Joseph Berman and Michael Galen met in Beth Israel’s Sunday school about 20 years ago, were in the same bar mitzvah class and continued at Wednesday night school through high school. They played together in the jazz band at Sunset High School before heading off to their respective colleges.
In 2012 the two reunited and formed Frizz, an experimental dance band with Joseph on guitar and vocals and Michael on drums and sampler. Now the 27-year-old bandmates have released their first CD, Frizz EP, available at cdbaby.com or for download from iTunes or Amazon.com.
Between high school and forming Frizz, Michael studied economics at the University of Oregon while Joseph earned a bachelor’s in jazz guitar at the American University in Washington, D.C., and a master’s in jazz composition at the University of Miami.
“Growing up in Portland, my peer Jewish community was always very small,” says Michael. “It wasn’t until I got involved with Hillel at UO that I discovered a relatively large Jewish peer group and met kids that had grown up in large Jewish communities.”
Since reuniting the two have played for a variety of Jewish youth groups and performed at Moishe House, a hub for young Jewish adults.
“Growing up at Beth Israel, we were taught mostly how to think like a Jew, how to think about social justice, how to guide our decisions and our morals. I never had a ton of prayers or stories memorized – though I learned a lot of them for my bar mitzvah,”says Michael.“I see the young Jewish community (20s early 30s) leaving.If there were better music that connects the young people, I think the community would be tighter. …I’ve wanted to integrate my music with my Jewish experience sometimes, whether it be with klezmer-sounding melodies or brainstorming how to bring black gospel music styles to TBI’s Wednesday night school (still thinking on that).”
Joseph teaches music and is the song leader for Beth Israel’s Sunday school. He also has performed with other Beth Israel musicians at the congregation’s Shabbat on the Plaza over the summer.
Michael says that growing up in the Portland Jazz music scene was great. “Portland had a few very special impactful programs – primarily Mel Brown’s jazz camp and his band and Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra. … There were a number of talented Jewish musicians in the PYJO program,” he says.
But now the two are developing their own sound with Frizz. Joseph says he’s tried to preserve what he learned in school while creating “more complicated, abstract and unpredictable music.”
Michael adds, “I like the scene here in Portland, and I’d like to make it better and more diverse.”