The L Magazine
“Think acoustic Americana with Brazilian bossa nova. Drink a caipirinha, and enjoy the sounds that originated in warmer climates.”
Time Out New York
“Jazzy singer-songwriter Avi Wisnia has a Ben Folds-y way of weaving stories into his piano-driven songs.”
“Gloriously summery jazz-soul fusion, awash with shiny pianos and smooth vocals – a little like an acoustic Maroon 5, but with more Bossa Nova, more attitude, and more talent in his little finger.”
88.5 WXPN Philly Local Pick
“Philly native Avi Wisnia plays his own compositions reminiscent of a Brazilian Bossa Nova. Add in his soothing vocals and poetic lyrics and you’ve got something you’ve never heard before. Playing with acts such as Au Revoir Simone and local legends The Roots, Avi Wisnia has helped put eclectic Philadelphia music on the map.”
“one of New York City’s A-List musicians”
The Folk Project
“Avi Wisnia represents the best in the pop-oriented singer-songwriter genre: a great voice, an exciting stage presence, and great songs finding inspiration in classic Brazilian bossa nova, acoustic American folk, 1950’s west-coast jazz, and contemporary pop. He plays piano like he was born to it.”
Rebel Spirit Music
“The crux of Avi Wisnia’s sound is familiar melodies and samples of classic lyrics and melodies, and yet his sound is somehow completely refreshing. Combining bossa nova with soul and jazz and adding startlingly clever lyrical turns, Wisnia creates his award-winning sound. If Wisnia’s sampling of lush, complex songs are any indication of what’s to come, listeners will be waiting eagerly for more.”
—Alyssa Rashbaum – MTV, SPIN, VIBE, Rebel Spirit Music
Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival
“Avi Wisnia is bringing something fresh to the singer-songwriter genre. From behind a keyboard he pours out his original songs influenced by Brazilian bossa nova, acoustic American folk, 1950s west-coast jazz and contemporary pop. His reference points alone would surely make him stand out from the crowd but his skill with lyrics and melody, combined with his humor and friendly tone, invite audiences to stick around and listen a while.”
—Sean Timmons – Artistic Director
25 O’Clock Podcast
“Avi Wisnia sings and writes like a truly classic musician. He approaches music with the song being the most important thing. That’s a classic approach that, while still in fashion, gets lost sometimes behind image and hype and the million other things you’re trying to let an audience know when you get up and play. Avi sounds absolutely like Avi whatever he’s playing, be it a Cure cover, a Brazilian-meets-West-Coast-jazz inspired song, or a cabaret tune. It’s all him, every time. He lets his personality and his tone interpret each song, but in the end, he’s thinking about the song. It sounds so simple, but it gets forgotten sometimes. Avi Wisnia reminds me.”
—Dan Drago, host
“Performer Avi Wisnia and his ensemble take the audience on a journey across two continents and through a quarter of a century with his original compositions and re-imagined covers. From a San Francisco Jazz club in the 1950s, to a 1960s bossa nova hangout in Rio De Janeiro, with visits to modern day house parties, Wisnia mixes these influences into unique blends.”
Exit Zero (Cape May Singer/Songwriter Festival Preview)
“He has performed all over the country, at venues like the Kennedy Center, the South by SouthWest Music Festival and the Philadelphia Art Museum. He gave a talk at TEDx Cape May last year on the nature and nurture of bossa nova music, his debut full-length studio album Something New was produced by Grammy winner Glenn Barratt, and he’s one of the most popular acts at this year’s Singer Songwriter Cape May Festival. But Avi Wisnia – a nationally recognized American folk and Brazilian bossa nova-inspired pianist – is still a humble kid from PA who plays the kazoo.”
The Deli Magazine (CMJ Festival Showcase Review)
“I saw Avi Wisnia light up Rockwood Music Hall with his smooth baritone and tight quartet. The Philadelphia artist put so many quotes into his final breezy bossa nova tune, from Stevie Wonder to Cee Lo, it was almost impossible to keep count. But his gifted songwriting made the riffs all his own.”
