arts & entertainment
Josh Nelson of
the Josh Nelson
Project: "I want
to write music
that moves people
and gives them
points of access
where they can
Meet Josh Nelson
the modern Jewish rock version.
close and well versed in both of our rep-
Nelson, who knows the rabbi through
participation in activities planned by
hree entertainers with the name
the Reform movement and the North
Josh Nelson — one known for
contemporary Jewish rock, anoth- American Federation for Temple Youth
(NFTY), will introduce songs from Lift, the
er for marrying Jewish liturgical lyrics
title track remaining his favorite.
with African-American gospel style and
"That song is about overcoming
the third heard on jazz piano — can find
struggles," he says. "It's about the process
promotion of their appearances confusing
of leaning on a person's relationship with
for potential audiences unless there's a
God in times when things can seem hope-
picture of them accompanying the words.
Just ask the Josh Nelson slated to perform less and feelings express great angst.
"I want to write music that moves peo-
at 25 Live!, a concert to celebrate the silver
ple and gives them points of access where
anniversary of Rabbi Norman Roman at
they can find spiritual connection. Pretty
West Bloomfield's Temple Kol Ami.
much everything I do has to address that
That Josh Nelson, of the Josh Nelson
set of guidelines."
Project, is friendly with both namesakes as
Nelson, who grew up in Massachusetts
well as the rabbi being honored May 1 at
the Berman Center for the Performing Arts. and now lives in New York, began taking
piano lessons at age 6, moved on to guitar
There are new initiatives that set apart
at 8 and tried drums and double bass as
the Josh Nelson soon appearing in West
he entered his teenage years.
Bloomfield. These include his recording
"I actually began playing in clubs when
(Lift), composing work for the stage ver-
I was 13',' he says. "I was in high school
sion of Sleepless in Seattle and his nearly
bands for a couple of years playing mallet
completed dissertation on vocalese, a
instruments, but I was mostly recognized
1950s jazz style.
as a singer. I studied classical voice and
"The three Josh Nelsons have a funny
opera when I was younger and became
little club:' says the multi-instrumentalist
fairly sure that's what I wanted to do.
singer-songwriter, 33, who will be joined
"As I was studying opera during the day,
by Craig Taubman at the anniversary con-
I was writing and performing secular and
cert."We're all around the same age and
popular music at night. I found that to
get calls for one another."
more creative for my personality and
Nelson's visit to Michigan demonstrates
that I felt fulfilled a lot of dif-
yet another friendship as he shares the
of my life."
stage with Taubman, a frequent enter-
studies were at Boston
tainer at local Jewish events and producer
Nelson has taught.
of recordings of Jewish music. Taubman's
"My work responsibilities involved run-
most recent recording is titled Jewish
ning the jazz program for the university,'
Lullabies and includes a Nelson song.
he says. "I was heavily involved in building
"Craig and I will be playing a mixture
a vocal jazz program, which was a particu-
of both our music while working with
lar interest of mine. My research in music
instrumentalists from both of our bands:'
education and my interest in that field
Nelson says. "Because Craig and I have
came to be a natural fit."
played together often, this group is very
Nelson says the religious focus devel-
oped without intent.
"The Jewish music just sort of hap-
pened," he explains. "It was a natural
culmination of different parts of my life.
I just started writing, experimenting and
sharing that music with friends. It slowly
turned into a career.
"I had been teaching music at a Jewish
summer camp and saw holes in music that
could be used for worship. I saw different
ways that Judaism and music could co-exist
and be refreshing and interesting to me:"
For a while, Nelson worked with his
brother, Jon, who plays bass and acoustic
guitar. They both were part of the band Yom
Hadash, but that association ended five
years ago, when Josh sought new directions.
Nelson's work on Sleepless in Seattle
came at the invitation of Michelle Citrin,
another Jewish musician and friend
approached by the show's producer, a
Citrin fan. The musical had a reading in
New York last fall and is moving ahead.
Nelson, married and the father of two
preschoolers, has another new project,
the Warehouse, a nontraditional Shabbat
initiative that's going to be piloted in New
York City Aimed at the 20-30 set, it will
feature Friday night services with a live
band and multimedia portions.
"With the amount I'm traveling right
"The three Josh Nelsons have a
funny little club," says the Josh
Nelson who will perform at the
Berman Center on May 1. "We're all
around the same age and get calls
for one another," although their
music is very different. Here, a guide
for the perplexed.
Modern Jewish rock.
Craig Taubman will share the stage with
now, my time with my family is very pre-
cious to me',' says Nelson, who grew up
in the Conservative movement and now
belongs to a Reform synagogue.
"The best way I can imagine spending a
Shabbat is being at home with my family
and taking the kids to the park.
"I feel really honored to be part of the
celebration in Michigan. Rabbi Roman and
I spent time together at camp in New York
State, where he goes each summer to teach
and I go to teach and perform. I'm also
happy to be friendly with his family."
For more on Rabbi Norman Roman and his
25-year anniversary at Temple Kol Ami, see
next week's Jewish News.
Josh Nelson and Craig Taubman
perform 7 p.m. Sunday, May 1, at the
Berman Center for the Performing
Arts at the Jewish Community
Center in West Bloomfield. Tickets:
adults $25 in advance, $36 at the
door; students $18 in advance, $25
at the door. To purchase tickets, call
(248) 661-0040 or email Cheryl@
April 21 . 2011