Artists on Artists: Mark Rubin, Jew of Oklahoma

Gordon Haber

Oklahoma-born and Texas-reared, multi-instrumentalist Mark Rubin, “The Jew of Oklahoma,” is an unabashed Southern Jew. In albums like Songs for the Hangman’s Daughter (2018) and The Triumph of Assimilation (2021), Rubin fuses deeply American musical influences with deeply Jewish themes. His credits include collaborations with Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars, The Other Europeans, and Andy Statman, as well as two decades on faculty at KlezKamp. Today, he lives and makes music in New Orleans, working at the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience. Marking the release of The Triumph of Assimilation, Rubin shared the inspirations behind his ferocious musicianship: “this eclectic array of Jewish artists continue to amaze and inspire my work with their skill and creativity.”


Dan Blacksberg: Musician, Educator

The trombone was a forgotten voice in klezmer before Dan Blacksburg reinvigorated it, studying with some of the greatest masters of Yiddish music just before they left us. The Philly native plows Hasidic punk-metal with Electric Simcha and Deveykus, free-jazz explorations with guitarist Nick Millevoi, and is a stalwart on the bandstands of the American Yiddish Renaissance—check out this collaboration with clarinetist Michael Winograd. He’s also an educator and organizer and the resident musician at Kol Tzedek Synagogue Philadelphia. Finally, he hosts the Radiant Others podcast, interviewing the greatest lights of Yiddish culture. Dan accomplishes all of this with a level of grace and wisdom that I strive for in my own work.

Phil Blank: Painter

If only my music was as haunted by history and weighted by culture as Phil Blank’s visual art. I first became aware of his work when he illustrated a CD cover for Veretski Pass (an amazing group). As an illustrator he’s got stories to tell, but almost always with context wrapped within context. His subject matter is always interesting, his images always evocative. Unsurprisingly, he’s also a musician who made early experiments melding Yiddish melody with American folk traditions on the guitar.


Jerron Paxton: Songster, Cultural Interpreter

The brilliantly gifted Jerron Paxton is an LA-born, NYC-based songster, archivist, and multi-instrumentalist. He has released only five recordings, that’s just five tunes, thus far. Although he has a Facebook page, there is no website (although he’s already been in the Compendium). Your best bet is to find him on YouTube or on a festival stage, so you can experience this once-in-a-generation musician sing and play banjo, guitar, fiddle, harmonica, and piano. Jerron has mastered American “folk” music in its many forms, while reminding us its Black roots. A consummate entertainer, Paxton uses his platform to challenge outdated narratives of Black Culture—an example I follow with my own culture. (I promised I would never tell, but he sings in Yiddish too.) 


Aaron Jonah Lewis: Musician, Scholar

A nice Jewish boy from Detroit, Aaron Jonah Lewis devoted himself whole cloth to the classical banjo, for which there was a rich era of composition in the late 1800s. Aaron introduced me to his new passion in New Orleans by playing several rags on the five-string banjo. It was entrancing. A ferocious violinist, he has now devoted himself entirely to the banjo, to the detriment of a more lucrative career as a sideman. But when you hear Lewis’s interpretations of rags, marches, and other parlor music of the age, you will glad for his sacrifice. Start with his thoroughly researched and deftly performed Mozart of the Banjo: The Joe Morley Project. He’s currently working on an ambitious project involving a 20-piece orchestra. I am in awe of his bravery and dedication. (Photo: Nick Sinclair.)


Sasha Lurje: Singer, Educator, Organizer

If anyone’s asking me, Sasha Lurje is finest living Yiddish singer. Latvia-born, Berlin-based, Lurje is at the leading edge of the Yiddish Cultural Renaissance. Though firmly rooted in tradition, she brings Yiddish music kicking and screaming into the now, along with her musical partner Ilya Shneyveys in the group Forshpil. She also lends her voice to the all-star Semer Ensemble, the exploration of musical interactions between Jews and their neighbors Goyfriend, and her dance band You Shouldn’t Know From It. She is a frequent instructor at Yiddish conferences and events on three continents.

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