Jerry Wicentowski & the Wiseman Institute California tour

I received a note from Bay Area singer and instrumentalist Jody Stecher about a stellar band he helped Jerry Wicentowski put together for a Northern California tour in March. I spoke with Jody who is quite excited about the tour, and said their relationship goes back 50 years. Jody taught Jerry to play the guitar at his parent’s house in Brooklyn during the 1960s. Though Jerry didn’t opt for a full-time music career, he just released his second CD Thanks, Mac! interpreting the songs of Mac Wiseman which will be featured on this tour. For those not familiar with Jerry and his music, see his web site about the making of his first CD Lucky Break. Jody mentioned there are some great young players on Thanks, Mac! and they are taking chances with some very bold, inventive solos and backup work. It also has a good dose of twin fiddles which is something of a Mac Wiseman trademark.

In addition to Jerry on guitar and vocals, the lineup includes Keith Little (banjo and vocals), Paul Knight (bass), Chad Manning (fiddle), and Jody Stecher (mandolin and vocals). There is a nice write-up on Jody’s website including this quote, “He sings wonderfully, and sometimes sounds more like Mac Wiseman than Mac does”.

In this age of bluegrass diversity, Jerry’s is an interesting story. He is a practicing Orthodox Jew who was exposed as a teenager to bluegrass at the folk and music gatherings in New York’s Washington Square Park. More recently Jerry has taken some ancient Hebrew Sabbath songs known as Z’mirot and set them to well-known bluegrass melodies. The show at the JCC East Bay in Berkeley will feature those songs and they also may be sprinkled into the mix at the other dates, but make no mistake, these shows will satisfy the most ardent bluegrass traditionalist. In this 2009 podcast interview with Tablet Magazine, Jerry discusses how he combines his passion for the music with his religious faith. 

Here are the dates and locations of the shows from Jody’s site.

The CD is not on streaming services as of this writing so best to get to a show and get one. You can also purchase it from Jerry’s web store or at CD Baby. I want to extend a special thanks to Jody for helping us get this story correct.

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About the Author

Dave Berry

Dave Berry is an avid mandolin picker, singer and songwriter who writes an interview column for the monthly California Bluegrass Association (CBA) members publication featuring California regional and national artists who tour California. He grew up in bluegrass country on the Ohio River right between where the Big Sandy and Big Scioto Rivers dump into the Ohio. The columns are also featured on the CBA website at www.cbaweb.org. He is forever indebted to copy editor Jeanie Poling for cleaning up his act.