WHAT IS BOOK OF J
Book of J is engaged in new psalmody, drawing from the rich biblical commentary of Black and White American traditional music, Yiddish songs of ghosts and police violence, and piyutim (paraliturgical songs) with a queer bent. Expect old-time religion, radical politics, angels and demons, workers and bosses, diasporic languages, erotic longing, close-text reading, hard times resolved and destiny fulfilled. Also, singing along is good. Book of J is Jewlia Eisenberg (Charming Hostess) and Jeremiah Lockwood (Sway Machinery). Here’s more on the elements of our tight braid...
When starting the Book of J collaboration, Jewlia and Jeremiah quickly realized that, in addition to their passion for Jewish liturgical traditions, they had a shared repertoire of American folk religious music. Jewlia had encountered this body of song while being raised by Marxist wolves, where Black and white religious music had been repurposed as justice music. And Jeremiah knew the music from his connection to Blues musician Carolina Slim, who in his later years dedicated himself to playing gospel music to prepare himself for the journey to the next world. The same songs are equally at home in devotional and social change contexts. These jewels of American Psalmody are rooted in the prophetic voice, using old stories to comment on the present day, and to hold our own time to account.
The Book of J mines the riches of Yiddish folk song to construct delicate miniatures that tell stories about imagined childhoods and ghostly love affairs. A little girl talks to birds in the woods. A forbidden love match is blessed by angels. A young woman is shot on the front lines of a strike and her wounds are healed by kisses. Each arrangement is a chamber-pop freak-folk delicacy that takes delight in the richness and complexity of pre-war European Jewish life, presenting images of a world teeming with stories, pleasures and creativity.
If you are interested in a polyphony of erotic relationships, look no further than the sacred poems known as piyutim. Piyutim are mystical love songs to the divine, centuries old, with verses in elegant Hebrew. They represent a wide variety of sensual expression, with a recurrent fluidity of both poetic voice and object of desire. Both lover and beloved are mutable by gender and number. Animals, vegetables and minerals are also involved. This ancient devotional form destabilizes gender and heterosexual normativity and in doing so, creates a surprisingly sweet space for diverse sexual expression in ancient liturgy. We sing these ancient songs in a way that their both their holy striving and their queer erotics can be felt. Plus the tunes are amazing: perfect for dance clubs and houses of worship.
The Partisan by Cohen became an anthem for us amidst the tumult of the 2016 election, leading to a commision to arrange and perform a set of his songs at SFJazz in the Spring of 2017. We got interested in the way his songs are in dialogue with piyutim (Jewish devotional songs) and used that affinity as the starting point for our personal take on the LC songbook.
WHO IS BOOK OF J
Jewlia Eisenberg works at the intersection of voice, text and diaspora consciousness, primarily as the leader of the ensemble Charming Hostess. Her music is mostly released on the Tzadik label Radical Jewish Culture imprint. Recordings include Sarajevo Blues on Bosnian resistance poetry and Trilectic on the political-erotic world of Walter Benjamin. She often works in immersive installation, making hybrid spaces that incorporate music performance, visitor participation, and experimental ritual. Installations include Teraphim (Meridian Gallery) on household gods; and The Bowls Project (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) on Babylonian women’s amulets. Jewlia’s work has been curated into the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF and the Museum of Peace in Uzbekistan; she performs regularly in Europe and the Americas. She has been a visiting artist at CalArts, MIT, and the University of Colorado, where she has taught on the boundary lands holding music and critical theory. Her interests include class war and knitting. Brooklyn born and bred, she now calls Oakland home. For more: www.charminghostess.com.
Jeremiah Lockwood’s music career began with over a decade of apprenticeship to the legendary Piedmont Blues musician Carolina Slim, playing in the subways of New York City. He also trained under his grandfather Cantor Jacob Konigsberg and performed in his choir. Jeremiah’s band The Sway Machinery seeks inspiration from diverse realms of experience related to the cultural geography of New York City. The Sway Machinery has played around the world, including stints at legendary music festivals like Montreal Jazz, Roskilde, and perhaps most notably, Festival au Desert in Timbuktu, Mali. In addition to leading The Sway Machinery, Jeremiah toured for years as guitarist in the popular world-beat band Balkan Beat Box and has scored numerous film and video projects. Jeremiah was a recipient of the 2007-8 Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists, was 2010 Artist-in-Residence for the Forward and was a 2011 Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra Composer Fellow. Jeremiah is currently working on a PhD in Education and Jewish Studies at Stanford University. His recent recordings include a solo album, entitled LOCKWOOD, a new record from The Sway Machinery entitled Purity and Danger and, most recently a collaboration with the Brooklyn-based independent community Because Jewish, entitled Kol Nidre. For more www.swaymachinery.com.
Song of Songs
This program is a fully interactive text study/collaborative creative experience. The workshop begins on a deep reading of passages from the Song of Songs, delves into commentary and proceeds from their to a unique collaborative song writing experience that involves all participants as equal members in the creative process.
New Moon Gather
This program is based on the cycle of the Jewish lunar calendar. It combines text study related to the month at hand, group dialogue and spirited music performance in a unique interactive and participatory experience.
Sound, Song and Symbol
This program facilitates deeper knowledge of the High Holiday liturgy through communal music making, text study and conversation. These workshop events are rigorous in their engagement with historic Jewish sounds and classic texts and positive in their affirmation of the value and inherent beauty of all voices. The musical and liturgical skills participants develop can be put into practice directly in Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services, but can usefully be applied to any creative practice or spiritual community.