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Noam Lemish – Jazz Pianist, Composer, Improvisor, Educator

Becoming a professional musician was a family tradition

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Rebirth is a composition by pianist-composer Noam Lemish from his new album, Twelve that you can watch here. (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

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World-class Jazz pianist, composer, improvisor and educator Noam Lemish is back on stage.  

Even though the Covid pandemic isn’t over, he and other notable musicians have eagerly embraced a return to live performances.

At Toronto concerts during February 2023, fans were treated to a Juno Artist Appreciation session where the Amos Hoffman and Noam Lemish Quartet performed their special inspirational blend of jazz and Jewish folk music tunes. Musicians rounding out the Quartet included Andrew Downing on bass and drummer Ethan Ardelli. 

Special guests joining the foursome were clarinetist Jacob Gorzhaltsan and cellist Beth Silver. Add gigs at the Jazz Room in Waterloo, ON and at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Plus the busy group just completed four nights at Toronto jazz haunt, The Rex.

I recently attended Lemish’s 12-tet debut album premiere at York University. 

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His 12-tet is a who’s who of Greater Toronto Area musicians in a jazz orchestra directed by his long-time mentor and musical director/conductor Terry Promane.  Allison Au played alto sax, William Carn and Karl Silveira on trombones, trumpeters Kevin Turcotte and Jim Lewis, bassist Andrew Downing, Mark Duggan playing the vibraphone, drummer Derek Gray, Mike Murley and Kelly Jefferson, both on tenor sax and soprano sax, guitarist Ted Quinlan, vocalist Laura Swankey with composer Lemish on the piano.

Lemish told me “People assume I am Israeli born. Not so. I am US-born (May 3, 1982) when my parents were completing their doctorates at Ohio State. We returned to Israel when I was 18 months old.” His parents are American born-Peter and Israeli born-Dafna (nee Barkai) with German-Romanian-Ukrainian-Lithuanian Jewish family roots. 

“Our heritage is tied to music when several family members immigrated to the States and were involved in the development of klezmer and Yiddish theatre in the Philadelphia area. Becoming a professional musician was the Lemish trade for centuries in Europe and the US,” he said. “For example, Montreal-based klezmer trombonist (originally from Philadelphia, now Israel) Rachel Lemisch of the musical group Shtreiml is probably a distant relative. No other immediate family members are professional musicians, yet we are very music oriented.”

Since 2010, Lemish has lived in Toronto. Canadian citizenship is on the horizon. He’s a full-time professor at York University’s Department of Music and affiliated Faculty at York’s Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies. He earned his Master’s and Doctorate at the University of Toronto teaching there part-time until 2020.

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Lemish explained, “My musical vocabulary and my affinity for lyricism and my harmonic vocabulary have been shaped by the songs I grew up with in Israel – specifically the pop music of the 1980s and early 1990s by composers/songwriters like Sasha Argov, Matti Caspi and Yoni Rechter, and the songs we sang in school, belonging to the Shirei Eretz Israel canon. These influences left a mark initially unconsciously and later when I was living in the US during my 20s, I became more consciously interested in this music from my childhood.”

Another of his influences came from his long-time collaboration with Amos Hoffman, the notable Israeli jazz guitarist and oudist. 

“We work together to create jazz arrangements of melodies derived from various Jewish communities in the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe. That has definitely deeply influenced my music more broadly, even beyond our own collaborative efforts.” In late 2023, they’ll release a new album Red Sky, with teaching and other initiatives on the 2024 horizon for Lemish.

He is part of a wave of Israeli jazz musicians who over the past 20 years have invigorated the North American jazz scene.  In 2002, he settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, studying at Sonoma State and becoming a North Bay jazz scene mainstay. Learning from musical elders – pianist/composer Will Johnson, drummer/composer George Marsh and pianist/composer W.A. Mathieu, he also studied with bassist Mel Graves and classical pianist Marilyn Thompson. His bio notes he has “performed with heavyweight improvisors such as Sheila Jordan, John Handy, James Newton, Billy Hart, Julian Lage, and Dayna Stephens.”

His discography is impressive. Since 2008, Lemish has released nine  albums with various collaborators including Hoffman, Johnson, bassist Jim Kerwin, Marsh, and Mathieu – with sideman gigs on other artists’ albums.

He continues to play concerts and festivals around the world. Looking back, there is a curiously noteworthy gig which was a commissioned performance of his original suite celebrating the King of Bhutan’s 30th birthday. This was a cross-cultural suite for traditional Bhutanese instruments and piano. 

Lemish explained that recording, The People’s King, “happened in Thimphu with an ensemble of Bhutanese musicians playing traditional instruments including the dramnyen (lute), pchewang (two-stringed bowed cello), yangchen (zither) and lim (flute).  The piece also  incorporates the Amitayus mantra of Limitless Life chanted by the young monks of the Dechen Phodrang Monastery.” 

Needless to say, the King was pleased.

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com, the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communication, a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary. David is also the author of UNDER THE RADAR- 30 NOTABLE CANADIAN JEWISH MUSICIANS undertheradarbook.com – Available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com (Print and Kindle) and selected bookstores.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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