Assaf Gleizner has co-created several shows that have premiered at FST with The Swingaroos, the Swing-era territory band that he started with vocalist Kimberly Hawkey. Now, he is back to highlight the greatest hits of the 1920s-1960s with an all-new show, Jukebox Saturday Night.
We sat down with Assaf to learn more about personal connection to music, how he decided to become a musician, and about music’s legacy in the his latest Cabaret creation.
You are not only a Music Director and Cabaret creator, but you are also a pianist. When did you first encounter the piano? And what inspired you to continue to play it, going on to become a professional musician and composer?
I started learning piano when I was four. According to my mom, when I was three-and-a-half years old, I picked up a melodica and played “Happy Birthday” from memory. My mom then decided to send me to a piano teacher. I composed my first jazz song when I was 10-years-old. It was a simple blues song, and I didn’t even realize at the time what the word “composition” meant.
I just thought, “There isn’t a song like this one, and I want there to be one, so I’ll just write it!” To this day, I think to this is how I see composition. It usually comes from a place of “what I wish I could hear” or “what genre of music I wish we had more of.”
You have been working closely with Kimberly on developing various shows for FST audiences as well as other theatres. How does that process work?
Working with Kimberly is one of my favorite types of collaboration. We are on the same page regarding a lot of things and complete each other. The most important thing we always ask ourselves before developing a show is “Why?” Why are we writing this show? Why would people be interested in it? Why hasn’t this topic/show been discussed before? Once we get these questions answered, the show pretty much writes itself. I also love our collaboration because we share a similar sense of humor. We love to entertain and make people happy, and that’s usually what motivates us to create more shows like Jukebox Saturday Night.
Which song in the show do you most enjoy performing and why?
There are so many great choices and each song has a different quality, so it’s hard to choose. I think I’m going to go with “Hound Dog.” We do a less familiar version of that song by Big Mama Thornton, which has a strong New Orleans vibe to it. I love discovering different versions of songs that I am so used to hearing. It keeps things so fresh!
What does the jukebox mean to you? Do you see the jukebox as a sort-of “instrument of the people” at all?
It is telling that someone saw such a need for a special machine to play music so other people would get to play their favorite songs when they’re out and about. It shows how important music is in people’s lives and reminds me of how fortunate we are to be able to perform it.
What does this music mean to you? Why do you think it has such lasting power?
As an Israeli growing up on American music and culture, this music represented American culture more than any other. Whether it was referenced in Israeli films and songs, or just played on the radio a lot, the music highlighted in Jukebox Saturday Night is what I considered the core of American music through most of my youth.