It was born in tragedy but has become a celebration. And it’s as dependable a Jewish ritual as Chinese food on the same night, Dec. 24.
David Broza’s “Not Exactly Christmas Eve” Concert at the 92nd Street Y has become a fixture on the calendar, and the Israeli singer-songwriter has a few new wrinkles for its 17th annual occurrence, the 12th to take place at the Y.
“It started because of the Rabin assassination,” Broza said last week, speaking by telephone from his Tel Aviv home. “I was scheduled to play Town Hall that night and on the way to the show, we learned of his death. We weren’t sure what to do, but we held a vigil and I played all night. But we still had to do something for the ticket-holders, so we moved the actual concert to Christmas Eve.”
A few years later, the Y invited him to bring the event to its stage, and that’s where it’s been held ever since.
Broza is one of those musicians who feels most at home with a guitar in his hand and an audience at his feet. He plays over 200 concerts a year. That, he said, is why he treasures the Dec. 24 gig and a comparable, if more modest, New Year’s Eve event at a pub in Arad, a small town in southern Israel.
“All these years on the road, I like to have some habitual routines,” he said. “Full moon and sunrise in Masada, the Y in December and now this little pub [in Arad] in the desert. They’re little milestones I keep coming back to.”
The formula for the 92Y event is basic and simple.
“My best hits in Hebrew, and anything that grooves,” Broza exclaims. “It’s a concert, and for me every night when I play a concert is a celebration. I always invite some of my favorite musicians to join me — the great Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, [reed player] Jay Beckenstein and [guitarist] Julio Fernandez from Spyro Gyra.”
Then there are the special guests. This year they include a youth quartet drawn from the ranks of the Polyphony Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble of young Arab and Jewish musicians from Israel.
When you ask Broza what he listens to for his own pleasure, his slightly surprising answer gives a clue to the other group of guests he has invited for Dec. 24.
“I listen to a lot of jazz, mostly,” he said. “John Coltrane, Miles Davis, anything bop and beyond. That’s why I came up with the idea of an Israeli music lab, working with some of the best young Israeli jazz musicians in Brooklyn and Manhattan.”
The names may be unfamiliar right now — Broza mentions Eden Ladin on piano, Shaul Eshed on keyboards, Uri Kleinman on bass and moog, Alon Albagli on electric guitar, Yuval Lion on drums in a subsequent e-mail, then adds Yonatan Levy, Tammy Sheffer and Yoni Halevy — but the singer-songwriter happily notes that they are planning to record together, which means the names won’t be unfamiliar for long.
“We are developing the sound now and playing with ideas that surround my songs,” he wrote. “Yonatan Levi is in charge of gathering [the players] and also has been contributing the arrangements, which include his compositions as extensions to my music. So it’s like variations on a subject.”
Those variations will get their first public workout on the 24th.
In the meantime, Broza is never wanting for other projects. As always, he is reading poetry with an eye toward potential musical settings. Two years ago, he released “Night Dawn,” a collection of settings of previously unpublished verse by the great Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt. The two had shared a bill in 1994 and found a powerful affinity, but the music business being what it is, they were unable to get together afterwards. After Van Zandt’s untimely death in 1997, Broza contacted his widow, but the time wasn’t right. Finally, she consented and he carried the texts with him for four years, finally recording and releasing the album in 2010.
His current project is going much more smoothly. He is immersed in Pablo Neruda’s “The Captain’s Verses,” a personal favorite of his.
“I love his poetry and I’ve been wanting to work on it since the 1980s,” Broza said. “Next year is the 50th anniversary of Neruda’s death, and I’d tie the record to that event, if I can get it out before the end of 2013. It’s amazing; I’ve already done seven of the poems. I’ve never written tangos and boleros before now.”
If he does finish the Neruda project before the end of the coming year, you can expect to hear those tangos and boleros on Christmas Eve 2013.
David Broza’s annual “Not Exactly Christmas Eve” concert will take place on Monday, Dec. 24 at the 92nd Street Y (92nd St. and Lexington Ave.), at 7:30 p.m. For information, go to www.92Y.org or call (212) 415-5500.