Common Ground: A Celebration of Jazz and Jewish Music with Wanda Houston and Paul Green

Benefit Concert for Clinton Church Restoration to be held at Hevreh on June 9

GREAT BARRINGTON (May 16, 2019) — In a benefit concert for Clinton Church Restoration, renowned jazz singer Wanda Houston and clarinetist Paul Green will present a program that fuses jazz and Jewish music and reflects the longstanding fellowship between the African American and Jewish communities. Common Ground: A celebration of Jazz and Jewish music with Wanda Houston and Paul Green will be held on June 9 at 7:00pm at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, located at 270 State Road in Great Barrington.

Wanda Houston

A professional vocalist who has performed throughout the U.S., Europe and Australia, and who sang at Liza Minelli’s wedding, Houston is known and loved for the repertoire of jazz, R&B, blues and standards she performs in and around the Berkshires. She grew up in Chicago, steeped in the music of the church where her mother directed the choir and in the creativity of her father’s theater company.  

Green is a Julliard-trained clarinetist grounded in the classical tradition and an expert and distinguished lecturer on Jewish music. In between classical performances (he will perform at Ozawa Hall on June 8) Green regularly performs klezmer and jazz concerts. Two of his recordings, A Bissel Rhythm (just released) and Two Worlds: Music Coming Together (2015) explore the fusion between the jazz and Jewish idioms with original compositions.

Paul Green

“The history of Black-Jewish relations in the U.S. is complicated, yet the cultures have learned and borrowed from each other,” says Green, who reached out to Clinton Church Restoration last summer to propose the benefit concert. “Jewish songwriters borrowed from jazz and blues to help create the Great American Songbook. Black jazz musicians took the Songbook and created jazz performance masterpieces. I enjoy exploring and uniting these two different worlds and what is born of their common ground of artistic passion and fervor.”

Houston is similarly attuned to the interplay of different types of music. “I love all the music of our lives,” she says. “Show tunes, country, blues, opera, jazz—it’s all related, the way we are all related.” Her longtime collaborator, Robert Kelly, who began studying ragtime, jazz and classical at the age of five and also plays with Green, will accompany the duo on piano.

The musicians are donating their time for the June 9 concert, which will benefit the nonprofit Clinton Church Restoration’s effort to restore and repurpose the historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church in downtown Great Barrington as an African American heritage site, visitor center and community space. The concert is an example of one type of programming the nonprofit hopes to present in the former church once it is restored.

Of the upcoming event, Houston adds, “Together, we reflect the long standing fellowship between the African American and Jewish communities, together we invoke the spirit of that fellowship and together we all work to further and strengthen this worthy goal.”  

Doors for the event will open at 6:30pm and the concert will begin promptly at 7pm. A reception will follow. Suggested donation: $25 per person (more if you can, less if you can’t.) For more information, please email admin@clintonchurchrestoration.org or call 413-329-8748.

Clinton Church Restoration’s work to preserve the historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church is being supported in part by an African American Civil Rights Grant from the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, and the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area. The property, which is listed in the State Register of Historic Places, has received an emergency matching grant from the Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund through the Massachusetts Historical Commission, Secretary of the Commonwealth, William Francis Galvin, Chairman. This project was also funded in part by the Citizens of Great Barrington through the Community Preservation Act.