It was a distinct honor and the oddest of pleasures to edit Harvey Pekar’s work for Jazziz magazine in the late 1990s. When I saw the film based on his life and celebrating his work, “American Splendor,” I wondered if I was part of the composite editor Harvey referred to simply as “asshole” in a scene wherein Harvey can’t find his Ornette Coleman recording, and needed to file his review. I remember well the phone call in which Harvey called me a “garden variety Jew” in a combative tone when I queried his commentary about Sephardic musical themes, in a review about a John Zorn album.
Which brings me to Paul Shapiro, a wonderful tenor saxophonist I first heard during his long tenure with the Microscopic Septet. Shapiro is a player Harvey would love; I imagine Harvey wrote about him at some point. My point of connection for all of the above is that Shapiro has a new album, “Shofarot Verses” within the Radical Jewish Culture Series of Zorn’s Tzadik label, which interprets last of three sections of the Musaf (additional) service recited on Rosh Hashanah. Here, as in his other work, Shapiro reflects the seriousness of musical purpose, natural sense of humor and essential Jewishness embodied in Harvey’s work, too.
To celebrate, there’s a comic strip in the tradition of Pekar (this was his favorite mode of communication), written by Jeff Newelt, and drawn by Joseph Remnant. (both worked with Pekar on his final graphic novel “Cleveland”).
If you’re in New York City, there’a a “Shofarot Verses” launch concert June 19, 2014 at Eldridge Street Synagogue.
And all of this gives me good excuse to pull out an short piece in memory of Harvey that I filed for Jazziz after his death, in 2010, below: Continue reading “Harvey Pekar, Paul Shapiro & Me: No Garden-Variety Jews”