Rick Recht brings his unique brand of Jewish rock ‘n’ roll to an upcoming Columbia Jewish Congregation concert.
During the past two decades, Rick Recht’s name has become synonymous with the unique genre of Jewish rock music.
A St. Louis native and resident, Recht performs songs for all ages about Jewish values and beliefs, as well as adaptations of Jewish traditional and folk songs. He performs at more than 150 concerts annually around the country.
Recht will perform April 29 at a Columbia Jewish Congregation concert at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, in honor of the installation of Cantor Benjamin Kintisch. Recht recently spoke to Jmore, which is a co-sponsor of the event.
Jmore: How do you describe your music?
Recht: I play contemporary Jewish rock music. It’s music that’s really intended to not only be for all ages but to create points of connection Jewishly and humanistically, to touch on values and ideas that people can relate to and feel ultimately a sense of meaning around.
Your influences and inspirations?
I grew up listening to the great songwriters of my generation: John Denver, Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and those kinds of people, and then later on a lot of the contemporary pop of the ‘70s and ’80s like James Taylor.
Define Jewish rock music.
It’s just music that’s communicating with some denominator of Jewish values being expressed. Now those aren’t explicitly Jewish values, they might be universal values. But nonetheless, there’s something Jewish about its meaning. It could be about repairing the world or Jewish ethics, a mitzvah, God, a prayer. … All of these things define Jewish music. I don’t think it’s only Jewish because a Jew happens to be singing it.
When I started playing Jewish music, I realized that the purpose transcended the music itself — that my role as an artist was now as an educator. And now the purpose of the music was to share Jewish values, it was to teach Hebrew, it was to talk about human values that people could feel a connection to and then also to create interactive moments so that people feel a part of themselves.
When I play Jewish music, it’s about figuring out spaces for people to participate and even be right next to me, side-by-side, onstage. It’s a chance for people to walk out, hopefully, feeling incrementally more excited about being Jewish.
How did you get involved in Jewish rock?
I grew up in a ‘Conservadox-ish’ kind of shul, and there was really no music there to be found. After high school and pretty much even through college, there was sort of nothing for years. There’s a big gap almost even into my late 20s because I was touring in a rock band and I had a gifted guitar student who was the director of a Conservative synagogue and she would sort of bug me about being a song leader.
And I’d never gone to Jewish summer camp or worked with kids and I didn’t know any Jewish songs, so I wasn’t interested.
But eventually, she bugged me a little more and I actually took the job. I’d never experienced a form of Judaism or Jewish music so exciting to me. And I saw the possibility to impact young Jewish lives and to learn myself about Judaism and about life through delivering music in an entirely different way where I would be an educator and music would be my vehicle.
What is Jewish Rock Radio?
I founded Jewish Rock Radio, which is nonprofit, about eight years ago. It was actually modeled after what I’d seen from some of the Christian rock stations, which have been incredibly successful and sharp about leveraging the power of music and media to harness the energy and imagination, particularly of youth and young adults.
Jewish Rock Radio is a 24/7 international Jewish rock radio station that you download through a remote mobile app. And we’ve got 10,000 people listening to this. We’ve got a brand new radio station called PJ Library Radio for little kids. And the mission is always the same: we’re based on strength in Jewish identity and engagement through the power of music. And part of the impact or goal of both Jewish Rock Radio, as well as PJ Library Radio, is to share the music and messaging of these extraordinary artists who I believe are some of our most powerful educators, and to let the Jewish world know and absorb all of these messages through the free and incredibly accessible medium of online radio.
Does the venue you’re playing at affect the way you approach performances?
On a typical weekend, I’m playing two or three cities. And there’s different types of things I do; playing Jewish music is about expressing different areas of who I am, so I could be playing a Shabbat musical night and then a jumping-up-and-down, sweaty teen rock concert the next night. And I could be doing a PJ Library little kids show the next morning. And I could be doing a leadership training for a synagogue or for all the rabbis the next evening.
What I just described to you is not atypical. It’s just an average weekend.
For information about the concert, call 410-730-6044 or visit dev.columbiajewish.org.
Alex Holt is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.