Tzimmes (pronounced: tsi’- mes), is a Yiddish word for a sweet culinary concoction made variously of stewed carrots, honey, raisins, and prunes; it is considered to be the perfect complement to the main course of a Jewish feast. In another, more humorous connection, Jewish people are warned not to complicate a simple matter, with the adage: “Don’t make me a big Tzimmes!” (It is safe to say that the warning is usually ignored!). All in all, a Tzimmes seems to go in many directions at once – you can eat it, you can think about it, you can ask for the recipe, you can compare it with the one your grandmother used to make, etc., etc.
Tzimmes had its humble beginnings in 1986 in Victoria, B.C., and for about 4 years played for enthusiastic Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike. They disbanded in 1990, but as mazel (luck) would have it, two of its members, namely Moshe Denburg and Julian Siegel, moved to Vancouver. They fell out of touch for about a year, but in the fall of 1991, together with a longtime friend of Moshe’s from Jerusalem, Yona Bar- Sever, Tzimmes was re-formed. Soon after they were joined by vocalist Myrna Rabinowitz, and not long after that, by Egyptian percussionist Adel Awad (a”h).
Now, several albums and more than a few years wiser, the group is still very much committed to presenting Jewish Music in its many facets. Their songs range in style from European Klezmer to Mid-Eastern Sephardi to North American Folk, with strong vocals in several languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and English. New settings of traditional repertoire alternate with original creations which reflect an ongoing integration of new materials.
Like its music, the group has continued to grow and adapt, playing in a variety of configurations. Since the year 2000, there have been a number of new members in the Tzimmes mishpakha (family). At present (2015), the full slate is as follows: Moshe Denburg (leader/voice/guitar), Yona Bar-Sever (guitar/voice), Myrna Rabinowitz (voice), Saul Berson (clarinet/alto sax/flute), Amy Stephen (accordion/voice), Margaret Taylor (violin), Tim Stacey (bass), and Phil Belanger (drums).
Voice, Guitar, Band Leader
Moshe Denburg (Voice, Guitar, Band Leader), who hails from a well known Montreal Rabbinical family, came to the Canadian west coast in 1982. His musical career has spanned over 4 decades and his accomplishments encompass a wide range of musical activities, including Composition, Performance, Music Education, and Artistic Direction. He has studied music extensively, both formally and informally, and has traveled worldwide, living and studying in the United States, Israel, India and Japan. A life-long musician, Moshe has been singing and songwriting in Jewish and Middle Eastern idioms extensively. He is the founder of Tzimmes, and has guided it for over 25 years as its composer and arranger. Moshe also has a long standing commitment to Jewish Music education, having created original materials on the subject, including web accessible essays and a workshop, entitled ‘The Many Faces of Jewish Music’ (see the associated pages on this website). Apart from his work with Tzimmes, he is the founder of the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO), and has written many large scale compositions which bring together the instrumental and musical resources of many cultures.
Guitar, Voice, E. Bass, Djembe
Yona Bar-Sever (Guitar, Voice, E. Bass, Djembe) was born and raised in Jerusalem, Israel, where he was a much sought after Bass player. For a number of years he earned his livelihood playing nightly at the prestigious Khan Club in Jerusalem, accompanying in a wide variety of styles, from Rock to Hassidic to Middle Eastern to Israeli Folk. He moved to Canada in 1975 and has lived in Vancouver ever since. Today he divides his time between music making and personal counselling. Whether on Guitar, Electric Bass, Vocals, or Hand Drums, his Salonikan roots lend Tzimmes a Mediterranean and Sephardic mood.
Myrna Rabinowitz (Voice) was raised in Montreal and has lived in Vancouver since 1970. The daughter of holocaust survivors, Myrna grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home where she developed her love and appreciation for Jewish music. As a performer and songwriter Myrna’s dedication to Jewish song, whether on stage or as part of Synagogue service, is recognized Internationally. Apart from her work with Tzimmes she has several recordings on her resume: two albums of Jewish sacred music with the group Shir Hadash including Hanna Tiferet Siegel and Harley Rothstein, in Hebrew and English; her first solo album “Hashiveinu” which includes original soulful music for Shabbat prayers and blessings for life’s celebrations from birth to marriage; and she has recently released her first solo album in Yiddish, her mameloshn (mother tongue) with five of her original songs in Yiddish. In addition to her music, Myrna has dedicated her life to her family and to language teaching, mainly in the immigrant community as an ESL Instructor and ESL Teacher Trainer at Vancouver Community College, but also as a Yiddish teacher at various institutions in Vancouver. [To learn more about Myrna, go here.]
Phil Belanger (Drums, Percussion) is known on the Vancouver scene as a Drummer/Percussionist of great musicianship and vast experience. Born in Vancouver, Phil got his Bachelor’s of Music degree at UBC, and plays or has played with a wide range of groups. He handles popular and classical music with equal facility and his innumerable credits include symphonic, jazz, latin, and Jewish ensemble work. Phil has been working with Tzimmes since 2000, and his drumming and percussion coloring give the group a solid rhythmic foundation.
Alto Sax, Clarinet, Flute
Saul Berson (Alto Sax, Clarinet, Flute) is a multi-instrumentalist who, for the past 25 years, has been exploring an extensive array of stylistic ground. His musical abilities span a wide range, and include klezmer, jazz, and inter-cultural music. A regular member of Tzimmes since 2001, Saul lends to the band a tremendously versatile instrumental resource. As a jazz player and composer he has several acclaimed recordings with his quartet. His 1998 recording, From Here to Beyond, was nominated in the “Best Jazz Album” category for the 1999 West Coast Music Awards. [To find out more about Saul and his music, click here.]
