazz musicians interpret Gypsy jazz,” says the band’s vocalist, Eve Selzer, who came up with the band’s name Franglais.

“It’s a word that describes the American version of pidgin French,” Seltzer explains. “For example, we speak of pie a la mode, or toss a French phrase into casual conversation to sound sophisticated. The name is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek description of the concept of the band.”

According to bandleader and arranger Ben Wood, “Franglais is all about fusing textures and sounds from different eras. I mean really, a Gypsy jazz band with a full time vocalist? Made up  entirely of Americans who play Lady Gaga, and Green Day? It sounds like jazz and we love it!”

The repertoire of the band encompasses the traditional sounds of Django Reinhardt’s trademark Gypsy swing, but it also embraces popular songs -- songs to which the band members feel connected.

The band members have very diverse listening habits. Wood’s favorites include Gypsy jazz guitar virtuosi Sebastien Gineaux, Adrien Moignard, Mathieu Chatlan, Bireli Largrene and Hono Winterstien. Selzer and bassis Piruz Partow have diverse musical palates -- everything from classic bebop (Bird, Duke Ellington, Mingus) to punk and rock (Green Day, MC5, Phish). Guitarst Justin Lees style reflects his diverse musical passions. He has been mentored by guitar greats Herb Ellis, Howard Alden, Emily Remler and Danny Gatton, among others.

Un Grand Bonheur encompasses Stevie Wonder to Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Reworkings of classic pop songs have always been a part of jazz -- and one of the few ways jazz music keeps up with the times- to play a tune  like Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi,” plus, says Wood, it was a lot of fun for the band members too see  the light of recognition on audience members faces as they realize what this tune actually is.

The band gives a nod to the French culture, which is a strong influence, and they wanted to include an update of the classic Edith Piaf number, "La Vie En Rose.”

Seltzer’s voice adds a distinct acknowledgement of tradition coupled with the edge of adventure.

“I was raised on a diet of folk and rock music at home,” she says. “My mother adored the Beatles, and my father loved Hoyt Axton, Johnny Cash, and the Kingston Trio. When I started singing classical music in choir at age 8, I discovered the music that my father locked himself up in his study to listen to: opera and chorale. My first exposure to jazz was in my school band, where I played trombone from grades 5 through 10.”

Seltzer lists her music teachers, Barry Harris and Rodney Kendrick, as influences on her music. “I would also like to think that Abbey Lincoln would enjoy us.”

One collaborator on the project is fellow New Yorker Ted Gottsegen, a staple of the Gypsy swing scene.

“Ted was full of ideas for Franglais during his brief time with the band,” says Wood. “We still use his arrangement concepts for a number of tunes, including several that aren't on the CD. Plus, he's a lot of fun to be around.”

The CD was recorded at Second Story sound in Chinatown, with engineering by Jeff Cook. Seltzer is the engineer responsible for mixing, editing, and mastering the project.

This recording is different from the first CD for several reasons: The biggest reason is that this is the band that has been playing together for over two years; and unlike the band’s last CD this one features just the band members with no guest artists.

“That allowed us to choose some of the more interesting songs we play, and allowed us to come to the recording session with basic arrangements already worked out and honed by about a year or so of live gigs,” says Wood. “Plus, this one actually represents what we sound like when we gig!”

Franglais will perform its latest CD release, Un Grand Bonheur, at the Jalopy Theatre Thursday, May 19, which is located at 315 Columbia Street in Brooklyn. Opening act will be the Daryus Schieder Trio. For details visit

Visit the Franglais' myspace link at

Monday, March 14, 2011

Danny Stiles - Our personal private mentsch and music maven:
We are missing you so much

With the passing of Danny Stiles, the world has lost an encyclopaedic maven of music who had a front seat at the inception of America's greatest music form, and who took impeccable notes. We lost a dear friend, mentor and confidante. Miriam "gave" Danny to me after she befriended him a few years ago. My best memory was being with him for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant on the Jersey side. Miriam sat down next to him and the two looked like old friends, same expression, same posture. She was 17 and he was 83. It was one of those enchanted nights of music, good company and lively conversation.

 I can't say it any better than the way my daughter, Miriam, said it in a letter to Danny's younger fellow jazz- and popologist, Rich Conaty, who spins all the greats on his show, The Big Broadcast on WFUV. Rich did a tribute to Danny Stiles tonight.

