Wisconsin pianist David Adler puts a soulful, contemporary spin on some classic Hebrew melodies with his new album “Mazel Tunes,” now available on music streaming services.
To create his instrumental tracks of 11 Jewish standards, Adler, 56, drew on the experience of his immigrant parents who left Germany in the 1930s as the Nazis rose to power and antisemitism intensified.
“I grew up with stories of Jewish life in Europe and a deep understanding of the Holocaust,” said Adler, who lives in Oconomowoc. “This recording project inspired me to take a close look at my relationship with Judaism. I just thought it was a really good opportunity to represent my parents and the perseverance, sacrifice and triumph of their survival. I have endeavored to honor them through the retelling of these ever-present, timeless melodic stories.”
Adler is a blues and rock performer, playing in Madison, Milwaukee and cities beyond. But like many live musicians, his public performance life ground to a halt in March 2020. “I had always been a professional musician, but I had no real time to reflect. I was too busy playing all the time.”
During the pandemic, he embarked on a spiritual journey, reading from the complete Tanach every day. “It became a real awakening for me,” he said, “a rededication to my history and a new relationship with myself and my place in the world.”
He decided to take a present-day look at the Hebrew songs he learned as a child from his parents, at synagogue and at the Jewish camps he attended in Oconomowoc and Eagle River. “I wanted to combine them with my American, contemporary music sensibilities. I knew lyrical messages of these melodies, whether culled from the Bible or other poetry, were ones of gratitude and praise.”
Among the traditional selection are “David Melech Yisrael,” “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem,” “Kol Dodi” and “Sim Shalom.” Tunes like “Bashana Haba’ah” and a version of “Dodi Li” came out of Israel in the 1970s.
“This is intended to celebrate the ancient traditions and enduring survival of my people, as well as contribute to the preservation of that vital legacy in our modern world,” Adler said.
The compositions originated with Adler just “messing around with it on the piano. I thought after I started doing that for a while, I really hadn’t heard anything done in that manner before with these songs.” He enlisted the help of recording engineer Lance Ketterer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
What he appreciates most about Jewish music is “the way it resonates with a very primal, direct way to my history. I feel that the music is a conduit to the spirit. When I play, I feel like I am channeling ancient ideas and thoughts.”
His experience as a first generation Jewish-American informed “Mazel Tunes,” he said. “I also want to make a statement that I’m proud to be Jewish. I’m proud of my heritage. I want to add to that canon, and I want other people to enjoy that and maybe get joy and some connection from that.”
To learn more about Adler, visit his website at DaveAdler.com.
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In addition to releasing “Mazel Tunes,” David Adler is co-founder of the Wisconsin-based Steely Dan tribute band, Steely Dane. Performance dates include:
- Atwood Fest, Madison, July 31
- Animal Crackers, Racine Zoo, Aug. 10
- Riverfest, Watertown, Aug. 11
More info: SteelyDane.com.