Jewish Musicians Make Mark on Kimmel Jazz Residency

Dan Blacksberg and Rabbi Yosef Goldman
Jewish Philadelphians Dan Blacksberg and Rabbi Yosef Goldman (from left) and Dariel Peniazek will perform this weekend at the Kimmel Center as part of its sixth annual jazz residency. (Photo by Gustavo Garcia)

Exploring identity is the core theme of this year’s jazz residency program at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

And for months, three teams of Philadelphian musicians — two of them headed by Jews — have participated in workshops and work-in-progress events leading to the debut of original works on June 6-8.

Composer and trombonist Dan Blacksberg, 35, grew up in Queen Village and studied in Boston at the New England Conservatory of Music. His group’s performance will explore connections between jazz, klezmer and music from the Middle East and North Africa.

Blacksberg said he was interested in showing how different genres overlapped, illustrating the similarities between music from different cultures.

“When I have encountered a lot of these kinds of pieces about the mixing of cultures, it’s usually an ingredients approach,” he said. “Where we’ll take the drum beat from this place, and we’ll take the melody from this place, and we’re going to take the lyrics from this spot and put it all together. And some of those are great, some of those are less great. It’s a fine way of making music, but for me, that center of the Venn diagram — it’s not something from here and something from there, but it’s really all of the above.”

Blacksberg is collaborating with Rabbi Yosef Goldman, 40, of Temple Beth Zion–Beth Israel, who will be on vocals and percussion.

Goldman grew up in New York in a Modern Orthodox community that was, at least on its surface, uniformly Ashkenazi. But his mother’s family is Sephardic, Yemenite and Syrian, which Goldman said gave him an insider-outsider status. He’s embraced those cultures in his and Blacksberg’s music as they explore what it means to be authentically Jewish.

“It’s an elusive concept of what is authentic,” Goldman said. “So we’re accepting that what it means to be Jewish and what it means to sound Jewish today is always going to be this mix of identities that reflect all of the places that Jews have been, and all the ways that Jews look and identify and through millennia of movement and migration. And that’s always a meeting point of this Jewish music in the concept of this jazz music, which comes from migration and melding of traditions.”

Another musician who embodies the intersectionality of Jewish identity is 25-year-old Dariel Peniazek. Growing up in Delaware County, the first-generation American said many are surprised to learn that his Latino family is Jewish. Peniazek’s mother was born in Temuco, Chile, to a family of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Peniazek’s father was born in Uruguay to a Polish immigrant father and a musician mother, Raquel Adonaylo, a soprano opera singer and pianist. Adonaylo sang in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under conductors like Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta for about 12 years and taught for about 14 years at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Peniazek said he’s proud to be related to such an accomplished musician, although he never met her.

When it comes to being Jewish and Latin American, he finds the two groups share much in common.

“People don’t equate being Latin American to being Jewish very much. Latin America has a reputation for being very Catholic in general, but I find that there’s a lot of similarities, culturally, between the two. Being Latin American and being Jewish both brought the same importance of family and getting together with people and having a history and all of that sort of things that I don’t think you see as much in some other cultures,” Peniazek said. “People make jokes about Jewish mothers and they make jokes about Latin mothers, and then I have a Latin-Jewish mother. It’s kind of one and the same.”

Peniazek grew up listening to salsa music, always hearing an odd, twangy kind of sound in the background of his favorite tracks. Eventually, he discovered it was a tres cubano, a traditional guitar-like instrument of Cuban origin. While studying jazz composition and performance at Temple University, he got a grant to study music in Cuba, where he fell in love with the music and the tres. Peniazek will combine Latin American music with modern jazz during his upcoming performance at the Kimmel Center.

The show aims to engage audience members and even get people dancing. There’ll be several spoken-word poets involved in the performance, such as Peniazek’s sister, Maya. The composer described it as a fusion of all the music he loves — jazz, Latin, funk, R&B and hip-hop.

Other performers in his group include 2014 Grammy-nominated Cuban vocalist Ariacne Trujillo Durand. Peniazek said he’d like to record an album based on the music he’s developed through the residency.

Blacksberg and Goldman will perform at 8 p.m. on June 6 at the Kimmel Center. Peniazek will perform there on June 8.

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