Surviving the Golden Age: Something New Album Review
New York pianist Avi Wisnia recorded his acoustic debut EP in his father’s synagogue. For his debut full length, Something New Wisnia hires a band and ups the recording budget to surprisingly positive results. When I think of jazzy male pianists there is a fairly short list that comes to mind. As a matter of fact, it is a list of one: Jamie Cullum. Like Cullum, Wisnia plays the type of jazz that has cross over appeal.
On songs like “New Year” and “I Wish That I Could Stop Writing Songs About You”, Wisnia writes heart-string tugging songs about love that really stand out. On “Nao E Coisa”, Wisnia and company execute a bossa-nova style that is reminiscent of Stan Getz‘ classic “Girl From Ipanema”. Like Cullum, Avi Wisnia also throws a few covers on the album as if to somehow say to listener “just because I play jazz does not mean I still think it is the 1930s”.
I really liked Something New. Wisnia proves he is well educated in the art of vocal jazz as well as pop. The variety of styles he employs all seem to highlight his best attributes. Jamie Cullum better watch out, Avi Wisnia is coming.
Elmore Magazine: Something New Album Review
“Is there ever “Something New” in music? One listen to the debut CD of Avi Wisnia and you can hear the answer is a resounding – YES! This young piano and keyboard phenomena mixes Jazz, Pop, and strong Brazilian influences to prove my case. Avi brings his own talent and quirkiness with a reminder of Ben Folds, Bruce Hornsby, and Jamie Cullum.
New Year, is a smoothly played and sung tune, containing jazzy piano, and you are immediately hooked. Sink follows and is a musically and lyrically playful number where Avi exhumes his childhood Xylophone, and his band chatters in the background. On Rabbit Hole, Avi punctuates this clever song with a Kazoo-like warble. Most can relate to being stuck in close quarters with another, but upon reflection, it’s not so bad! My absolute favorite song is Avi’s take on the 80′s classic by The Cure – Love Song. A rolling jazz piano line, with smooth introspective lyrics, and sharp, tasteful guitar solo gives novices and veterans a new appreciation of this song. On the title track, Avi cleverly fills in this song with phrases from other well known songs, from artists like Sade, Chicago, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. With this new album, Avi Wisnia has proved that there is undeniably “Something New” in music.”
Wildy’s World: Something New Album Review
Avi Wisnia invites attempts to classify him even as his music defies clear description: Elements of pop, jazz, Latin and cabaret gallivant through his songs with seeming abandon. The award-winning singer/songwriter splits his time between New York City and Philadelphia while creating music that seems to jump out and grab you. Wisnia’s influences include Ben Folds, Norah Jones, Billy Joel, Jamie Cullum, John Legend and Chet Baker, and that deep musical heritage makes its presence known on Wisnia’s latest album, Something New.
“I Wish That I Could Stop Writing Songs About You” is melancholy and lovelorn; a song Wisnia wrote about an ex-boyfriend. Catchy and contemplative, the song has a melody that nearly sings itself. Latin rhythms find their way into “Sink”, punctuating the catchy, light acoustic-pop number with a danceable feel. Wisnia’s cover of The Cure’s “Love Song” has a vaguely soulful feel, undercut by a melancholy sense of longing that is detached yet very much alive. “It’s Only Me” could become a signature song for Wisnia; a piano ballad about the loneliness of creation when trying to reach out across a gulf to those who will listen. Wisnia closes with a cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs” in pure Las Vegas fashion, hamming it up Rat Pack style. Avi Wisnia has a definable pop sensibility that he weaves in and out of his pop/jazz/Latin creations. Something New seems likely to make Wisnia a host of new fans.
The Painted Man: Something New Album Review
The stylings of newcomer Avi Wisnia are refreshing. I am a sucker for a memorable melody – something hummable – and Wisnia and Co. have created several on this jazzy, playful album. There are 3 dare-I-say radio friendly songs that are damn near pop masterpieces. This is an incredible album and an absolutely incredible talent. Wisnia’s piano skills are amazing and I look to him for some great creativity in the years to come.
