Over the weekend I just sat mesmer-
ized listening. I didn't totally get it. But I
knew that something was going on, and
that it was sophisticated but also playful.
JN: You grew up in Encino, Calif., then
moved to San Francisco as an adult. At
some point, you made the move to
New York. What prompted that?
AL: San Francisco is a really great place.
But if you're interested in ja77, New York
is the place to go. I broke my lease, sold
everything except my guitar and amp,
and took an Amtrak to New York City.
I arrived in New York in November
1995. I hated it right off the bat [and
even moved back to California a few
times]. My idea of New York was this
romanticized idea of New York in the
'40s or '50s. My second thought was,
"Maybe it'll be like a Woody Allen
intersect with your musicianship?
AL: I grew up with Jewishness not being
talked about much except on High
Holidays. I got a private tutor just so I
could learn enough Hebrew to get
through [my] bar mitzvah.
Now, in New York, [in] the down-
town New York jazz scene, the Jewish
factor is inescapable. John Zorn —
who's the king of that scene — its a
huge part of what he does.
I almost feel unqualified at times I'm
embarrassed to say. John Zorn knows so
much about Jewish history, mysticism
and culture. I feel like, gosh, I'm just
scratching the surface.
I've played in a klezmer band with
David Krakauer, a great clarinetist, and
I've played with Jenny Scheinman (The
Rabbi's Lover — Tzadik; 2002).
It's part of what I do, but I almost
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JN: Was your upbringing religious?
AL: Actually, I grew up pretty secular.
We didn't belong to a synagogue. My
family, to be honest, tried to blend in.
My grandfather's name was Bernard
Weissman. But the [Hollywood] pro-
ducers thought his name sounded too
ethnic. He changed it to George Wyle,
which sounds really generic. His parents
came over from Romania at the turn of
When I was living on the Lower East
Side of [Manhattan], I saw this
Romanian Orthodox temple that's been
there since 1898. I wondered whether
my great-grandparents went there. But
[I've been told] they didn't do anything
religious at all. I didn't understand then
why that would be. I guess I sort of
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movie." It wasn't.
But it's cool to have more of a mixed
culture. First of all, there are Jews here.
Wow. You can see these old shuts that are
a 100 years old. San Francisco, by com-
parison, seems homogenous.
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Levy released a solo CD
think that the Jewishness in my music
— at least in a direct way — is more
influenced by Irving Berlin. I love songs
from the great American songbook.
Most of the show tunes we all know
and love were written by American Jews.
That's in my artistry more so than tradi-
tional [Jewish] music. It's weird.
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JN: It's probably not all that weird.
AL: You're right. So many of the great
American composers all the way up
through Burt Bacharach and Carole
King were Jewish — going all the way
back to Tin Pan Alley through the Brill
You could debate whether that's
Jewish music, but I think it is. They're
Jews and they make music. What more
do you want?
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JN: How does your Jewish background
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