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Westport’s “Jazz Rabbi” Greg Wall returns to Lower East Side for 60th birthday benefit show

WESTPORT – Saxophonist and composer Rabbi Greg Wall, a staple on the downtown avant-garde jazz scene since the early 1990s, celebrates his 60th birthday with a benefit concert in the historic sanctuary of the Museum at Eldridge Street on Sunday, Dec. 1 at 3 p.m. 

Wall, who since 2013 has served as spiritual leader of Beit Chaverim Synagogue in Westport, will perform with his long-time working bands including Zion80, Hasidic New Wave, Portal, Klezmerfest, and Greg Wall’s Later Prophets, as well as the Ayn Sof Arkestra and Bigger Band, which returns for this concert. Proceeds will benefit the Museum.

A leading figure in the Jewish music scene for more than 30 years, Wall is a pioneer in blending Jewish music with jazz. After early training under Archie Shepp and Max Roach in Amherst, Massachusetts, Wall finished his apprenticeship at New England Conservatory in Boston, studying and performing jazz with Jaki Byard, George Russell, and Jimmy Guiffre. He was also part of the Klezmer revival scene at NEC.

After graduation, he headed to New York and, together with classmate Frank London, helped define the sound of “Jewish Jazz” with groups like Hasidic New Wave, Midrash Mishmash and later, the Ayn Sof Arkestra and Bigger Band, Shechina Big Band, Later Prophets and Zion80. He toured with the late Yosi Piamenta, the “Hasidic Hendrix,” and released several recordings playing original compositions alongside spoken word.

Wall played regularly at the original Knitting Factory locations, Tonic, the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, and the Stone, as well as making frequent tours abroad to Europe and Israel, maintaining a parallel career performing classic and mainstream jazz. 

While on the road, Wall pursued Talmudic study and was ordained as a rabbi in 2006. Prior to joining Beit Chaverim, he served as spiritual leader of the Sixth Street Community Synagogue in New York City’s East Village. 

Wall is no stranger to Eldridge Street. In the early to mid ‘90s he frequented the venue at a time when the landmark was dilapidated and only beginning to establish itself as in important cultural hub for families, hipsters, artists and religious and secular Jews.

“My relationship with the museum goes back almost 30 years, when the restoration of the Eldridge Street Synagogue was the dream of a few determined, hard-working individuals,” Wall said. “They never forgot their roots, and simultaneously became an important national cultural icon, while continuing to serve the folks in the neighborhood. It’s my kind of place.”

The synagogue building was built in 1887 but was nearly lost due to neglect before a comprehensive restoration that was completed in 2007. Today the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a New York City landmark, and continues to be a Lower East Side cultural hub.

In the early days, it was one of several local venues at which Wall built a name for himself as a gifted, genre-bending tenor saxophonist with strong improvisational skills and interest in diverse musical styles.

In 2009, Wall was appointed rabbi at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue in the East Village and continued to exhibit his particular blend of spirituality and avant-garde music with regular performances in the temple’s sanctuary. He was the founding artistic director of the synagogue’s Center for Jewish Arts and Literacy, which was an incubator for cutting-edge modern music with a Jewish flavor. That practice continued when Wall became rabbi at Beit Chaverim, where he’s continued to perform regularly his eclectic mix of classical and experimental jazz, Eastern European and African American roots music with a rotating group of influential musicians.

Wall’s latest release is “The Book Beri’ah” with Zion80, on the Tzadik record label of legendary producer John Zorn. A live recording with jazz pianist Andy LaVerne is scheduled for January, 2020.

The Eldridge Street Synagogue is the first great house of worship built in America by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Today, it is the only remaining marker of the great wave of Jewish migration to the Lower East Side that is open to a broad public who wish to visit Jewish New York. Exhibits, tours, cultural events and educational programs tell the story of Jewish immigrant life, explore architecture and historic preservation, inspire reflection on cultural continuity, and foster collaboration and exchange between people of all faiths, heritages and interests.

Rabbi Greg Wall will perform in concert at the Museum at Eldridge Street, Sunday, Dec. 1, 3 – 4:30 p.m. The museum is loca ted at 12 Eldridge St. in New York City. Tickets: $36/adults; $28/students and seniors; $50/includes pre-show reception and signed CD. For more information: www.eldridgestreet.org/events.

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