The Big Takeover: Avi Wisnia Presents: EP Review
“Like a cross between Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Ben Folds, Joni Mitchell, and early Billy Joel. But his approach is refracted through the prism of Brazilian bossa nova, occasional acoustic guitar folk forays, and ‘70s singer/songwriter fare—“I Wish That I Could Stop Writing Songs About You” and “The Back of Your Hand” are especially Mitchell-esque, and “Goodnight” sounds like Art Garfunkel doing jazz—then sings with a smoothly smoky voice that recalls Elvis Costello and Joe Pernice both in sound and delivery. Others such as “Sunday Afternoon” have that mellow, rainy-day bossa nova feel with words in the most wistful of English. A nice change of pace.”
Indie-Music.com Editor’s Pick
“Clever songs, interesting vocals, hooky melodies!
Avi Wisnia and his band bring a clever twist to jazz-flavored bossa nova on his new EP Avi Wisnia Presents:. With piano chops that recall Bruce Hornsby and a voice that is reminiscent of the folk singer David Wilcox, Wisnia offers up seven tracks of witty and introspective songs. The songs all have a fits-like-a-glove feeling to them. The grooves create a feeling that the band members are really listening to each other and the tracks have a sense of a live performance without sounding too spontaneous. I really dug the last track, “Moving” where Wisnia steps out of himself and makes his piano breathe. His voice sings a very mellow and tranquil song while the piano fights against the time and the chords. This track really shows what Wisnia’s band and his piano really can do. This is a very fun and witty EP.”
Straight No Chaser: Celebrating Hanukkah with Avi Wisnia
This year we celebrate musically with a jazz version of the Hanukkah song “Maoz Tsur”, or “Rock of Ages”, from Avi Wisnia. Originally a liturgical poem, “Maoz Tsur” has become a popular Hanukkah song, typically sung after the lighting of the menorah, whose words rejoice in the ability to claim victory over oppressors and overcome persecution. “This song is different from anything I have recorded so far,” explains Wisnia. “But having grown up surrounded by Jewish music my entire life, I wanted to celebrate the holiday by taking this traditional song from my childhood with this simple melody and doing something a little more complex with it.” Quite possibly the most modern take on this classic tune that also stays true to the original melody, here’s hoping that this rendition will be found in houses full of families sharing the joy of the holiday.
The song can be downloaded on iTunes to make sure you have it for tonight, the first night of Hanukkah.
The Examiner: Avi Wisnia at Joe’s Pub
Avi Wisnia’s performance at Joe’s Pub September 2nd was a fun ride. His relaxed, easy breezy manner made this examiner’s introduction to his music a nice surprise. The thirteen song set revealed Wisnia’s gift as a singer-songwriter with sophisticated arrangements and meaningful lyrics. The Joe’s performance was just the right amount of mellow with graceful colors. West coast sounding song “The Back of Your Hand” had the clever line: “brush off the rest of my heart with the back of your hand.” He succeeded in delivering the line without the desire to return to one’s gothic youth and black lipstick.
Wisnia also has a gift at choosing good covers. Wilco’s “How to Fight Loneliness” is not often part of a jazz/singer-songwriter set, but it was a truly rich and effective addition. “Sink”, with Bjorn de la Cruz and Jodi Kelly on strings, also featured Wisnia jamming on a toy xylophone. The contemplative tune included the words, “Everybody sinks to the bottom of their own well, so oh well…” So true; so very true.
The set continued with a mix of melancholy, but injected a bit of Brazilian flavor to brighten the tone. Highlights of the night were an unexpected cover of TLC’s “Scrub”, the jazziest version of this R &B hit one will likely ever hear that seemed to make perfect sense on Lafayette Street. An original, “Something New”, had lyrical and melodic snippets of The Beatles, Sade, Chicago, Gloria Gaynor, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. When Wisnia returned for the encore, he capped off an evening in which new listeners appreciated an artist clever enough to honor the diversity of musical genres by using them to his creative advantage.
