“It Never Was You”, Hadar tells us, was the one jazz standard her mother insisted she record on the album. Named after the Kurt Weill classic, “It Never Was You” is singer-songwriter Hadar Orshalimy’s debut jazz album, comprised of jazz standards composed by legendary Jewish composers such as Oscar Hammerstein, the Gershwin brothers, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers and more.
The official release took place on Tuesday, December 3rd, on the Upper East Side. Hadar and her quartet transformed a modern New York City penthouse into an intimate, magical, and familiar space. Guests enjoyed conversation and refreshments before traveling with Hadar’s voice to the warmest places of the heart. Whether nostalgic, uplifting, or sensual, each timeless melody was introduced with the history behind it, which Hadar so eloquently shared. Accompanying her were co-producer Yaniv Taubenhouse on piano, Danny Weller on bass, and Ronen Itzik on drums.
Hadar Orshalimy is an Iranian- American singer-songwriter born and raised in Israel. She lives in New York City with her husband and fellow musical collaborator Sheldon Low. She has performed for former American Presidents, has been featured on Israeli national television, and has had various TV and film placements. She performs weekly at Temple Emanuel and Temple Israel of New York City, two historic institutions who made the album possible with their generous support. Find out more below through The Knockturnal’s Q&A with Hadar.
The Knockturnal: Tells us about your new album.
Hadar: A few months ago I was going through a bit of a creative rut which for me usually means a new project is about to happen.. and it did! My new album, “It Never Was You”, a 10- song album of old jazz standards composed by Jewish composers came to life! Inspired by my friend Chava Mirel’s awesome new jazz album “Into The Light”, I reached out to the best NYC jazz musicians I know and asked if they’d want to be a part of this record. Within 5 weeks we were in the studio recording one of my most favorite projects! From Gershwin to Hammerstein, Kern to Rodgers and many more, we recreated and breathed new life into some of the most iconic songs in history! It was magic! As a full time musician, I perform about 100 gigs a year. Every single time I’m on stage I feel gratitude for getting to do what I love but even though it’s my passion, it’s also my job and sometimes I just need little reminders of why I do what I do. This album was the perfect reminder and I can’t wait to share it!
The Knockturnal: What inspired you to do this project?
Hadar: A couple of years ago Temple Emanuel’s Streicker Center hired me to sing jazz standards at a reception for Barack Obama. As I was exploring the “Great American Songbook” and choosing the music, I was surprised to discover that an overwhelming number of “standards” were composed by Jewish composers. I immediately fell in love with the music and the stories behind it and as a Jewish composer myself, I really wanted to honor and shine a light on the music in my own unique style.
The Knockturnal: How did you select the songs?
Hadar: I did what every good girl does – I called my mother. My mom, who is also a musician, sent me her favorite standards composed by Jewish composers! About 50 of them! That made the song selection even harder and if I could have recorded a 50 song album I probably would have. In the end I decided on the songs that told my story both lyrically and melodically and that I connected with so much, they felt like I had written them myself. As an artist you need to create music that is honest, authentic and true to who you are otherwise it simply doesn’t work… To me, this album, is exactly that and I couldn’t be prouder of what we accomplished.
The Knockturnal: Which is your favorite to perform?
Hadar: That’s tough… “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is my favorite to sing because I get to belt my heart out at the very end of the song! which is every vocalist’s dream. But I also love the story in this song… This person is so enchanted by this other person to the point that they lose themselves and forget who they are. Then after a few heartfelt verses, they gain their power back, recognizing the spell they’ve been under, and coming out on the other side stronger than ever singing “Bewitched, bothered and bewildered NO MORE”! It’s so empowering! And actually in our recording we emphasized that turnaround by inserting a sax solo by the amazing Sam Sadigursky that really highlights that moment. Then there’s “I Got Rhythm” which is my favorite to play with the band because their musicianship really shines on this one. They trade off playing solos that are creative and interesting and somehow they manage to take this old familiar song and turn it into their own! And lastly, there’s “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” which feels like an open window into my heart where everyone can see me and there’s no place to hide. We recorded this one last without the band, just vocals and piano. For the majority of the album we did about 2-4 takes a song, but for this one something just wasn’t working… so after about 5 unsuccessful takes Robert, the engineer who didn’t say much most of the day aside from “sounding great” and “sounds like a record”, came over and said “Hadar, it sounds like you’re singing to a room full of people and I think you want to sing this to just one person, right?” And that was all I needed to hear… we did one last take after that and we got it! So I love performing this one because every time I sing it, it takes me back to that magical moment in the studio.
