Brothers Lazaroff use music to help heal the world

David and Jeff Lazaroff. Photo: Bill Motchan

Story & Photos by Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

Music doesn’t just entertain and uplift audiences, it also has the power to bring people together. That is the mission of David and Jeff Lazaroff.

Their band, Brothers Lazaroff, is well-known in the St. Louis area for its eclectic style. Their music is inspired by Americana, rock, jazz, soul and more. 

Their lyrics are deep and thoughtful, not unlike those of their guiding light, legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, whose presence hovers in their University City studio. On the wall next to a drum kit hangs a photo of Dylan performing with Jerry Garcia. Nearby is another photo of Dylan studying with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

The brothers embrace their Jewish culture and support the St. Louis Jewish community, but they are just as likely to be heard performing in support of worthy causes. They have played benefits for the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities, One Life-One World (prison outreach, mental illness advocacy and addiction), immigrant legal services and more. 

“They are generous with their time, their talent, their vision, and through the quiet acts of seriousness they have walked with me into, they have entered the realm of spiritual comfort and renewal,” said Rabbi James Stone Goodman, a frequent Brothers Lazaroff collaborator.

Every December for the past eight years, Goodman and the Lazaroffs have taken the stage for a holiday extravaganza known as Hanukkah Hullabaloo. It’s a rollicking good time for the brothers and their audience. Last year, the event sold out the Grandel Theatre, and proceeds benefited the Metro Theatre Company. 

Hanukkah Hullabaloo has attracted attention beyond St. Louis. In 2015, it was named “One of 8 amazing Hanukkah parties across America” by The Washington Post.

The brothers’ association with Goodman has been instrumental in their community involvement, David Lazaroff said.

“We’ve worked with him a lot since the early years of the Hullabaloo. That’s how we ended up doing a lot at CRC, and we call it the Soul Squad,” Lazaroff said, referring to Central Reform Congregation, where Goodman serves.

“Sometimes, Rabbi Goodman has asked us to perform at weddings, funerals, yahrzeits. He encouraged us to support interfaith, multicultural efforts, too, like a benefit concert we did for Bosnian war relief. It’s a real gift he’s given us, to be able to do some of these events.”

Goodman said the best things the Lazaroffs do are under the radar. They don’t seek out attention for their altruism because that’s not their motivation.

“The Lazaroff brothers are always willing to bring help to a community when the need is clean and pure,” Goodman said.

“We play a gig at [senior housing complex] Covenant Place every year before the hullabaloo,” said Jeff. “Rabbi Goodman  introduced us to that community, and it’s so amazing to do it. The people at Covenant Place are so great to be with because of the energy they have. A lot of those folks are of an age where they really understand and appreciate live music. We’ve had some pretty mystical conversations with some of them.”

The brothers’ commitment to the community and helping others is also the result of the example set by their parents, David said.

“Our parents (Neil and Pam Lazaroff) are active members of the community,” he said. “They’ve inspired us to put our efforts toward good causes that elevate those around us.”

The brothers exhibited a gift for music when they were young. Their parents didn’t play any instruments, but they made sure all three of their sons took music lessons to be well-rounded. 

There’s also some history of musical talent among the Lazaroff boys’ family. Their great aunt was an opera singer and the first person to sing with the Israeli National Symphony. Another aunt was a dance hall pianist in Detroit who played the raucous style known as barrelhouse blues. And their cousin Stuart Rosenberg, a Chicago-based music producer, has been the brothers’ primary musical mentor since they started playing together. 

One summer, Jeff traveled and left his guitar at home. David, 15 at the time, picked it up and taught himself to play. Eventually,  the brothers began singing, playing guitar and composing songs together. Along the way, they received encouragement and mentoring from their older brother Josh, who can handle a set of bongos with flair, and their cousin Stuart, who taught the brothers Klezmer music.

After graduating from college in Austin, Texas, David stayed there, and Jeff frequently visited him to continue honing their craft. Ten years ago, David moved back home, and the brothers formed their core band including Grover Stewart on drums and Teddy Brookins on bass. The brothers are quick to point out that their bandmates support their mission of giving back to the community through their music.

“The Unsung Hero award is really cool, but the other members of the band are responsible for what we’re able to do with events and bringing the community together and brotherhood and fellowship into the music,” David said. “They definitely should get credit for us receiving this honor.”

David and Jeff also give credit to and are thankful for their wives, Gayle and Julie, respectively, for the support and inspiration they bring to their music — not to mention the endless number of latkes they’ve fried over eight hullabaloos.   

The brothers are busy finalizing a new album, “Sisters and Brothers,” which will be released this summer. Brothers Lazaroff can often be found playing around St. Louis in intimate settings such as Joe’s Café and Taco Buddha in University City, and larger venues including Delmar Hall and Jazz St. Louis. But they are always looking for important issues to throw their support behind.

“They are a kind of organizing spirit around which worlds that may not intersect cooperate and thrive,” Goodman said. “Around them, African American, Jew and gentile, young and old, they have become part of a community, not an audience, a community. They are always creating new projects that connect wildly different groups of people in original ways.”

David & Jeff Lazaroff

Age: 40 (David) and 45 (Jeff)

Family: Each brother is married and has two children

Home: University City

Fun Fact: The catalyst for the Brothers Lazaroff band was their older brother, Josh, who encouraged David and Jeff to pursue music.