—Layla Macoran, NY Culture Reporter
Synthesis: Artist of the Day
“I dig on Avi’s lounge-y, honey-voiced jazz. While, “Rabbit Hole,” the first song that popped up on Avi’s page, instantly struck me a G. Love & Special Sauce (hold the sauce, please) meets a Jonathan Richman that you can take home to your parents (you know, less bug-eye stare, more witty conversation), with a later-day Elvis Costello delivery. The winking jazz hinted at with that first track comes into full blossom with “Something New” and “Sunday Afternoon,” which drift along in a pleasant haze. I’m digging it. For those in the NYC area, check out his upcoming show dates after the jump. But first, acquire an appreciation for expensive cigars and fine single malts; that might be your best way of preparing for Avi’s music.”
Spark Magazine: Dewey Beach Music Festival Spark Pick
“This Philly native brings all 88 keys with the funky flare of Latin Jazz, bossa nova and pop, culminating in fun, catchy tunes that will keep your fingers tapping. Check out: ‘Something New,’ a quirky piano-driven ditty that mixes lyrics and chords from popular songs by the Beatles, Chicago, Sade and Jobim, into its own contemporary jam.”
College Music Journal (CMJ): Avi Wisnia Wins Zig-Zag Live
Avi Wisnia has won the second round of Zig-Zag Live, receiving a prize package valued at more than $14,000. The New York folkster is known to taking apart popular hit songs, and stripping them down to complement his bossa nova sound. The singer/songwriter, who performs in both English and Portuguese, self-released his debut EP last month and will celebrate it (and his win) at the Bitter End in New York this Friday.
Concerts In Your Home: 2013 Artist of the Year Runner-Up
Without hesitation, Avi Wisnia. No question about it. He’s just fun to watch. He’s personable, he gives 110% every time (we’ve seen him several times this year). He’s gracious, talented, easy going, and loves to entertain. We can’t wait to host him again.
— Linda Bolton (NJ House Concert Host, testimonial)
Press of Atlantic City: Band of The Week
The Cape May Singer-Songwriter Showcase is taking southern New Jersey music lovers by storm this weekend (March 26 and 27), and Avi Wisnia, a born-and-bred New Jersey musician, is just as excited to be performing for the showcase as he is to be back near his roots.
“I grew up in Bucks County (PA), but I was born in Princeton,” Wisnia reveals. “My father is also the rabbi of a synagogue in southern New Jersey, so I’m pretty familiar with the Jersey scene. Coming back to play Cape May is something I look forward to every year. This is my third time at the Singer-Songwriter Showcase.”
Among a slew of artists gathering to perform at this year’s showcase, Wisnia’s live performance is one that will certainly leave a lasting impression on his audience.
“I like to make sure that every live performance caters to the audience, so each one is its own unique experience,” he explains. “I’ve been known to improvise songs on the spot based on people in the audience. I think it’s important that when people see a live show, they can hear songs they know and are familiar with, but you should also give them a unique experience – which is the whole reason they should take time to come out and see you perform in the first place.”
Wisnia has been making music ever since his childhood, and knew music was his life calling from the very start, beginning piano lessons as a 5-year-old to keep up with his older brother and sister.
“I don’t think it was ever a question that music is what I’d do with my life,” Wisnia says. “There is something about being constantly creative that is so exciting to me. That, and being able to connect with an audience through performance, is what I crave, and what I hope to continue to do for a very, very, very long time.”
The Heard Project: Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival – Avi Wisnia
“A sunny day in June is not generally something to write home (or the Internet) about, but at this year’s Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival the weather was the first glimpse of the lovely day to come. While anyone in attendance was struck right away by the singularly friendly and welcoming atmosphere created by the Appel Farm staff, the classic signs of any festival were there: tie dye, fried food, dusty legs, and this guy with glorious attire and enthusiasm for dancing that won him a much-coveted trucker hat from The David Wax Museum.
