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Jews & Jazz — and Generosity

June 6, 2013 By:
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The Modern Jewish Quartet of Settlement Music School: (from left) Ethan Fisher, Jonathan Elbaz, Matthew Altman and Joshua Fisher — guided by coach Tony Miceli.

Mitzvah Heroes: Meet the MJQ. Not the influential Modern Jazz Quartet of the 1950s, but rather the "Modern Jewish Quartet": Ethan and Joshua Fisher; Jonathan Elbaz; and Matt Altman, all 17-year-old students at Settlement Music School's Mary Louise Curtis Branch in South Philly www.smsmusic.org.

What It’s All About: Officially known as the Advanced Study Jazz Ensemble, the quartet has just been named the winner of Downbeat Magazine's 36th annual Student Music Award for “Outstanding Performance." They are outstanding Mitzvah Heroes as well, taking time to educate others about their musical medium and giving back without asking for pats-on-the back or payment.

Jonathan Elbaz, a senior at Princeton High School in New Jersey, has served as a music mentor for local elementary schools and performed in senior residences. This fall, he takes his act, education and mitzvah heroism on the road as he attends the New England Conservatory.

Wynnewood wunderkind Matt Altman, a member of Har Zion Temple, helps others at Harriton High, where he is a student when not at Settlement. Matt says he and another student "were instrumental in the observance of Yom Hashoah in our school. We have a display case set up for the months of March and April as a way to remember, and we also brought survivors to our school to talk about their experience during the Holocaust.”

He is also now interning at Settlement in the Kaleidescope Program, “helping out the music teacher in teaching kids basic things such as simple body percussion rhythms and some basic rhythms on the bongos and congas,” says the soon-to-be Berklee College of Music student, who plans to major in jazz performance.

Twins Joshua and Ethan attend Council Rock North in Newtown and Shir Ami, a Reform congregation in Newtown. The duo also takes part in the Kimmel Center Creative Music Program, which focuses on jazz education. Closer to home — and the bimah — the twins team with Cantor Mark Elson and choir accompanist Eric Schnitzer to make music at Shir Ami. In that quartet, Ethan plays vibraphone; Joshua, upright bass.

Good for Them: All the heroes here sing nothing but praise for Settlement and quartet coach Tony Miceli, who is not Jewish but came up with the MJQ assignation in deference to the legendary group they all admire. In addition to topnotch training, the students credit Settlement for gently pushing them to get active in community concerts — reasons they're not just getting a great musical education but a communal and inspirational one as well.

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