It has been over 40 years since Sy Kushner, along with Ben Hulkower and Jordan Penkower, released “The New Jewish Sound-The Mark 3 Orchestra and Singers Volume One”. It was to become the seminal opus-an album that was to influence the course of Jewish music for years to come. Combining New World Jewish melodies with an Old World klezmer beat, Sy, Musical Director and accordionist of the group, used the accordion, alto sax, string bass, clarinet, trombone and drums in a manner not previously heard in Jewish music. Each instrument had an equal voice in the ensemble sound while the solo quality of each instrument was also highlighted. In the field of Jewish music, Sy became known as the leading accordionist and innovator of his time. With the Mark 3, Sy concertized extensively, selling out venues such as Brooklyn College’s Whitman Hall and performing for thousands at the Shriners’ Hall in Los Angeles. The Mark 3 travelled extensively for NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth), playing concerts at conventions around the country. Sy was also the staff accordionist at the Pineview Hotel where he honed his craft during the day performing for guests.
Also during this time, Sy, as a member of the Accordion Symphony Society of New York, performed in Town Hall and in the Singer Bowl at the World’s Fair in New York. A student of Classical Accordion with Joseph Biviano, Sy, with the help of the American Accordionists’ Association, was responsible for getting commissioned works for the accordion in many college music libraries as well as The New York Public Library. Many years later Sy was to become a member of the Board of Directors of the American Accordionists’ Association, giving workshops on klezmer accordion at their conventions and meetings.
Always exploring and searching for new sounds, Sy was one of the first to introduce rock style into Jewish music. In the late sixties, he utilized electronic organ, electric guitar, electric bass, drums and alto sax, again creating a new ensemble sound in Jewish music.
Many years passed. The accordion fell into disfavor as the guitar and electronic keyboards grew in popularity. During this time, Sy was busy playing weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other parties, mainly on electronic keyboards. Then, in part attributable to Paul Simon’s Graceland album, there was a renewed interest in the accordion and in world folk music. Klezmer music became popular. Sy saw this as an opportunity to return to his first musical love, the instrument that connected him to his culture. In 1996 Sy released KlezSqueeze!, an album of early klezmer music featuring the accordion, tsimbl(hammered dulcimer) and string bass. During this period of time Sy transcribed The Klezmer Fake Book, Vol. One and Volume Two.
Sy grew up in the Bronx in a house full of Jewish music. His father was a drummer and lover of cantorial music as well as klezmer music. While growing up listening to the old 78s, Sy’s father also took him to “gigs” where he played the accordion, maracas and sang Hatikvah. Finally, when Sy turned 13 he ventured out to do his first professional gig. His uncle Sam, a gabai(sexton) at the Young Israel of Manhattan, hired Sy to perform for a synagogue function. The featured artist that night was an unknown singer-guitarist by the name of Shlomo Carlebach. The year was 1956.
Sy realized the importance of passing on tradition. Just like his father before him, Sy took his son, Aaron, with him on gigs to listen, watch, and eventually sit in with the band. Aaron went on to become a member of the Klezminors, the most popular teen klezmer band in the country. On Oct. 31, 1999, in front of a packed house at the Tonic Club in Manhattan, Sy’s band and the Klezminors performed separately, then together. Billed as, “The Klezmer Legacy: Two Generations in Harmony,” the passing on of a tradition was realized. Sy and Aaron went on to perform at another sold out performance at the Tonic billed as “Klezmer, Kushner and Son.” Aaron can also be heard on Sy’s Arise and Journeys albums. He also designed the CD covers for those albums as well as created the artwork for the “KlezSqueeze!” album.
After a lifetime of performing music composed by other people, Sy decided to devote himself to composing and recording his own works. He has composed over 200 melodies and has embarked on a project to record and share many of them with the world. His first CD of his compostions, Arise! , was released in 2008. The response was very enthusiastic and supportive. “Journeys”, released in Sept. 2009, is the second CD of music composed by Sy.
To complete the circle, and to pass the tradition on to a new generation, The Mark 3 is re-releasing their first album. Titled “The New Jewish Sound-The Mark 3 Orchestra and Singers”, the album will be available in Oct. 2009.
For more info, visit nulitemusic.com