Gogol Bordello and Josh Ritter & The Royal City Band were the headliners, and there is no doubt that they delivered, but it was the act that kicked off the festival, Avi Wisnia, that really set the tone for the rest of the day. Avi Wisnia’s sound, described as what would happen if Ben Fold met Norah Jones and they had a lovechild in Brazil, is a downright charming combination of, among other things, jazz and bossa nova, for which the singer has a particular fondness. Wisnia, all smiles, said after the show that that finding that sound “took me a while.” Well, he has certainly found it now. Very aware of and invested in the rich musical history of his influences, Wisnia often tips his hat to the past with covers, sung both in English and Portuguese, including a particularly enjoyable rendition of No Scrubs. His clever lyricism, which has already earned him this year’s OutMusic Award for Outstanding Jazz Song of the Year for “The Back of Your Hand” made the rather heat-sleepy crowd sit up and take notice. Even the members of the audience who were unfamiliar with the young man or his music were swaying along and cheering, especially to the wryly humorous “Rabbit Hole“. Although a few people were too shy to toot along with the kazoos his team had handed out at the gates, they did not bother hiding their pleasure at receiving the gifts.
Do not think, however, that this is an endorsement bought by plastic instruments: Wisnia and his band are a solid group of individuals who are gaining some well deserved attention through their combined talent and hard work. Wisnia himself, who has been playing piano since age five, wowed the crowd on keyboard, melodica, and a child’s xylophone, not to mention his voice. Touring since January, the band has been as far south as Brazil, where there was a month of performances. Wisnia spoke of the country whose music he so adores in glowing terms, and was grateful that his second time visiting it he was not just a tourist, but on tour himself. Constant performances and moving around are undoubtedly tiring, and the band’s guitarist, the friendly Mr. Toru Takiguchi, admitted to only having a few hours’ sleep the night before and to looking forward to a nap in the sunshine, though he showed no signs of fatigue during his stellar performance onstage. Kim Garey, drummer, more than kept the beat, though the fact that her birthday was the next day must have been on her mind—a piece of information that Wisnia shared with the crowd before requesting that they wish her a happy one.
So what drew the band away from the splendor or Brazil and the comforts of the city, all the way to the mythical farmlands of New Jersey? On the one hand, it could have been the background of the festival, as a chunk of the proceeds of the festival goes toward funding the scholarship program for the Appel Farm’s arts camp, and Wisnia is very involved in and known to organize and perform at events for several charitable organizations: The No Brainer Benefit Concert, The Bent Compass Party, and House of Tribes, to name a few. There is no doubt that Wisnia is “one of the good ones”, but it was music that brought him and the band to Elmer, NJ. Summer has the distinct seasonal pleasure of good weather and free time, which is why it is Festival Season. Festival-goers get a kick out of soaking up the sun and good tunes, but musicians, whose often nocturnal lifestyles deprive them of their necessary doses of Vitamin D, look forward to them, too. Of his choice to attend this year’s Appel Farm, Wisnia noted, “I love playing outside… People are here for the music.”
Starting the day with that kind of enthusiasm all but guaranteed success. Not to be superstitious, but Wisnia proved to be something of a good luck charm: the promised rain held off until the evening, the bugs didn’t bite (too much), and all of the performances went off without a hitch.”
NBC10 and DigPhilly.com: It’s a ‘No Brainer’ – Philly Bands Rock For a Cause
When Dov Wisnia, now 29, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2007, it was a scary time for his entire family. But the Wisnias received help and support from family, friends and the Brain Tumor Society in ways they couldn’t imagine. “The support we received was incredible to see,” said Avi Wisnia, Dov’s brother. Understandably, the family wanted to get involved and give back. So they decided to contribute with what they know: music.
“There’d been an idea of doing a concert for the Brain Tumor Society kicked around for awhile, but it never materialized,” Wisnia said. “But as my family and I started to get more involved, we really took to the idea and wanted to make it happen.”
