The 11th annual winter version of the long-running Jacob’s Ladder Festival will take place at Nof Ginossar, by the Kinneret, on December 5 and 6. This is the cozier younger sibling of the main spring event and, as usual, the upcoming two-dayer features one foreign act alongside festival perennials.
This time, the import in question is a young man who feeds off the deepest and strongest roots of the blues. Despite his relative youth, 25-year’old Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is inspired by the earliest sounds that emerged from the Deep South over a century ago. Not only was Paxton born long after the art form’s inception and, indeed, its heyday, he didn’t exactly start life in a natural milieu for the music.
But, despite being born in the Watts district of Los Angeles, the young multi-instrumentalist had a strong innate link to the cradle of the blues, as his grandparents originated from Louisiana, relocating to California in the 1950s. Although Los Angeles has never exactly been considered a hot bed of blues activity such as New Orleans or Chicago, Paxton’s close environment helped sow the seeds of his evolving musical intent.
He says his love of the blues developed naturally.
“I was always connected to my roots,” he notes. “My roots were around me. There were four generations of my family living on the same street, and we were very close. When I would hear sounds that connected with the faces and spirit of my people, I would feel an instant connection. I didn’t know what it was about the music, but I just knew it was a reflection of myself and where and what I come from.”
Paxton heard and imbibed the blues on a local radio station devoted to the art form at an early age.
“The blues are some of the first sounds I ever heard,” he says. “I was born and raised listening to it.”
The airwaves output was augmented by personal tuition from closer quarters, courtesy of the old Cajun and country blues songs his grandmother used to sing.
Paxton began to lose his eyesight in his teens and was severely vision impaired by the age of 16. His active interest in music started with the fiddle when he was 12.
“There was a music school that gave lessons on the weekends when I took violin lessons,” he recalls.
In the interim, he has added guitar, piano, harmonica, Cajun accordion and ukulele to his instrumental arsenal and is one of the few blues banjo players around. He also has the requisite vocal textures to go with his instrumental substratum, which he employs across a wide range of genres and styles from ragtime jazz to country blues and Cajun music.
In 2007, Paxton moved to Upstate New York to attend college and quickly hit the local music scene.
He began playing gigs in and around the Brooklyn area. Over the past seven years, despite not yet delivering his debut release, the blues man has performed at all kinds of blues and roots music festivals throughout the US, as well as various shows opening for old-time string bands such as The Dust Busters old-time music outfit.
Paxton’s authentic blues performances have earned him across-the- board kudos and, hopefully, some of the standards he reels off with such finesse and the original scores he composes will soon make it into CD form.
“I’ve been known to assemble a tune or two,” he says.
Paxton clearly lives and breathes the blues, much like the musicians of yesteryear who traveled the dusty highways and byways of the Deep South half a century or more before him. “The blues is a reflection, oftentimes a painful reflection [of who we are],” muses Paxton.
For him it’s all about the artist’s emotion and how he or she expresses it.
“Once a powerful feeling comes out in a song, that’s the blues,” he says.
Emotions, of course, know no temporal or other bounds but, even so, it is surprising to hear someone of such relatively tender years performing such timeworn material in such an authentic and convincing way. Paxton dismisses the time lapse as irrelevant.
“I never thought of this music as being old. To me it was just as alive as anything. How could something that’s moved me so strongly be affected by time?” he says, adding that there is far older music around that is performed regularly. “I wonder why I haven’t heard this question posed to people who like Beethoven.”
While many consider the blues to be an African American art form, in fact when the blues came into being, New Orleans was a cultural melting pot of numerous ethnic communities, all of which informed the music to a greater or lesser degree. Over the last three of four centuries the southern city has been home to numerous ethnic communities, including French Creoles, Germans, Irish, Italians and West Indians, while the first Jews started trickling over in the early 18th century. They were predominantly Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin.
It seems that Paxton, who gives the appearance of being an African American, hails from those early Deep South settlers.
“Like many people of Creole origin, I have Spanish blood, and it just so happens that the Spanish blood is Sephardic,” he explains, adding that his Jewishness enhances his artistic endeavor.
“It’s a Jew’s duty to be a self-improving person,” he declares. ”I try to apply this every day in my personal life, as well as in my music.”
Naturally, Paxton is thrilled to be making it over to the Holy Land.
“It’s great to come to a place with so much history, especially when it’s history that you feel connected to,” he says.
The young man will do his thing at 10:15 p.m. on Friday and will also close the festival at 4 p.m. the following day.
Elsewhere on the Jacob’s Ladder program you can find more blues-oriented fare, with Gal Nisman and Eyal Kedoshim’s tribute to Eric Clapton and Ray Charles; The Joni Mitchell Project, with Noa Briro, Tamar Capsouto, Lior Secker and Ori Beanstock; 1960s and ‘70s covers act the Deja Vu Band; and veteran Scottish folk threesome Jug O’ Punch; while fans of the Fab Four should dig Paul and Marcie Forrest’s Beatles slot.
And no Jacob’s Ladder bash could be complete without the evergreen Cyrelle Forman-Soffer’s fun square dance and contra dance workshop or gravitydefying Manny Emanueli’s Irish dance workshop. Other get up and go slots include Oran Aviv’s tap dancing class and Jonathan Abrahams’s relaxing tai chi session.
There will also be activities for children.
For tickets and more information: (04) 685-0403 and www.jlfestival.com.