The Knockturnal: What producers did you collaborate with?
Hadar: Technically I was the executive producer of the album but in jazz you don’t really have a producer, it’s more about having solid charts, creative arrangements, talented and experienced musicians and an awesome mixing/mastering engineer. Luckily I had all of the above! Thanks to Yaniv Taubenhouse, my incredible pianist, who created all of the arrangements and the charts, to the rest of my amazing band, Ronen Itzik (drums), Danny Weller (bass) and Sam Sadigurksy (saxophone & clarinet) who came up with fresh new ideas for the tunes and to my wonderful mixing/mastering engineer Robert L Smith (Gaga, Aerosmith, Bowie…), we created the sound of this album together! This was a collaboration of musicians that went into a room to play music together and came out with a 10 song album!
The Knockturnal: Tell us about the support you received from the temples.
Hadar: I serve as the soloist at two amazing NYC temples, “Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York” and “Temple Israel of the City of New York”. Both of these congregations have been incredibly supportive of me and my music over the years so when I came up with this idea I knew they’d help support it and they did. Thanks to them, I was able to go into the studio with NYC’s best jazz musicians and record this album… I couldn’t have done this without them and I’m so thankful for their support.
The Knockturnal: When did you first realize you were musical?
Hadar: I grew up in a house filled with music. My grandmother was a musician and so were all of her children (my mother, my aunt and my uncle). Family time in my house was sitting around the piano singing motown tunes in 3 part harmonies, arguing over chords and testing each other’s “playing by ear” skills. I started playing piano at a very young age (maybe 6 yrs old?), then took up voice lessons at 14 and picked up the guitar a few years later. Music has always been a part of my life. I don’t think I ever “realized” I was musical, it was just kind of always there!
The Knockturnal: Do you have any mentors in your career?
Hadar: So many, it would be hard to name them all. Of course there are the professionals that helped shape my musical career such as vocal coaches, piano teachers and college professors but the one thing that I always say about the music industry is that it’s not a talent competition it’s a test in resilience. The people who “make it” in this industry are the ones that stick around the longest, never give up and always get back up after getting hit hard. So the musical mentors in my life encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing and to work hard at it but the strong women in my life taught me how to fight for what I wanted. My great-grandmother on my father’s side was born in Iran and was setup in an arranged marriage at the age of 12 to a man who was about twice her age. She had her first child at 13 and by the age of 32 she had 10 children and was a widow. She wanted a better life for her family so she took her children (some of which had their own children at that point) and left everything they had behind to move to israel where they were put up in what can only be described as a refugee camp (tin houses, no running water, limited supply of food…). Thanks to her bravery and resilience she was able to carve the way for me to live the life I live today and every time I feel sorry for myself I think of her strength and I can feel it rubbing off on me. My great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother and my sister have always been the greatest mentors in my life and always will be.
The Knockturnal: What can attendees expect from your live shows?
Hadar: When I go to see a show, it’s not the music the band plays that sticks to me, it’s the feeling I get while watching them. When I put together my own show I think of the experience I want my audience to walk away with. One of the reasons I chose to do this album, aside from falling in love with the music, was because I was blown away by these composers and their life stories. We’re talking about the 20s, 30s and 40s in American, were Jews couldn’t attend certain schools, clubs or even get jobs because of their religion and these composers managed to find an industry that accepted them for who they were and then they dominated it. In my show I’m going to share their music in my own intimate, personable and unique way while weaving in the incredible stories behind their music, their personal challenges, failures and successes and how their music became so undeniable it’s simply known as “The Standards”. The soulful timbre of my voice and heartfelt delivery as well as the creative rhythms, contemporary arrangements and fresh new styles of my incredible 4 piece band will offer a new interpretation of beloved jazz standards, and aim to revive a love of them in the public consciousness.
