Year-Round Sound–Well-known musicians in the Berkshire
Contrary to public opinion, you don’t have to wait for summer to experience live musical performances in the Berkshires. Those who stay put in the county come winter through Memorial Day are fortunate to have an abundance of musical talent in our midst, providing inspiration, entertainment—and tremendous variety—all year round. And many of those musicians who play at various venues in this area are natives, or have lived here for many years. All have a passion for sharing their love of music with their neighbors and have formed a loose network among themselves, sometimes crossing genres and playing together.
Paul Green (above left) began music lessons at age eight. His orchestra teacher wanted him to play the viola, but Paul fell in love with the mellow sounds of the clarinet. He proved to be so good that his clarinet teacher, Leon Russianoff, introduced him to famed conductor Leonard Bernstein. That introduction led to an invitation, at the ripe old age of 13, to play in a Young People’s Concert with the New York Philharmonic. By the time Paul was 16, he was performing internationally at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. At 17, he won the prestigious Young Concert Artists International Auditions.
After receiving his BA in music from Yale, Paul went on to earn an MS in performance from the Juilliard School of Music and then to solo with a series of orchestras. But when he was offered a most prestigious position as co-principal clarinetist with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, he decided not to take it. He left music to study law at Brooklyn Law School. He excelled there as well, and after graduating cum laude, he practiced law at prominent New York firms and taught at Brooklyn Law.
But music called him back and Paul returned to his first love. It was only a matter of time before he and his wife, Lisa, moved to Pittsfield, where, since 2013, he has filled his life with music, from teaching at Williams College to performing at Tanglewood. And Paul didn’t waste any time getting involved in the community. With a goal of “bringing local musicians into the forefront of community,” he organized the Berkshire Jewish Musicians Collective at Congregation Knesset Israel.
“It’s important to give a venue to local people who play,” he says. His latest professional effort is his band Two Worlds, a “serious attempt to really be interdisciplinary between the worlds of jazz and Jewish music.”
The group is made up entirely of Berkshire-based musicians: pianist Benny Kohn, guitarist Jason Ennis, bassist Dana Broad, saxophonist Charlie Tokarz, and drummer Pete Sweeney. A Bissel Rhythm, their latest CD, has been named one of the best jazz albums of 2019 by The Chicago Tribune. Released last year by Big Round Records/PARMA Recordings, the album features Paul’s original compositions and marks the group’s second recorded exploration into the fusion of jazz and Jewish music.
Another Berkshire-based musician with whom Paul has performed is Ladino singer Sarah Aroeste (above), of Alford. The two have joined forces to bring both Ladino and Yiddish klezmer to audiences. Like Paul, Sarah is a classically trained musician and a transplant to the area. A native of Princeton, New Jersey, she originally intended to focus on opera while studying at Westminster Choir College and Yale University. Then she spent a summer at the Israel Vocal Arts Institute in Tel Aviv. Once there, she was assigned to study with vocal coach Nico Castel, a prominent Ladino singer and Metropolitan Opera diction coach who just happened to share Sarah’s Sephardic background.
“I was drawn to the music of my Sephardic ancestors,” she explains, and the two bonded over that heritage.
Upon returning to the States, she began to incorporate classical Ladino songs into her repertoire, ultimately deciding that the genre was her passion. She’s never turned back. Today, Sarah performs both classical Ladino music as well as her own compositions to audiences around the globe, from Milwaukee to the Mediterranean.
Sarah is now launching a very personal undertaking, what she calls The Monastir Project. She will record an album of Macedonian Jewish music—half in Israel and the other half in Macedonia, the birthplace of her grandfather. But she always comes back to the Berkshires, where she first came as a child with her parents. “I choose to live in the Berkshires because that’s where I find the creative energy I need.”
Like Paul, Sarah likes to work with locally based musicians, and one of them she learned about through the music network is Great Barrington’s own Rob Sanzone (photo above on right.) The two have performed in venues ranging from Yidstock in Amherst to Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Born in New York and raised in Great Barrington, Rob took up the guitar at the age of 11, inspired by his idols Guns N’ Roses and Van Halen. He is now a multi-instrumentalist, playing mandolin, dobro, bass clarinet, bass, and drums. He has played with many and diverse bands, including with New Haven’s award-winning hard-rock band Gargantua Soul, and has recorded his own solo acoustic material.
These days, Rob plays mandolin and dobro with the bluegrass rock band The Picky Bastards; guitar with a hybrid funk-reggae-jazz-surf group The Transmitters; and guitar with Four Sticks. He also works as a session musician for both studio and stage performances around New England. In addition to being on stage, Rob teaches performance, songwriting, music theory, music history, recording, and live sound engineering at Miss Hall’s School, as well as private and group music lessons at his studio, Mass Music Lab.
Among the many ways he brings music to the area is as the director of the Berkshire Ukulele Band. You can find him every Tuesday evening at the Berkshire South Community Center in Great Barrington, teaching a group of about 30 people instrument technique, chord charts, chord progressions, and songs from many musical genres.
Whether you are in the mood for classical, jazz, blues, Ladino, rock, klezmer, or bluegrass, there’s no need to stray far. Seek and you will find. All year round.
Follow Sarah Aroeste at saraharoeste.com as she travels to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Macedonia in March.