Get Jewish cantors to huddle with Duke Ellington and Louie Armstrong. What would they come up with?
Maybe something like "Jazz Wisdom Spirit," a concert planned for Sept. 9 in Delray Beach. Created by a rabbi and a music professor, the concert will set cantorial music and prayers to early jazz.
"For me, it was an obvious choice," says Aaron Kula, director of music performance and education at Florida Atlantic University. "There's a historic relationship and friendship between klezmer music and sophisticated black musicians."
So you'll be hearing the High Holy Days motif "Mi Chamocha" to a Motown melody. And even the somber "Kol Nidre" prayer as doo-wop. And a version of the "Avinu Malkeynu" made popular by Barbra Streisand.
Performing will be Kula's nine-member Klezmer Company Orchestra, including a guest singer, soprano Laura Whitten. For this second annual show, Kula has written 17 new songs.
Klezmer and black jazz developed on parallel tracks, he says. "Black musicians liked cantorial music because they related on an emotional level. They understood themes of slavery to redemption."
The "wisdom" part of the concert will feature Aaron's brother, Rabbi Irwin Kula of the New York-based National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He will offer High Holy Days themes of repentance and introspection as meditation and guided imagery.
In one exercise, the audience will think up 30 or 40 "obligations" – to work, family, country, etcetera. Then Rabbi Kula will have them imagine themselves without those obligations, then take them back, one by one.
"It's an internal inventory without judgment," the rabbi says. "It's to make them realize that they are no one without their promises."
He says the two "technologies" of music and wisdom interlock. "This is designed not to be judgmental, but discerning. It's about human flourishing."
Two shows for "Jazz Wisdom Spirit" are set, for 3 and 7 p.m., at Delray Beach's Crest Theatre, 51 N. Swinton Ave. Concert tickets are $26 and $36.
Go to oldschool.org/performances.asp or call 561-243-7922, ext. 1.
-- James D. Davis