The Knockturnal: You are also apart of the a folk duo with your husband. How did that come about?
Hadar: You know how sometimes you go halfway around the world searching for something, only to find it was there right beside you the whole time? That’s kind of how our indie-pop-folk due, “We Are The Northern Lights” was formed. My husband, Sheldon Low and I have always made music together, but it was more like making music simultaneously one next to the other as opposed to actually making it together. Then a few years ago we went to LA on a writing retreat for the month of February (because who wants to stay in NYC in Feb). We decided to write together just to “exercise the writing muscle” before going into sessions with LA writers and before we knew it, 10 songs just came pouring out in a very organic and natural way. At some point we turned to each other and said “Mmm, we should do more of this, no?” and that’s how “We Are The Northern Lights” was formed! I really wish I could say there was a magical moment where we stared into each other’s eyes and just knew we were destined to write and perform together forever but unfortunately it sort of just happened.. Like our relationship and our “marriage proposal” (which was a mutual decision we made at our local dinner over eggs florentine), we just kind of went for it and it turned out to be the best decision we made.
The Knockturnal: Tell us about your TV & film placements.
Hadar: A few years ago Sheldon saw a FB post by Ben Ketai, a hollywood director (who also happens to be my cousin), who was looking for a indie-pop-folk song for his film “Beneath”. We didn’t really have any songs like that in our repertoire because “We Are The Northern Lights” hadn’t been formed yet but channeling my father “say yes and learn how to do it later” we asked Ben if we could write a song for the scene… Within a day or two we wrote our first indie-pop-folk tune “Take Me Home”, produced by our wonderful friend Robopo (“Stereo Heart”, “Payphone”). Ben loved the song and decided to put it in his film, which was great because it could have made Thanksgiving super awkward otherwise. Then fast forward to a few years later, he created the amazing TV series “Startup” (Adam Brody and Martin Freeman, Ron Perlman) and asked if we had any new songs for the show! Our songs “I’m Still Here” (“end credits” on season 1), ”Sunshine” and “’Come Close” (seasons 2 & 3) were placed in the show, and thanks to the world wide distribution of the show, we were able to expand our fan base outside of the US. Turns out we’re pretty popular in Germany and the UK.
The Knockturnal: Where can people see you perform?
Hadar: It depends on what they want to hear and when they want to hear it! I’m on the road about 85 days a year (playing both Jewish music and “We Are The Northern Lights” music) and I sing as a soloist at Temple Emanuel and Temple Israel of NYC every other Friday on average so it’s best to follow my touring schedule at: https://www.wearethenorthernlights.com/#tour-section.
You can also follow me on social media as well… I post my shows there too! And of course, now that the album is out I’m going to start booking shows for it as well so I imagine there will be lots of opportunities to come hear us! 2020 is going to be an awesome musical year!
The Knockturnal: How can people connect with you?
Hadar: Anywhere online!
The Knockturnal: Final thoughts? Other upcoming projects?
Hadar: One of the greatest joys of being a musician is sharing the music that lives in your heart, with people who want to listen. People you might never meet but who somehow can see right into you with this unspoken bond you share through the music. I recently learned from the incredible force known as Brene Brown about practicing gratitude as a tool for wholehearted living. This album and everything around it screams gratitude to me so I want to take this opportunity and say thank you to everyone who supported this album and to everyone who is going to support it as we continue sharing it. I also want to thank The Knockturnal not only for writing about this project but also for putting together such a thoughtful article with questions that really made me dig deep and think hard about what was important to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! As far as next steps and future projects… I’m going to continue touring with my existing projects as well as add some new dates for the “It Never Was You” Jazz by Jewish composers show. Sheldon and I will definitely be back in the studio sometime between our spring tour and our summer tour for our 4th “We Are The Northern Lights” EP and I think that’s the plan for now…. But let’s revisit in a year, I’ll probably have some other crazy project I’ll want to pursue so stay tuned.