Celebrating Jewish Brill-iance

An educational and enchanting evening of song planned at the Rady JCC

Carole King (left) and Paul Simon are two of the many iconic Jewish songwriters who worked in New York’s Brill Building.

Supplied photo

If Neil Diamond, Carole King, Paul Simon and Phil Spector were all in one building for an evening, the event would almost certainly be standing-room only. That is, if the building were a concert venue. But the illustrious artists listed above did coexist in the same space for years with each other.

The historic Brill Building, located at 1619 Broadway in Manhattan, was for years synonymous with American pop-music excellence. Housing many music labels and companies during the mid-20th century, many of the productions that resulted from creatives working there could fill up most of a sequel to The Great American Songbook.

That’s exactly what’s being celebrated this Oct. 28 at the Rady JCC’s Tarbut: Festival of Jewish Culture’s finale concert, called Songs from the Brill Building: A Jewish Connection.

“It was an amazing place, because on different floors of the building, you had people running on different floors, handing in music, handing in lyrics, handing in a combination of both,” Karla Berbrayer, music producer for the Tarbut: Festival of Jewish Culture, says.

For the closing event of the Tarbut festival, an all-Manitoban band of musicians will take the audience through some of pop’s most enduring tunes – all of which have a Jewish connection.

“It’s also an interesting fact that many of those composers, musicians and singerswere Jewish. There’s a strong Jewish connection to the Brill Building, so I thought it would be appropriate to feature this kind of a performance during the Tarbut festival,” Berbrayer says.

The idea for the event evolved from a preview of sorts earlier this year after Berbrayer initially conceived of the idea for a Brill Building show without the connection to Judaism.

“I got the idea, and then I picked up the phone and thought, who can I throw this to? And so my call went out to Phil Corrin. I’ve handed the baton to Phil to make the concert work,” Berbrayer says.

“(Berbrayer and I) actually did a shorter version of this as part of an afternoon concert series last spring,” Phil Corrin, designated bandleader of the concert, says.

He selected many of the musicians from his experiences with various Winnipeg theatre companies.

“The concert sold out, and it wasn’t specifically a Jewish cultural event back then. We realized there were so many Jewish artists who came up in the course of our research for the concert, (and) we thought it would be a perfect fit to close out this Tarbut festival,” he says.

Over the course of the evening, listeners will be given crash courses in the Brill Building’s storied history in between the musical numbers, complete with photos.

“Whenever I put together a show, in this type of concept, I try to make sure there is an educational component to it. Phil will be, throughout the show talking and giving anecdotes of the connections between these songs and the musicians,” Berbrayer says.

“Every song has a Jewish connection of some kind. We’re definitely going to explore that and let the audience in on the Jewish history of the building,” Corrin says.

For the people involved, the preparation has proven to be an informative experience, as well.

“It’s been really fun putting it together, because I’ve learned a lot myself about the Jewish performers that I didn’t even know were Jewish. It’s been an educational experience even for myself,” Corrin says.

Songs from the Brill Building: The Jewish Connection plays Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. at the Rady Jewish Community Centre (123 Doncaster St.). Tickets can be purchased at radyjcc.net/ticketcentral.cfm.

Published in Volume 78, Number 07 of The Uniter (October 26, 2023)

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