The result is the No Brainer, the first-ever benefit concert in support of the Brain Tumor Society, on Sunday, Oct. 26 at Fuzion (460 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia). The event will serve as a kickoff for the Society’s Race for Hope, a 5k run/walk that will take place on November 2. The family invited Philly musicians from diverse backgrounds to join Avi Wisnia’s Brazilian bossa nova-influenced band: Josh Joplin, Karen and Amy Jones, Ivy Chanel and Cowmuddy. The genres range from hip-hop to country-tinged rock. Nickelodeon’s Ryan Willard will MC the evening. While the music is the highlight—and definitely the main attraction—it’s not the only thing. There will also be raffles, a silent auction with goodies from local businesses and opportunities to sign up to participate in the race. Tickets are $20, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the Brain Tumor Society. To reserve yours, visit the No Brainer’s Web site. They’ll also be available the day of the event at the door. The No Brainer runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and if you show up sometime during the first hour, your first beer is free.
The Philadelphia Bulletin: Race For Hope to Benefit Brain Tumor Research
Local performers united to raise brain cancer research funds and awareness at Fuzion Grill and Social Club’s The No Brainer concert on Sunday. Organized by Avi Wisnia and his family, the event was inspired by his brother Dov’s current struggle with the illness. Avi’s band – along with acts by Josh Joplin, Karen and Amy Jones, Ivy Chanel and Cowmuddy—performed as a fundraiser for the National Brain Tumor Society (NBTS), in anticipation of its Nov. 2 Race for Hope—Philadelphia. “Brain tumor research is remarkably underfunded,” Avi said of his motivation for organizing the event. “The National Brain Tumor Society’s Race for Hope—Philadelphia raises critical funds to support innovative research initiatives and support services for brain tumor patients and their families.”
According to NBTS, 500 Americans are diagnosed with a brain tumor every day; about 200,000 Americans have a primary or metastatic brain tumor. Currently, there are over 120 different types of brain tumors, which make effective treatment complicated. These tumors can surface as malignant or benign, but in either case can be injurious or life threatening.
Since its inception in 1989 through 2007, the NBTS Research Grant Program allocated over $13 million in basic science and translational research projects throughout the United States and Canada. It allotted $4.5 million for research this year alone to support research it calls “underfunded.” Besides research funding, NBTS provides medical information, workshops, support groups, financial assistance and other resources for patients and families.
Its third year in Philadelphia, the Race for Hope 5K is projected to draw 4,000 who currently raised over $350,000 for NBTS. Two days before Election Day, participants will run on Martin Luther King Boulevard starting at the Philadelphia Museum of Art at 9 a.m. Race-day registration will being at 7 a.m. and the family-friendly event will include a free Kids Fun Run for children under 10. ”My family and I founded the race in memory of my mom, Eileen S. Kelberg, who passed away in 1996 from the same tumor that Sen. Ted Kennedy has,” Pamela Kelberg, Philadelphia race chairperson, said. She and her brother wanted to reach out to families like theirs in the tri-state area. The Wisnia family, whose concert proceeds will be added to the money raised by Team Dov, had the same reaching-out idea.
“As with most people, my son’s symptoms appeared very quickly and everything happened very fast,” Judith Wisnia said. When Dov went into surgery, the neurosurgeon’s office provided NBTS-published materials that were “understandable and reliable” to the family. Recently, Mrs. Wisnia received a phone call from a friend whose sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She referred the person to NBTS and suggested attending Philadelphia’s Brain Tumor Support group. Mrs. Wisnia hopes the Race will not only raise money for NBTS, but also awareness about the prevalence of brain tumors and the resources available to help patients and families. ”I believe with a passion that a cure can be found for brain tumors and the doctors agree with us,” she said. ” I don’t feel like that is an illusive goal, but [rather] a very reachable goal.”