Tim Stacey (bass) has played, recorded, and studied in Trinidad, Toronto, Victoria, and Vancouver, and is a master bassist in many genres – classical, jazz, popular, klezmer and others. He has been playing in Tzimmes since around 2003. He studied music at the University of Victoria, York University and the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. He has played or recorded with numerous orchestral ensembles, musical theatre productions, dancers, choirs, jazz groups and solo artists. These include the Vancouver Island Symphony Orchestra, the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, BC Chinese Orchestra, Ballet BC, Hagood Hardy, Dame Vera Lynn, Dal Richards Orchestra, The Platters, The Supremes, Chief Dan George, Zoot Simms, Leon and Eric Bibb, Josh White Jr, Michael Buble, and Michael Kaeshammer. He currently teaches bass at the Langley Community Music School where he coaches the LCMS Jazz Ensemble and accompanies the LCMS Fiddlers.
Amy Stephen is a multi-instrumentalist who sings and plays accordion, celtic harp, piano, & penny whistle. Her musical range is astounding, being accomplished in diverse fields such as: Celtic, Klezmer, Intercultural, Choral and more. She has numerous recordings on her resume, has toured nationally and internationally with various ensembles, and has been a member of Tzimmes since 2006. To find out more about Amy and her work, click here.
Margaret Taylor is a freelance violinist of great experience, who now lives in Vancouver after spending many years playing music in Ottawa and Toronto. She has played in many musical settings, including classical, folk, jazz and klezmer, and has been a valuable member of Tzimmes since 2002 ca. Margaret has played with the David Foster Foundation orchestra, the Smokey Robinson Show, the Princess Cruise Line, the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, Massey Hall (Toronto), CBC recordings for Sesame Street, the Semiahmoo Music Series, The Margaret Taylor Jazz Orchestra as well as many strolling solo violin gigs at restaurants. She is currently a member of The River Bottom Boys & Girls (6 piece original rock n roll), Pacific Bass Culture (ska), Tzimmes, and The Chief Clearwater Princess Margaret Project.
Julian Siegel (Accordion/Midi Accordion), originally from Mexico City, has devoted much of his life to playing Accordion. He has traveled widely, living in Israel, Pittsburgh, and Victoria prior to coming to Vancouver in 1990. A born musical talent, he was a recognized accordionist in Mexico by the age of 17, winning two national competitions. He possesses a natural love for all Jewish music and is equally at home with the Sephardic or Klezmer genres. Julian was a mainstay performer with Tzimmes during the years 1988-2003 and gave Tzimmes its overall instrumental colour with his unique and versatile Midi Accordion/Synthesizer.
Guitar, Darabuka, Voice
Gary Cohen (Guitar, Darabuka, Voice), originally from Montreal, was a founding member of Tzimmes and performed with the ensemble during its Victoria phase. He joined Tzimmes for several tracks on its debut album Sweet and Hot, and has been a friend of the band all these years. Gary presently lives in Victoria pursuing a varied musical career highlighted by work with his world music band Kouskous.
Dick Lurie, z”l, (Flute) was an early member of Tzimmes in its Victoria days. Born into an English family, having a Jewish father who hid his Jewish heritage as much as possible, Dick took a personal interest in matters Jewish, learning Yiddish and Klezmer music. He played a very significant role in Tzimmes’ success during the years 1986-90. He died in a car accident in ca.1994, at the untimely age of 52.
Itamar Erez (Keyboards, Guitar) is an Israeli born Canadian composer, pianist and guitarist with a breadth of expression from European classical to jazz, world music and beyond. He has studied in Israel, Germany, England, Scotland, and Canada, and has received numerous awards and commissions. A member of Tzimmes from 2003 to 2007, Itamar has an international career, touring regularly with a variety of world music and jazz ensembles. His highly original compositions explore the musical commonalities of Middle Eastern, Flamenco, World Music and Jazz. [To learn more about Itamar, click here.]
Arabic & Latin Percussion
Adel Awad, z”l (Arabic & Latin Percussion), from Cairo, Egypt, was a veteran multi-percussionist specializing in Arabic Drums. He took an active part in the Vancouver ethnic music scene, and was featured on innumerable recordings and in many venues, including International Drum Heat and the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Adel’s incredible musical energy was legendary with audiences wherever he went, and he had a unique gift for mesmerizing listeners with his solo work. He passed away on May 6, 2007, of complications from Lupus. He was 51 years old.
Danny Parker, a veteran bass player on the Canadian scene, played with Tzimmes for more than 2 years from 2006 until 2008, at which time he moved to Halifax to pursue new personal and career opportunities. Presently he works as a freelance bass player, backing up singers, performing in musical theatre, and playing in various film, music videos and T.V. productions. Over the years he has played and recorded with a vast array of ensembles and solo artists, including Michael Bublé, Ashley MacIssac, the Canadian Tenors, Nova Scotia Mass Choir, and Symphony Nova Scotia. He also continues to perform and work as a studio musician and tour throughout the Maritimes and Canada.
Doug Stephenson played with Tzimmes from around 2008 thru 2012, after which time he moved his family to Nelson, BC. For over 25 years Doug has been an integral member of Western Canada’s jazz community and has worked with a wide range of artists, playing guitar and bass. A native of Calgary, Doug was a mainstay of the city’s artistic community for many years and was a faculty member of the Jazz and Contemporary Music Program at Mount Royal College, and an instructor at the University of Calgary.