On Oct 20, The William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum and Neranenah, the Atlanta Jewish music organization, continued their successful partnership with a performance featuring saxophone virtuoso Eddie Barbash. The concert at the Breman Museum auditorium, located in the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta building, was a homecoming, of sorts, for Barbash who moved to Atlanta with his parents when he was two. The performance continued a well-attended series of musical performances between the two Atlanta institutions that began this summer.
The concert was a tribute to the saxophonist’s late grandfather and grandmother, Murray and Lillian Barbash, who were prominent patrons of the arts on Long Island, where Barbash was born. His grandfather’s success as a suburban real estate developer fueled his grandmother’s interest in everything musical.
When Lillian Barbash died two years ago at the age of 92, she was called Long Island’s “First Lady of the Arts.” During the 31 years she headed Long Island’s Islip Arts Council, she built it into a world-class sponsor of classical music concerts. As a patron of the arts, she once commissioned an original work for famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in music.
Eddie Barbash remembers the many summers he spent soaking up all the performances they attended together.
“My grandmother loved the opera. And I would get to go see the New York Philharmonic. Her crowning achievement was every summer, she managed to raise enough money so that she could bring the New York Philharmonic to play a free concert in a state park on Long Island,” Eddie recalled.
During his program at The Breman auditorium, Lillian’s grandson, Eddie, drew, in part, on a selection of songs that he recorded last year, “For Murray and Lillian,” which reflect both his and his grandparents’ wide taste in musical styles. There was everything on the recording from jazz to mariachi. There were selections from composers as diverse as the classical Vincenzo Bellini to the Hispanic Pedro Infante to the popular Cole Porter.
In a conversation before his Atlanta performance, Eddie Barbash, who played with the award-winning string ensemble, the KASA Quartet, pointed out that there is a long history of saxophones and strings in American music.
“There’s a great tradition of jazz instrumentalists playing with strings. I try to channel that sensibility and playing these songs that I love. I also try to do a little more than what a singer would be capable of doing.”
As an example, Eddie Barbash points to a selection on the program from the opera, “Norma,” that was first produced in 1831. It’s a standard in the repertoire of opera companies around the world and the title role was a favorite of the great soprano Maria Callas, who recorded a famous performance in the mid-1950s.
Stars such as Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills followed up with their own interpretations. Eddie believes the unique musical range of the saxophone allows for an interpretation that even those great voices from the past were able to attain.
“So, I can do things where I hit the highs of the soprano register and then suddenly swoop down low and can play something sort of unexpectedly sultry and low and breathy. There’s quite a contrast. A singer would have a really tough time achieving the arias that we like to do.”
Eddie Barbash has come quite far from the time he picked up his first saxophone when he was a third grader in Morningside Elementary School. He was particularly impressed, at the time, with a poster that showed all the famous instrumentalists who had also adopted the horn. He counts them today as his personal heroes, particularly Johnny Hodges from the Duke Ellington orchestra and Coleman Hawkins.
After his bar mitzvah at The Temple, Eddie attended the North Carolina School of the Arts and studied at the Juilliard School in New York. At 19, he joined the famous jazz drummer Chico Hamilton’s group in its final years. For a year and a half, he was part of Jon Batiste’s house band for Stephen Colbert’s Late Show on CBS.
But while he credits the television experience as a great learning opportunity, he found the production schedule didn’t give him enough time to pursue his own eclectic musical interests. As Eddie Barbash remembers it, though, the nightly TV show gave his grandmother an opportunity every night to enjoy her grandson’s musical success just before bedtime. According to the saxophonist, she took special pride in his appearances.
“It’s like this line from the Broadway production of ‘The Music Man.’ She would say, ‘that’s my boy, that’s my Eddie.’”
- Then & Now
- Bob Bahr
- William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum
- Eddie Barbash
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- Murray and Lillian Barbash
- First Lady of the Arts
- Yo-Yo Ma
- pulitzer prize
- New York Philharmonic
- For Murray and Lillian
- Vincenzo Bellini
- Pedro Infante
- Cole Porter
- KASA Quartet
- Maria Callas
- Joan Sutherland
- Beverly Sills
- Morningside Elementary School
- Johnny Hodges
- Duke Ellington
- The Temple
- North Carolina School of the Arts
- Juilliard School
- Stephen Colbert’s Late Show