Her optimism matches her son’s. Dov, a 29-year-old real estate agent and passionate bass guitarist, recognizes that “nobody likes cancer.” But he has decided to continue living his life zealously with a “mind over matter” approach and will participate in his first 5K with his family. ”A lot of people hear the word ‘cancer’ and think that their life is over,” he said. “I really feel that a positive attitude makes all the difference, not just with cancer, but with anything in life. You gotta deal with the cards you’re dealt.”
While Avi said Dov did not change his outlook on life after he was diagnosed, his attitude has helped him deal with his brother’s condition. For example, Avi remembers Dov initiating a party in the waiting room the day of his surgery. Family and friends had come to wish him well, but visiting hours were almost over. Dov, dressed in a hospital gown, decided to address everyone in the waiting room over pizza and soda. ”The best thing for me to see is how he approached this the whole time,” Avi said. Avi cherished the “support system” of his family in the hospital and hopes that Sunday’s concert demonstrated “a larger family.” ”There’s a larger family they can call on for support and to recognize what they’re going through,” he said of brain tumor patients and families. “It’s important for people who have any illness to know that there are people willing to help them out, that there can be a positive side and a reason to celebrate. “ He said the Race would further exemplify this celebratory notion. ”We are there for each other and we hope in raising money and awareness that we help other people do that for each other too.”
The Jewish Week: Jewish Singer Hooked on Bossa Nova
How does a rabbi’s kid from New Jersey get swept up in a Brazilian musical wave? Meet Avi Wisnia.
If singer-songwriter Avi Wisnia’s new CD “Something New” were a tapestry, when you turn it over you would see a bright yellow-green thread running through every song, a skein of Brazilian jazz steeped in bossa nova and samba. That is a nice musical preoccupation to have under any circumstances, but as one critic asked recently, How does a rabbi’s kid from New Jersey get hooked on bossa nova? And we do mean hooked: Wisnia did his undergraduate work at NYU’s Albert Gallatin School on Brazilian music, language and culture.
“That’s a very valid question,” Wisnia says. “Nobody in my family is Brazilian and I didn’t grow up speaking Portuguese. But when I was growing up and exposing myself to all a whole world of different artists, the music that I gravitated towards was this Brazilian music that came from Rio, that was mellow and sophisticated, seemingly simple yet really complex.”
At 27, Wisnia is much too young to remember the enormous impact that bossa nova had on American pop music, just before the Beatles showed up and swept that sound away. But he knew almost from the first moment he heard Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and the other deities of the Rio sound that this was something he wanted to incorporate into anything he did musically.
“It spoke to me about the artist I wanted to be and the music I wanted to write,” he says emphatically.
Music has always been a part of Wisnia’s life. His mother recalls him “writing” songs when he was 3, singing them to himself around the house. His paternal grandfather is a cantor and they have occasionally performed together at weddings. His uncle is a trombonist and his cousins are all musical, so impromptu jam sessions would break out at larger family gatherings. (His father, Rabbi Eric Wisnia, is a lover of puns and an inspiration for his son’s clever lyric-writing.)
Not surprisingly, Wisnia says that it is through music that he relates to his faith. “I grew up singing at [the Reform movement’s] Camp Harlam and NFTY events,” he recalls. “So singing Jewish music was how I connected most with my Judaism. Some of my most cherished memories are sharing my Jewish musical experiences with my friends.”
On the strength of an EP, the new CD and his many club gigs, Wisnia is attracting a lot of attention, bringing accolades from reviewers who have compared him to everyone from Ben Folds to Norah Jones, from early Billy Joel to Jobim. To this critic’s ears he sounds like a warmer Elvis Costello with just a hint of early Peter Allen. Wisnia is happy to have harvested such an eclectic group of comparisons.
“I love it. I think the wide range I’m compared to speaks to the genre-jumping that I like to do,” he says. “When I’m writing music I’m mindful of my influences but I’m not trying to be like anyone in particular. If I feel I’m starting to sound too much like someone, I’ll change the arrangement to get away from that influence. I want to honor the musicians whose work inspired me, but I want to put it out as something that’s me.”
He mentions the non-Brazilians who had an impact on his musical conceptions, a list that ranges from James Taylor to Stevie Wonder to Chet Baker.
