Thursday, July 11, 2019

The sage of Jewish music: Velvel Pasternak

A month ago today, June 11th, a great authority on Jewish music, died.  His name was Velvel Pasternak and among other things, he founded Tara Publications which provided numerous manuscripts of Jewish music, the music of my people.

When I began to record my first pieces of music under the name RebbeSoul, I only had a nodding acquaintance with Jewish music.  The music I knew as such consisted merely of tunes I heard in synagogue and in Hebrew school on the rare occasions that I actually attended, usually at the painful insistence of my parents dragging me in by my ear.

So I recorded "Avinu" (Avinu Malkienu, אבנו מלכנו) and "Bim Bam," songs which made it on my first RebbeSoul album entitled Rebbe/RebbeSoul.  This soon led to a record deal with world music label, Global Pacific Records and my next album.  Because of my new fascination with my newly discovered, traditional music - the music of the Jewish people, the album was to comprise entirely Jewish music and henceforth its title, Fringe Of Blue, pertaining to the tzitzit worn from an important quote in a biblical passage.

Because I was now their signed artist, the record company wisely introduced me to Velvel Pasternak.  I remember our first phone call.  Velvel in New York and I, in California speaking about Jewish music.  I knew nothing about it.  He knew everything about it.  He became a fountain of knowledge, exposing me to material I never even knew existed.  There was a wealth of it as I was soon to find out because several days after that first conversation, a package arrived in the mail of several of his books of Jewish music and with his compliments.

It was a tremendous and meaningful gift.  Soon, I went on to purchase even more from his vast catalogue and then had manuscripts which included music from Morocco, Spain, Lubavitch, even Calcutta.

Nowadays, it's a simple matter to search for even obscure music online and be able to actually listen to it instantly.  Not back then.  All I can say is I'm so glad I did not have that option.  Had I heard those songs the way they are so often played, I probably would have just shrugged and never bothered to record them.  But I didn't hear them, however, thanks to Velvel's foresight, I had them on paper.  With great curiosity, I opened the books and started playing.  I was true to the notes but instinctively put my own mojo on them.  I made them my own.  This to me, was the real beginning of the sound of RebbeSoul.  In these traditional melodies, there were treasures just waiting to be heard.

"Kol Dodi" and "Et Dodim Kalah," two songs of Shir Hashirim, The Song Of Songs, started this way.  I never heard a note until I played it myself and thank the good Lord for that.

Velvel Pasternak was largely responsible for helping me find my way and by providing me with some of the necessary tools, became a co-conspirator in creating what Reb Shlomo Carlebach called "the future of Jewish music."  I am eternally grateful to him for that.  Many thanks, Mr. Pasternak.  Todah rabah.

Here is an entertaining and informative interview with Velevel Pasternak, conducted in 2016.

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  1. Rebbe - Velvel was a mentor to me as well. I grew up playing all his songbooks on Accordion from 1969 when I started playing Accordion. Later, he distributed my Shlock Rock catalogue and even produced the Shlock Rock Songbook. He was amazing. He shared his knowledge of the industry and taught me parts of the business! Thank you for your amazing post. Lenny Solomon - Shlock Rock

  2. Love this!
    You are so very lucky.
    -one of Velvel Pasternak's grandchildren

  3. Yasher Koach! An auspicious beginning to what I hope will be a continuous sharing of the life and the music of Rebbe Soul.
    As to this post itself, I shall quote Rabbi Spock: "Fascinating!"

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  5. Thank you for commenting, everyone. Please tell others so this can be a real forum.
    May the comments continue!
    I encourage you all to sign up too.

  6. Thank you so much for your kind words. I remember selling your cassettes when I worked for my Dad. So nice to hear from people he inspired.
    Naava Pasternak Swirsky

    1. Nice to hear from you, Naava. Your father inspired many, probably more than we imagine.