By Cindy Mindell ~
CHESTER – Musician Howard Fishman has been described by critics as, well, indescribable. The “genre-defying” singer, guitarist, and composer is well-known on the New York music scene and beyond, inspiring effusive reviews in national publications and an unending performance schedule.
Fishman, who splits his time between Brooklyn and Chester, is a member of that town’s Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek, home to the innovative Music & More series. As the series enters its fourth season, Fishman has moved from participating performer to curator.
A West Hartford native, Fishman began his musical career on the streets of New Orleans and in the subways of New York before landing his first major engagement at the Algonquin Oak Room in 1999. Since then, he has headlined in some of the most prestigious venues in the U.S. and abroad, including The Lincoln Center American Songbook, The Steppenwolf Theatre, The Blue Note, The Pasadena Playhouse, Duke Performances, The Great American Music Hall, and Le Petit Journal in Paris. Fishman, who recorded his tenth album this year, has appeared on bills with such diverse artists as Odetta, Yo Yo Ma, Maceo Parker, Robyn Hitchcock, Madeleine Peyroux, and Allen Holdsworth. He is a frequent NPR guest, making feature-length appearances on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, “World Cafe,” “The Leonard Lopate Show,” “Word of Mouth” and “Soundcheck,” among others.
“I felt that there was an opportunity to bring a different kind of concert series to the area, more eclectic and slightly edgier,” he says. “In New York, I’m surrounded by insanely talented people. This is a chance for me to provide a link between the music community in New York, specifically Brooklyn, and the Chester community. The synagogue leadership has given me their trust and go-ahead to program a season unlike any before.”
The series had its unofficial kickoff in October, when the synagogue celebrated its tenth anniversary with a concert by Berkeley-based The Real Vocal String Quartet that drew 300 people.
Open to the community, Music & More is designed to reach people interested in “something more outside the box,” says Fishman, who has brought to the series his own original music and that of Hoagy Carmichael, the subject of his latest recording.
As series curator, he intends to keep surprising the audience. The projected musical lineup includes a variety of influences, from klezmer to jazz to opera to South American and African rhythms to highly unusual vocals and bluegrass.
“The musicians I’m inviting share the same approach,” he says. “They’re all interested in breaking down the walls between these rigid ideas of genres and what music should be.”
Aside from being entertaining and transformative, music can also be a vehicle to a spiritual experience, Fishman says. “At its best, a musical performance does a lot of the same thing that any religious service can do,” he says. “It brings people together, creates a sense of community, and provides a moment where we all can be present together, when our phones and other virtual devices are off. Hopefully, it gives people a chance to reflect on their lives and gain a new perspective.”
For information on the Music & More series visit www.cbsrz.org or call (860) 526-8920.