So, Nu? What is Jewish Blues?
Well, let me start with a little personal and musical history of this South African blues lovin' yid. After my family emigrated from South Africa with a brief stint in New England and New York, we landed in the fig orchards of California's San Joaquin Valley, a climate not dissimilar from Eretz Yisroel. (the Land of Israel). Marked by four straight summer months of sunshine, the relentless triple digit heat of the day, and warm dusty nights, this farmland suburbia parallels the Israeli terrain without the complete infusion of the irrigated farm plots. There, at the tender age of 10, I was drawn to the blues via a radio show called "The Blues Train."
The blues train would depart at 8 PM every Monday night and arrive Tuesday morning about 6am. I would play my guitar all night with Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King until I passed out somewhere in the wee hours. Fortunately, they couldn't hear me through my alarm clock radio, but it left an indelible impression on my young spirit.
Shortly thereafter, I got my first collection of tapes. It was the classic BMG offer - buy 1 get 12 free (then purchase 15 more at 14.95 a pop!). One of the tapes in this collection was a compilation called Blues Classics. On this particular cassette were two songs that absolutely penetrated my soul; Please Send Me Someone to Love ( by Percy Mayfield), and Drown in My Own Tears (by Ray Charles). Between this cassette and the blues radio show, I was hooked. Then at 15, I went to blues jam sessions and tried to cut my chops with the local cats and found great solace and spirit in the music. Some of the sessions were up in the foothills of the Sierras at a place called D-Pit. There, cats like Frank and Fizz Fulton led the way as we sat I and slowly absorbed some of this art form.
My own personal journey with music has been a lifelong adventure starting at age two, when I apparently would glue my head to the large speakers in our living room to really absorb what was coming out. Then at five, I took up classical piano and at 12 guitar won my heart. I remember taking a career survey at the age of 14 and deciding that I would be a professional musician.
After playing in local bands throughout high school years, I decided to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston. This gave me a great education and reference point for where I was musically, not very good at all. In a school of 3000 there were 900 guitarists at that time, half of whom were into metal, and the other half were heavily into jazz. This was truly humbling and I spent the first year practicing 3-5 hours a day to catch up to the lowest common denominator. After a year and a half at Berklee, analyzing music 24 hours a day, I felt the love of music leaving me and it being replaced by a cold calculating, analytic approach to craft and technique.
I decided to leave before the love was completely sucked out of me and detox from the experience by writing music in Northern California for a few months. Shortly after this period, I formed my first, "serious" music project with some friends from high school called PNEUMA. This band was my first real songwriting laboratory, where I could try out the various styles I had ingested at music school in a live band setting. It represented a musical gumbo of Progressive Rock, and Funk (think Tori Amos hanging out with Sting at Larry Graham's house). We had big dreams, moved to bay area to make it , lived out most of Fleetwood Mac's dramatics except the unprecedented record sales and fame, and disbanded in 1998. PNEUMA's eponymous' CD can be found on Itunes at www.saulkaye.com
My 2nd Cd, eponymously titled, was a home spun recording that represented some works on Piano and Guitar that never found a home in PNEUMA. This also marked a the beginning of a new chapter of music writing which would continue to blossom as I ventured out into the world as a solo singer songwriter. It was released in 2000 on
As my home reco dove deeply into the realm of jazz, studying w/ the great Charlie Banacos (who also taught Mike Stern and Wayne Krantz) and started playing around the bay area in various settings from solo all the way to big band jazz. In 2001 and 2002 I had the opportunity to tour to China twice with a swing band based here in the bay area. I had a steady residency at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley for 6 months and out of that time cam SAUL KAYE TRIO -LIVE AT THE CLAREMONT (c2002) , my 3rd CD available by special order only. This represented a collection of my own jazz compositions as well as some covers of artists like John Scofield, Ernest Ranglin, Josh Redman, and Tito Puentes.
In 2004 I got an offer to record a full length CD at Expression center for new media in Emeryville. This Cd was my 4 th outing and as a tribute to my medically minded family (9 Living doctors at one point), I named it DOCTOR'S ORDERS. It represented a shift for me musically from the world of Jazz, back to my songwriting roots. You can also purchase it from www.saulkaye.com or by clicking on the CD Cover.
When DOCTOR'S ORDERS (released on COOL WATER RECORDS) came out in 2004, I hit the road in the states traveling all over the Western Us (the Western 9 as I call them). There will have to be a separate book written on these first few years of touring as there too many great antidotes to even begin. This experience did give me a good perspective on how my music fit into the world, some stage chops, and more material for the follow up release.
This came in 2007 with A TASTE OF PARADISE (COOL WATER RECORDS). This CD represented the cumulative writing and playing with THE SAUL KAYE BAND and a study of the concepts of Paradise through interviews with people I met along the road, fictional characters, and personal narrative. Click on the CD cover to hear it and get more insights to the music.
Later in 2007 I released a Live DVD of concert footage, radio interviews, behind the scenes tour footage and insights to the songs which you can also pick up at www.saulkaye.com
So throughout my 200-250 shows a year, I've been studying not only the great blues masters and songwriters of our time on the road, but also audiences, and what really moves people. What I've found is that the deeper an artist dives into the depths of his soul, the more people respond. This is another reason I left music school, I felt that the music came from a mental and academic place and wanted the music I made to hit people emotionally on a gut level. I found that the blues has this universal impact.
The Jewish Connection
Growing up in the reform branch of the Jewish world, most of the music I heard in shul (synagogue) came from the choir in the balcony and organ, all hidden from view. I can remember the somber minor tonalities that imprinted on my memory. The other melodies I heard were those sung at home on Shabbat and during the holidays (Pesach, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanna, and Channukah). I can remember the complex nature of the melodies and harmonic minor tonalities (some musicologists have also named the second mode of the harmonic minor the Jewish Scale). After my self-proclaimed emancipation from the temple (post-Barmitzvah), my musical journey ran the gamut including but not limited to the following styles: Jazz, Progressive Rock, Classical, Flamenco, Reggae, Funk, World Music, Klezmer, Classic rock, Folk, and Fusion.
I came back to Yiddishkeit after a trip with my family to Israel in 1997. I had the classic Jewish "Wall Experience," which is to say that at the moment of touching the Wall in Jerusalem, I felt that my own connection to the lineage was permanently sealed and fully planted in the ground of my being.
Returning to the San Francisco Bay Area, I began "Shul hopping" to find my spiritual home. Fortunately, there is an incredible variety of synagogues that include reform, conservative, renewal, orthodox, modern orthodox, Chabad houses, Hillel houses, feministic Judaic centers, mediation centers, and many informal gatherings that blend some of the above. I found my home at Chochmat Halev, a meditation center/Shul in Berkeley. Through playing in the band at many services, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings and gatherings, I was re-introduced to some of my childhood music and have learned a smattering of the vast array of Jewish Music that is out there.
What I love about music is it's inherent ability to open people up. The age old tradition of storytelling has been used to take people out of their daily lives for just long enough to get a fresh perspective on life and music has always been an integral part of that exchange.