Imagine a young Jimi Hendrix — on his knees, face ecstatic, ragged notes flying off his shredded guitar. Now place that 17-year-old in the basement of Temple De Hirsch in 1959. Legend has it that this first public performance for the Garfield High student resulted in his getting kicked out for playing too wildly at an audition in this unlikely venue.
It might seem strange until you consider the temple’s music director. That was Samuel E. Goldfarb, the New York City musician who worked with Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. Goldfarb, a composer so prolific he was called “the father of Jewish music in America,” gave us the English version of the “Dreidel Song” and the definitive music text used in Jewish schools during the 1920s. It’s easy to imagine him opening the temple basement for music of all kinds, even raging electric guitars.
Jewish-owned businesses fed the Seattle music scene, too. Hendrix’s first guitar and jazzman Quincy Jones’s first trumpet (bought for him by his dad) came from Myers Music, opened by Julius Myers, a Romanian refugee — though Kerns Music Shop claims to have sold Jones his first horn. Opened by Jewish musician Johnny Kerns, the shop was in business for 50 years and served as a performance venue for the young Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. In 2014, the Showbox Theater renamed its lounge the Kerns Music Shop in homage to the store that was once on this site.
And of course there are the modern musicians. Saxophone player Kenny G — the G stands for Gorelick — learned to blow the shofar at Mercer Island’s Herzl-Ner Tamid. Jewish riot grrrl Carrie Brownstein was born in Seattle, and her punk indie style and blazing guitar chops made her famous in Sleater-Kinney before she retired to Portlandia (for real and in television land).
Continuing the contributions to music is Seattle-born Nissim Baruch Black, who brought his hip-hop career with him into Orthodox Judaism with tracks like “The Black Miracle” for Hanukkah. It’s not a dreidel song, but it’s easy to imagine that Samuel Goldfarb would approve.