Miriam writes:

Hi Rich,

I wanted to extend a personal thank you tonight for a beautiful tribute show to Danny Stiles. If you recall, I'm that kid who wrote to you a few months ago about trying to get a Big Broadcast/Music Museum-type show on the air at Barnard College. To my unending frustration, I never managed to get that off the ground, though not for lack of trying; I've vowed that when the good folks at WBAR get their act together, I'll try again.

You may also recall that part of Danny's radio repertoire was a summons to "precocious teenagers" everywhere to tune in and get hip to the Oldies; I was - and still am - one of those precocious teenagers. I met Danny when he was 83 and I was 17, when I was a bright-eyed youngster who loved vinyl (and wax!) and he was an encyclopedic veteran. He knew it all, and I wanted to learn it all. I think he got a kick out of my diehard dedication to that music - almost like he himself didn't fully believe there were actually any "precocious teenagers" out there until I came along.

Often, I would stop in at his office to visit with him and sit in on his recording sessions. Once he even cleared me for entry to the old NPR studio at Chambers Street, and I sat in while he recorded his 2-hour Saturday night show (which I then listened to again that night on the air). I like to think we were like Plato and Socrates - except that we sometimes exchanged Yiddish instead of Greek.

Danny would always talk about how he was one of the very last guys on the air to do what he did - and what you, Sir Conaty, still do. And it breaks my heart to think that we're now one more down for the count.

I'm still a precocious youngster - I'm now 21 - and I'm still a devoted student of this music. Time to take up the mantle myself, it seems.

Keep doing what you're doing; it keeps Danny's mission alive. It's the best tribute you could pay him.

Again, thank you for tonight's show.

Your big fan and pupil,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Please join me on Jan. 30 at the Bowery Poetry Club for this event. Amram has asked me to recite a Kerouac poem that these two cultural icons performed together in the 1950s. What a thrill and an honour for me to help usher in the young man's new decade! 

Celebrating A Musical Icon At 80

David AmramCourtesy David AmramDavid Amram will celebrate his 80th birthday with a fundraiser at the Bowery Poetry Club Jan. 30.
The rapidly altering Bowery landscape might prove disorienting to someone who first performed at the fabled Five Spot jazz club in 1956, then located on the Bowery at Fifth Street. For David Amram this isn’t the case, as he prepares to celebrate his 80th birthday at a fund raiser for The Community-Word Project on Jan. 30 at The Bowery Poetry Club. A long-time downtown resident, Mr. Amram has continued to create music, perform and remain vital over the past half century. He explains that “It’s important for young artists to see it’s possible to lead a creative life in the arts.’
Internationally known as a composer, multi-instrumentalist, conductor and author, Mr. Amram has composed more than one hundred orchestral and chamber music works, along with film scores such as those for “Splendor in the Grass” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” He has collaborated with a vast legion of performers including Charles Mingus, Willie Nelson, Dizzy Gillespie, Langston Hughes, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, and scores of others. In 1966, Leonard Bernstein chose him as the first guest composer-in-residence of The New York Philharmonic.

Amram remembers living on Eighth Street between Avenues B and C from 1955 to 1957 and recalls the creative community existing on the Lower East Side during that period as poets, musicians, painters, photographers, playwrights and filmmakers gathered in Village bars such as The Cedar Tavern, The San Remo and The Five Spot. He helped organize early readings where poets including Jack Kerouac, Phillip Lamantia and Howard Hart read to musical accompaniment.
In 1959 he composed the music for, as well as acting in, “Pull My Daisy,” the classic underground film shot in director Alfred Leslie’s Lower East Side loft. Both Mr. Leslie who directed the film and Robert Frank who filmed it continue to live in the neighborhood.
Mr. Amram has written three books which trace his career and describe his collaborations with Mr. Kerouac and other artists.
David Amram, 1957Burt GlinnMr. Amram playing the Five Spot jazz club, 1957.
Mr. Amram will be performing with his quartet at The Bowery Poetry Club along with surprise guests. Actor John Ventimiglia of The Sopranos will read passages from Mr. Kerouac’s work to Mr. Amram’s accompaniment. Mr. Amram’s three children, Adira, Alana and Adam will also be performing. Mr. Amram invites all to join him in the celebration of his Lower East Side roots. Certainly attendees are in for a rare treat in having the opportunity of seeing a legend perform. I look forward to seeing you there.