Meet JamJews January Artist of the Month Adam Weinberg! A guitarist and singer songwriter, Adam started his music career as a solo instrumental guitarist and independent film scorer. His first record, “On the Seventh Year” featured a selection of melodies inspired by Jewish prayer arranged for solo guitar. Adam’s playing and early performances of the record was likened by the St. Louis Post Dispatch as, “Leo Kottke-esque…if Kottke were Jewish and studied Chasidic melodies.” Music form the record was performed with the renowned percussionist Cyro Baptista (Paul Simon, Trey Anastasio, John Zorn) and featured in the award winning documentary Unsettled chronicling Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza strip back in 2005/6. Adam also wrote original music for several other award winning independent films including Twisted – A Balloonamentry and Grassroots which followed the Democratic grassroots efforts in South Florida ahead of the 2008 Presidential election. A selection of Adam’s film music was rerecorded for his 2018 release Sees & Sights. More recently, and most notable, Adam spent more than five years touring with acclaimed singer Matisyahu for the singer’s acoustic performances world-wide. Adam’s playing with Matisyahu was noted for its inventive arrangements of reggae music, turning many songs into chord-and-bass-melody explorations of often simple progressions. In early 2020, shortly before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Adam stepped out to the front of the stage and opened up for Matisyahu with his own solo set during Matisyahu’s six-city South Florida tour. Adam performed almost entirely new music, featuring his first batch of lyrical tunes. Tunes that Adam is now in the studio with, preparing for a new release in early 2021. The Covid pandemic has also proven to be a creative wellspring for Adam, learning new tricks in music-video making, rebuilding his live set as a one-man-looping-show, and working with his daughter Simone on a series of cover tunes entitled Second Wave Sessions, that currently boats 27 songs you can enjoy at www.youtube.com/c/adamweinbergmusic
JJ: What is your Jewish background like?
AW: My family was a typical American Jewish family going to a Conservative Synagogue
most of my childhood. Around the start of Highschool my Father began investigating
Judaism more and eventually became a bal teshuva. For a few years myself, my sister
and my Mom continued going to the Conservative Synagogue while my dad walked 3+
miles every Shabbos across two major roadways to the only Orthodox shul (which was
just in a house) at the time. That was an odd time, but I give my parents a ton of credit.
They gave each other space and put their common purpose as a couple above their
individual religiosity and made it to the other side. Eventually, and at different times,
we all found ways that more observant Judaism spoke to us all. My mother’s parents
are/were both Holocaust survivors. My father’s parents are/were both second or even
third generation American Jews which is rare in my circle of friends. My father’s dad
fought in WWII as an American soldiers and helped liberate the concentration camps.
When I got to college in 1998 I became fast friends with two modern orthodox guys
from Baltimore who encouraged me to consider more religious Jewish practice.
Between Freshman and Sophomore year I went to Israel and lived for about 4 months
in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was one of the most meaningful Summers of my life,
and much of my views and practice of Judaism today are still informed by my learning
and experience then.
JJ: How has your music been inspired (or not) by Judaism and Jewish music?
AW: During my first few years of college I studied Judaism with members of the local St.
Louis Orthodox community, but Judaism and music didn’t much overlap for me then.
In my Junior year of College however I discovered the treasure trove of music
composed and arranged by the great John Zorn. As a Jazz performance student, I had
been mostly listening to American born melodic and harmonic ideas, but Zorn took the
Jazz approach but with melodies steeped in Eastern European and North African
Jewish roots. It was revelatory for me at the time (as I know it was for many Zorn
listeners of a Jewish background). I became obsessed with Zorn and then later with the
playing of Andy Statman (Mandolin and Clarinet player). I traveled to NYC several
times in my Junior and Senior years of college to see both Zorn and Statman perform.
For my senior project in music I wrote the music that eventually became my first solo
record “On the Seventh Year.” The music was a combination of what I learned
listening to players like Statman, Zorn, and Tim Sparks, combined with the emotion I
got from spending time at the St. Louis Kollel. The constant clatter and odd harmony of
people all learning apart and together at the same time. After that record was released
post-graduation, I was given the humbling experience of performing some of these
songs with percussionist extraordinaire Cyro Baptista at The Stone in NYC before its
JJ: What is your current Jewish practice and identity like?
AW: I do some kind of davening every day. Since the pandemic it’s almost entirely solo or
with my kids or a single friend or two. I used to feel an obligation to daven and show
gratitude in a more traditional orthodox way (reading every word of birkat hamazon,
etc). Now I find myself giving myself a lot more flexibility. Sometimes I say birkat
hamazon as it’s written and sometimes I just close my eyes and thank God making the
land, the people, and the technology to provide amble and nutritious food. Some
mornings I wrap tefillin and do the whole thing. Other days just Mode Ani, and
sometimes a mix of things. My family and I keep Shabbos and Kashrut traditionally.
