Kooking up some jazz

Musicians will pay tribute to the Mandate era's visionary first chief rabbi with a series of avant garde concerts.

Later Prophets band 88 248 (photo credit: )
Later Prophets band 88 248
(photo credit: )
There are all sorts of milestones being marked at this week's concert at Rabbi Kook's House in Jerusalem, which will be fronted by Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein. The 74th anniversary of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook's death is just around the corner and it will be exactly 37 years since one of Kook's main disciples, Rabbi David Cohen - better known as the Nazir (the "Ascetic") - passed on. Fittingly, Cohen's son, Rabbi Shaar Yashuv Cohen, will be at Tuesday's event. The concert offers a tantalizing mix of top quality and exploratory jazz along with highly evocative narration by Israel-born, Canada-bred Marmorstein. The instrumental entertainment will be provided by reedman Greg Wall - on saxophones, clarinet and shofar - and his New York-based Later Prophets quartet featuring pianist Shai Bachar, bassist Dave Richards and drummer Ilan Kachka. The show will be based on the Ha'orot, The Lights of Harav Kook album which Marmorstein recorded with the band - with Kachka sitting in for regular Later Prophets drummer Aaron Alexander in Israel. The album was put out on the prestigious New York label Tzadik, known for its jazz and avant garde output, and for pioneering "radical Jewish music." The Jerusalem gig is the opener for a five-show national tour taking in Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv (August 23), Jerusalem's Avi Chai House (August 24), Hasimta Theater in Jaffa (August 26), the Studio venue in Haifa (August 27) and The White Donkey Khan in Safed (August 29). Kook was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandate-governed Palestine. Marmorstein's fascination with Kook's works - some of which feature the word orot (lights) in their titles - began in 1981. "I picked up a translation of some of his works - I call it the Kook book - and started to read and I felt so blown away," Marmorstein recalls. "I was taken by the spaciousness of thought, and a depth of understanding I'd never encountered before in the world of Jewish literature. I was a teacher of Jewish studies in Winnipeg, so I had read a lot of Jewish literature prior to that." He soon began to share his heightened interest in Kook's ouvre. "I started using his writings at the weekly study groups I held with Jewish high school students, and I also taught them to adults. The more I read, and the more I shared the works, I realized that this is extraordinary Torah that needs to be known by more people." One of the aspects of Kook's teachings that struck a chord with Marmorstein was his positive, sunny outlook on life. "He talked about the power of love and the power of good and how, if we use them properly, we can change ourselves and the world for the better." People of a certain vintage might equate such an ethos with a more contemporary, and no less revolutionary, mind-set in the Western world - the hippie approach. As much of the West is currently marking the 40th anniversary of the first mass confluence of love and music, the 1969 Woodstock music festival, it looks like Marmorstein has got his timing right for the upcoming tour. "Harav Kook said all those things way before hippies got in on the act. He said quite a few things that shook up the Establishment. For instance, he said that evolution is the secular science closest to the Kabbala." Considering Marmorstein's background, the confluence of Kook's works and music fits the bill perfectly. Marmorstein has been ordained as a rabbi twice, the second time in 1992, courtesy of none other than Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who used music as an integral element of his own method of teaching. Marmorstein says that jazz was a natural choice as musical accompaniment to his narrations from Kook's works on the CD. "Harav Kook was a universalist and jazz is all-inclusive: It can accommodate everything. Also, Shlomo [Carlebach] taught us that Torah and music go well together and Kabbala says that God sang the world into being." For ticket reservations for Tuesday's concert, at 8 p.m., call (02) 624-2908.