biting fish

A New Year

I didn't think about it unitl I thought about it, but 2013 was an extraordinary year for me and my music, if only for the number of different projects I had the opportunity to work on and present. 

Some highlights:

* My Biting Fish Brass Band toured Europe for the first time, playing to big crowds in Estonia and Finland. Here's a clip of our headlining gig on the Mainstage at Augustibluus Fest in Happsalu.

Onstage in Estonia * No Further Instructions was programmed at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, and at the Jewish Museum in NYC. Both concerts featured my 11-piece "Romanian Orchestra," and Mike Benanav reading from his book and showing his photos from our trip abroad.


The Orchestra after the Jewish Museum show

* "A Star Has Burnt My Eye," my music-theater-documentary piece about Connie Converse, continued its development, with workshop performances at the Rattlestick Theater and Joe's Pub in NYC. Director Sarah Hughes (Elevator Repair Service) has joined the team as Director of the project.


At Joe's Pub

* My Basement Tapes Project hit the road again this fall, presented by Mercyhurst Institute in Erie, PA.

Mazz, Bean, Me, Scott and Nathan, backstage in Erie

* I produced Connie's Piano Songs, the first-ever recordings of Connie Converse's art songs, featuring the recording debuts of soprano Charlotte Mundy and pianist Christopher Goddard (Release date: 2/14/14).

Connie Converse

* Peculiar Works Project in NYC commissioned me to compose a score for their multimedia theater piece MANNA-HATA, most of it performed in the show entirely acapella by the large cast in the gigantic, mostly-abandoned spaces inside the Penn Station Post Office.

* Howard Fishman Quartet was a recurring feature in Cynthia Von Buhler's Speakeasy Dollhouse in NYC.


* And non project-specific, regular old Howard Fishman tour dates in 2013 included stops in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Upstate NY, New Orleans, Estonia, Latvia and, of course, NYC and Brooklyn.



I'm generally not one for gazing into the rearview mirror, but sometimes it can be useful to track progress and, more importantly, to express gratitude -- to the presenters who made these things happen; to my unbelievable circle of collaborators/musicians who help make my ideas manifest so beautifully; to you for showing up and showing interest in the various things I do; and to the universe for continuing to allow me opportunities to pursue and explore my various interests and passions.

Thank you. Looking forward to seeing you in 2014.

Photo by Carole Cohen

Radegast Does The Right Thing

Radegast Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is not a music venue, per se.  It's a beer garden and restaurant that also happens to feature live music two or three times a week.  There is no cover charge for the music, and the place is most certainly not a concert setting; the house does not own a sound system and -- despite the cavernous environs -- there isn't really much room to actually sit and watch a band there, unless you're lucky enough to snag one of the dozen or so stools at the bar (there is, however, some room for dancing, which is not only allowed, but encouraged).   The music is not the featured attraction for patrons; it's there to provide atmosphere while you sit and drink artisinal beer and eat delicious food (more on that in a moment).

Given the above, it may come as a surprise that not only do I perform here once a month, but it has actually become one of my favorite gigs in town.

I've been playing here with some aggregation of my Biting Fish band, under the radar, for the last year or so -- usually on a Wednesday or a Thursday night. We do three sets, with short breaks, from 9pm until midnight.  Recently, these practically anonymous neighborhood hits in this unassuming neighborhood spot have been a forum for some of the most exciting, adventurous music I've been privileged to be a part of in a good long time.  In fact, a few weeks ago, on a night when the band included Skye Steele on violin, Scott Barkan on guitar, Kenny Bentley on tuba and Dave Berger on drums, the music reached such heights of expression and bravery that, at times,  I was nearly moved to tears.  It happened again just the other nightwith the same band, minus Skye and plus Andrae Murchison on trombone. 

I've been ruminating a bit about why this is, and I think I can safely identify at least one key reason.  I think, like most things, it starts at the top.  I've known Ivan Kohut, the kindly owner, for over a decade now, since the days when he worked the Arts Nights at Europa Club in Greenpoint, presented by the sadly now-defunct New York Arts and Innovations, a terrific organization headed by Marian Zak and his family.  Ivan still likes to remind me of the time that Mr. Zak honored my quartet by having us play a party for the then-President of Poland. 

Ivan is a man of great integrity and good business sense.  He treats the musicians who play at Radegast with respect, it contributes to the quality of the music. Ivan could probably get some schlubs to come in and play for tips if he wanted to.  He could opt not to feed the musicians and/or make them pay for their drinks.  After all, he's running an eating and drinking establishment, not a music venue.

Ivan could also dumb down his food menu.  Have you ever eaten at Radegast?  "A beer hall??", you may aslk.  Let me tell you something -- the food at Radegast is outrageously good, way better than it needs to be.  The menu changes regularly, the chefs in the kitchen use fresh, delicious ingredients creatively (right now they have a winter squash gnocchi that matches anything I've eaten at much spendier, foodie-obsessive joints in the city, and a vegetarian hot borscht that is equally out of this world).

So, yes, could Ivan be forgiven if he chose to lavish less care and attention on the food being offered to people who -- let's face it -- are going to his place to drink beer?  Sure he could.  Could he be forgiven for not paying much mind to the quality of entertainment he's providing for free to the same beer-drinking crew who -- let's face it -- aren't even really there to hear music in the first place? Of course he could.  But he doesn't, and that's what makes him special as a venue owner, and what makes Radegast the delightful, exceptional surprise that it is.

There are beloved music venues in NYC that do not treat their musicians half as well as Ivan treats the people who perform at Radegast.  Those venues shall remain nameless, but Radegast deserves to be named.  If you're local, I urge you to come out and support what's going on here. As of now, I'm there once a month, but I'm starting to wish it were even more often than that. My next Radegast "show" is on Thursday, February 16. Come on over -- you'l be glad you did!

 Photos by Rod Bachar