A couple years ago, I looked out at our culture and began to see a lot of fear, especially around the issue of immigration and cultural change. So I decided to make an album to pay tribute to the great North American melting pot. I feel that people coming here from abroad add so much our lives and culture.
The new album, like my previous recordings, is built around a set of original compositions, about which I’d like to write. Melting Pot begins with a three-part “Immigrant Suite.” I wanted to pay tribute to some specific to immigrants I’ve known who have inspired me to write songs:
The initial sketch for ”Juror Number One” was written a day of New York City jury duty. The first juror — our foreman — was a very charismatic and proud Cuban immigrant, and during break he told us a story. He had come to the US from Cuba as a young man in the early 1960s, taking a job as night janitor in a Manhattan office building. One night in 1962, while cleaning the office alone, listening to the radio, he heard the Cuban Missile Crisis erupt on the radio, realizing that two superpowers were on the verge of destroying the world (and him) over a dispute back in his home country. After I trip of my own to Havana in 2016, I finished this tune, trying to represent the juror’s vibrant personal style, and that absurd and scary moment, in musical form.
The second movement of the Immigrant Suite, is titled “Querida,” for the Portuguese feminine word meaning “sweetheart,” after a Brazilian immigrant friend I met in New York who liked to call the dear people in her life “Querida” (“Querido” if male). Musically, the song is based on the chord progression of Jobim’s standard bossa “How Insensitive” but in 6/4 time. The drum solo is framed to suggest conflict before a final resolution.
The suite’s closing movement, “A Candle for Isaac,” is dedicated to my girlfriend Ilana’s father Isaac Judah, who was an East Indian Jewish immigrant to Canada (and for a time, Israel). Isaac loved singing the traditional song Ma’oz Tzur on the first night of Hannukah. This song starts with this theme quoted sentimentally on the Indian sitar, before being joined by the trumpet and alto sax. I wanted to pay tribute to a daughter’s sadness of missing her father, and a father’s joy.
A “mantra” in Eastern usage refers to a sacred, meditative utterance. In the West, it can mean a motto, slogan or catch phrase. In the same way that mantras are repeated responses to the changing situations in our lives, the song “Mantra” is an attempt to play a single melodic phrase, changing it as little as possible while moving through a changing series of chords. It was a fun challenge to play over, and to explore the Latin American, Eastern and jazz fusion implications of the song.
The EP-length album closes with ”Trance-like,” a melody which suggested the East Indian context in which we performed the tune. I’ve long admired East Indian culture for its attention to trance. The sounds of Indian music, the practices of Indian spirituality, and spices of well-cooked Indian food all seem capable of transporting us into trance-like states of mind and body, which can help us escape our current troubles for a higher perspective.
The songs of the Melting Pot album went live everywhere this month for the world to hear! I’m excited to share this music on behalf of myself and the talented Melting Pot ensemble. Thanks for checking it out!
In my next post, I’ll write about the cultural melting pot that is New York City.