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Monday, July 27, 2015

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Grandson shares musical legacy with deli mogul

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Stacey Shopsowitz got hooked on jazz, but considers himself a blues musician.

Stacey Shopsowitz, 21, an upright and electric bass player who is the grandson of the late Sam Shopsowitz of Jewish delicatessen fame, is quietly carving out an interesting musical path.

One might say he’s entered the “unofficial” family business: music. Turns out, his grandfather had unfulfilled musical ambitions of his own.

A 1984 obituary on Sam referred to him as a “frustrated musician,” which Shopsowitz said is a fair assessment. Sam, an accordion player as far back as high school, was a regular performer, said Shopsowitz, and had a number of unsuccessful Hollywood auditions.

Shopsowitz said one of Sam’s closest friends was former jingle writer and Tony Award-winning Jewish American composer Mitch Leigh, who told Shopsowitz that his grandfather was “the best guy I ever met.”

Shopsowitz got hooked on jazz at age five, when his mother, Ellen Drevnig, took him to a Joshua Redmond modern jazz concert with a gospel jazz group as an opening act. But Shopsowitz considers himself a blues musician in the manner of Buddy Guy, who, Shopsowitz said, plays a lot of “happy” blues.

For Shopsowitz, blues is not solely about the pain of African-Americans; it’s about “the smallest common denominator,” he said. “If you listen to a B.B. King solo, he can say just as much with four notes as Charlie Parker can with 400. It’s about communicating feeling through sound.”

Shopsowitz cites three years of storytelling at the Toronto Heschel School as one of his influences. Two of his favourite storyteller musicians are African-American alternative singer-songwriter India Arie and Ravid Kahalani, of the critically acclaimed North and West African Israeli infused group Yemen Blues, whom Shopsowitz studied with.

Shopsowitz has played bass for the popular sibling Toronto and Los Angeles-based rock band Ménage and participates in Scarborough’s East Collective youth music hip-hop program.

Shopsowitz said he was “really inspired” by his two summer terms with the Berklee Middle Eastern All-Star Ensemble program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he shared a room with Turkish and Persian students.

Shopsowitz’s parents would like him to pursue a law degree with music “on the side” because of the instability of a business, in which he can wait five to six months to get paid an amount sometimes lower than what was negotiated. But Shopsowitz is returning to Humber College to complete a contemporary music degree that encompasses mostly jazz, because in his third year he will learn music production and business, which will serve him well.

Shopsowitz’s budding musical career connects him to his late grandfather – whom he only knows anecdotally and through photos – because he had serious musical aspirations that never came to fruition. In a sense, Shopsowitz is carrying on his grandfather’s musical dream.

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