Sounds of healing

Rabbi James Stone Goodman and the Brothers Lazaroff will perform work from their new CD ‘Book of Healing’ on Oct. 8 at the Kranzberg Arts Center

By Barry Gilbert, Special to the Jewish Light

St. Louis musicians David and Jeff Lazaroff are talking about the origins of the CD “Book of Healing,” a collection of original poetry by their friend Rabbi James Stone Goodman set to beats and electronic music by Capo, and mixed and produced by Brothers Lazaroff.

“The rabbi sent us (a chapbook), a file in an email, because we’d had a death in the family,” David Lazaroff says over coffee with his brother and Goodman recently at Meshuggah Cafe in the Loop. “He sent a collection of poems that he sends friends who ask him, ‘Do you have anything I can read to help me get through this?’ ”

“That’s not exactly true. Nobody ever asks for it,” the gregarious Goodman breaks in, to affectionate laughter.

Although Goodman — could there be another electric oud player in St. Louis? —jokes about how people receive his “Book of Healing” poems, “the stuff I wrote is really serious stuff.”

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“When somebody’s going through (an illness and a death), when there’s a vigil, which in my work, I come into contact with a lot. A lot of times people don’t know what to do at the bedside,” Goodman says. “I make up these little chapbooks for them, and I say, read to the person. If you don’t know what to say, read this, say this or read to yourself.

“And I never really know what happens to that stuff. I don’t know how it’s used, how it’s taken. But it feels to me like this is one thing that I can do. And in this case, it came back to me in a unique way. (Brothers Lazaroff) wanted to put this to music, and I thought, wow that’s interesting.”

David Lazaroff took the poetry that Goodman had sent him, had it printed and bound, and gave the chapbooks to members of his family.

“They’re using it a lot, and some things from this I’ve said,” Lazaroff says. “I found this really inspiring, and I got familiar with all the pieces – all about peace and finding peace in really tough situations. (Goodman) called it a Book of Healing.”

Goodman, Brothers Lazaroff and special guests will perform “Book of Healing” and discuss the work Oct. 8 at the rabbi’s inaugural monthly event, Stone’s Salon Second Tuesdays, at the Kranzberg Arts Center at Grand Center. Joining Goodman and Brothers Lazaroff will be the Mo E Trio and poet Michael Castro. Brothers Lazaroff also features the rhythm section of Teddy Brookins on bass and Grover Stewart on drums, and Mo Egeston on keyboards.

“Our idea is to bring a bunch of different people together from different places and different art forms, like poets and musicians,” says Goodman, of Congregation Neve Shalom in Creve Coeur. “(We want) to bring some performance artists together who don’t ordinarily appear together. And then to take an element of it and sit and talk about it. I might interview one of them, so that’s why we call it a salon, talking about the art form. So we can articulate what connects us from such different places and different arts.”

The Lazaroffs and Goodman first met at a wedding. But the band was working, as was the rabbi, and there was no time to talk. Later, David Lazaroff sat in with Goodman during one of the rabbi’s annual tribute shows to troubadour Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Then in the fall of 2011, the Lazaroffs asked Goodman for the name of a good klezmer band for an afterparty they were planning for Texas singer/songwriter Kinky Friedman’s Hanukkah concert that year at Off Broadway.

Goodman also had a long poem titled “Eight Nights” that he read onstage with Brothers Lazaroff, with Will Sol’s klezmer band and others backing him up. And that led to their first CD, “Eight Nights,” and what has become an annual Hanukkah Hullabaloo show, which has outgrown its original home at Off Broadway. This year’s third edition Dec. 4 will be at the midtown three-story Plush nightclub at 3224 Locust Street. The date is still being worked out.

“Book of Healing” was first performed during a house concert at the home of Goodman and his wife, Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in the Central West End.

“We had a whole bunch of people performing together, and it was really a great feel,” Goodman says. “We had some older poet friends of mine, and we had some of these young guys I play with, and we all did an evening together. And the quilt work of that evening felt so good and so rich that we wanted to bring that to another format, another venue.”

The music was informed by a mingling of arts and styles: the religious and Middle Eastern rhythms of Goodman’s poetry; the Americana and R&B textures of Brothers Lazaroff; and beats and electronica provided by St. Louis hip-hop producer Capo. But it all began with the words.

The songs/poems have various roots and inspirations, says Goodman, whose interest in and study of poetry is wide-ranging.

“Rainmakers” – which includes the line “every living thing … has an angel hovering over it who demands one thing: grow” – comes from classical Midrash, Goodman says. (Midrash is rabbinic literature that discusses and tries to explain so-called gaps in the Torah.)

The Book of Job is the source for “Deeper the Claim,” which reads in part: “My soul releases inky treasures/ Rivers of honey and butter.”

“I was influenced by Rav Kook (1865-1935), first chief rabbi of (pre-state) Israel,” Goodman says. “Not a lot of people know this, but he was a poet. He’s wonderful as a rabbi because he doesn’t write like a rabbi, he writes like a poet. He’s unusual. His material is so rich, and most of it is not translated.

“So I’ve been studying it with this fellow in Israel. And it moved me a lot. I wrote a lot of poetry based on his work and his imagery. And that piece especially is from his imagery. What I do is I Skype with this guy, he’s in Jerusalem, so we’re looking at text on screen and I’m writing poetry off screen while we’re studying. Because it’s so rich, it sparks me so much, and I wrote a ton of poetry during our sessions.

“I mean I do it wherever I am – in Yuma, Ariz., one afternoon I’m driving with my son across country, I found a McDonald’s at 2 p.m., Jerusalem midnight, I’m writing poetry in Yuma based on Rav Kook. It’s been that rich.”

Goodman has written that he feels “as if we are conjunctions. We are linking together nouns that do not frequently find their way to each other. We meet over music and poetry, story and spoken word, jazz and klezmer and hip-hop. We find we belong together.”