I’ve had the same chevrutah for almost 15 years now; pretty much every Friday
morning we learn together (now via FaceTime) but we learn all kinds of stuff and he’s
insanely well read in the secular world. He was able to debate me about Yuval Noah
Harari’s “Sapiens” at a much deeper level than I was prepared for because he read it
twice. I’m very proud of the history of my family as Jews. I both connect to the idea of
kiddushah (literally meaning “to make separate” for Jews. To stand for Torah values
and ideals no matter what Country we find ourselves in, or with what social pressures
face us. At the same time, this idea of separateness sometimes rubs me the wrong way,
and I think about that scene from “Bullworth” when Warren Batey says,
“Everybody just gotta keep f*kin'; everybody 'til they're all the same color.” And the
idea that we’re really all the same. All made in G-d’s image and getting this idea of
specialness out of my psyche and how I see the message of Judaism. When I have these
internal debates I usually land in the middle with something I read from Reb Zalman
Schachter Shalomi z”l who started the renewal movement, which I’m sure many
Rebbes said as well. For an orchestra to interpret a song beautifully the violinist can’t
play the oboe’s part, and oboe can’t play the harp’s part, etc. So too, Jews have to play
our part as best we can with our history and our Torah. Christians their part, Hindus,
Buhddists, Muslims, Atheists, the certain, and the agonistic, etc. Everyone has a part to
play to make the music as beautiful as it can be. Hopefully I’m doing a decent job with
the sheet music I’ve been given in life, and I guess that’s all I should focus on.
JJ: What musical projects have you been involved in, and where do you see yourself going
AW: In college I was in a band basically from the first week of school in 1998 until the last
day at graduation in 2002. We were called the illtet, and we were often likened to a band
out of Chicago called Tortoise. It was all instrumental music but pretty forward
thinking in those days in terms of samples, using computer programs to trigger things
live etc. We spent a Summer touring Colorado and had a strong local following in St.
Louis, MO. Ultimately nobody in the band wanted to spend their 20s on the road for
“the dream” so we did what all good boys do. Literally all of us went to graduate
school. The keyboardist at Cal Arts, the drummer went to Medical School, the bass
player went on to get a PhD in Sociology, and I went to grad school for Psychology. I
hope in the next few years we’re all financially independent enough to take off 2 months
in the Summer and tour again in some small way. During grad school I started a band
with former jazz ensemble friends called SHED and we also released one album. After
leaving graduate school 3-years-into-a-6-year-program, I took a job in concert
production and promotion. I began working with Matisyahu and became his guitar
player for acoustic shows for about 5 years off and on. Some of the shows with
Matisyahu are my favorite moments on stage. He has an incredible sense of
musicianship and has become a dear friend. I hope to have the chance to keep playing
shows with Matis once the pandemic is over. I also spent time over the past 15 years
writing music for indie movies. Music I wrote was featured in a few award winning
films including “Unsettled” about Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. Currently, and
where I really hope to go with my music in the future, is work on my singer-songwriting
abilities. I’m currently finishing up my first album with lyrics after releasing two band
albums and two solo albums all instrumental. I’m really enjoying learning the process
of crafting music to fit with words and I’d like to keep developing that skill.
JJ: You recently put out a new album (and your first with lyrics?)! Tell us more!
AW: It’s not out yet, but it should be finished this month and will be released in late
Feb/early March, 2021. I wrote 11 of the 12 songs over the past year after our family
went through a rough patch. We had two major health scares in my immediate family
that each had their own duration of anxiety and stress before thankfully resolving, and
then my brother-in-law died suddenly at the age of 42. All of these things happened in
the span of 5 weeks. I didn’t process it all very well, and had to seek professional help,
which turned out to be an amazing thing. After a few months of being unable to play
music with any consistency, my therapist basically ordered me to play something every
night on either guitar or piano, record it on my iphone and text it to her as proof.
Through this process I ended up with dozens of song ideas. At first they were
instrumental ideas, but then I started adding words about how I was feeling that day, or
how I thought my in-laws were feeling, or sometimes I literally wrote about some
therapeutic strategy I had just learned and I made it rhyme. Eventually I had a book of
lyrical ideas and dozens of song ideas. With the exception of one instrumental piece, the
rest of the album is 100% from this process. The album is being produced by my good
friend, drummer and composer Arturo Garcia. He’s keeping my playing focused, and
has arranged some killer horn and string charts for about half the record. I’m pretty
psyched for it all to get done. In this digital age, I was thinking about how to make
something tangible for the record,