Then there’s his jazz cover of TLC’s hit “No Scrubs.” Really. The last cut on “Something New,” it’s very, very funny but it also works on its own terms.
“It goes back to the music I was influenced by,” Wisnia says. “I didn’t grow up in a bubble, I was exposed to pop music. You have to realize that the reason these songs take hold because there is a craft to writing a good pop song, too. ‘Pop’ doesn’t have to be a dirty word. “
On the other hand, he notes, “Some people think that I wrote that [TLC] song!” Well, as Jobim and Joao Gilberto would tell him, as long as they’re listening to your music and talking about it. …
Concert Log: Avi Wisnia at Joe’s Pub
I first met Avi Wisnia years ago at an open mic that I frequently attended on the first Monday of every month. He was one of the few performers who grabbed the attention of everyone in room without even trying. Set apart from those songwriters with folk, rock and R&B pop aspirations, Wisnia’s sound is rooted in popular (jazz) standards and influenced heavily by Antonio Carlos Jobim. His vocal delivery and presence have the same relaxed feel as Harry Connick, Jr .or Michael Buble but with a lot less (Frank Sinatra) schtick. And even though some might put Wisnia’s music under the broad heading of Adult Contemporary, there is a certain hipness that is more New York than Las Vegas.
On Thursday night, I sat in the audience surrounded by friends and fans who had obviously seen Wisnia several times. Avi Wisnia and his band walked on stage at 7:30 along with guest violinist Bjorn Delacruz who wore a white tuxedo jacket and sunglasses. The band played an intro which seemed similar to an orchestra tuning before going into the opening song “New Year.” The song’s intro began with Wisnia playing a rhythm pattern on piano, which reminded me of traveling music in film. There was one point when drummer, Kim Garey, played a kind of jungle (dance) pattern on the drums. I later listened to “New Year” and found that Garey was staying true to the recording’s breakbeat drum feel.
If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I love to see musicians enjoying themselves. Wisnia and his musicians did not disappoint. They looked at each other when one liked something the other was doing. Sitting behind her drums, Garey smiled for most the show while Gil Smuskowitz fluidly grooved along on bass. Playing electric lead and rhythm guitar, the somber Toru Takiguchi seemed to be having a good time interacting through the music itself. For example, during “Back Of Your Hand,” Wisnia accented the last word of several of the lyric’s phrases like a question to which Takiguchi answered with tasteful melodic lines on guitar.
Avi Wisnia admitted he liked being in New York because there is a wealth of musicians and talent. Wisnia displayed that fact by having guest musicians sit in on different songs. During “More Than Me,” guest trumpet player John Guari walked out to play a solo and continued playing to the end of the song. Afterward, violinist DelaCruz reappeared for “Simple Words,” a song with a country feel making it slightly and enjoyably different from the other songs in Thursday night’s set.
Wisnia played two covers during his set. The first was an arrangement of Wilco’s “How To Fight Loneliness.” Wisnia didn’t change the arrangement too much but he did slow it down a bit by performing it more along the lines of Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue.” The second cover was a smooth upbeat jazz arrangement of “No Scrubs” by TLC. During the song, Wisnia sang and played jazz licks on piano over Smuskowitz’s walking bass line. On the middle break, Wisnia and Takiguchi both took tasty solos.
Like Ben Folds, Wisnia does some interesting cover arrangements. I wouldn’t compare Wisnia to Ben Folds because Folds’ approach to music is more indie pop than jazz. Yet, I do find coincidental similarities in the material they choose to cover. On piano, both Folds and Wisnia have recorded covers of Cure songs and both have recorded songs by contemporary hip-hop artists. (Folds: “In Between Days” ; Wisnia: “Love Song”/ Folds: “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr.Dre; Wisnia: No Scrubs by TLC)
An audience member started clapping along when Smuskowitz started the song “Rabbit Hole” with a strutting bass line. When the audience member tentatively stopped, Wisnia turned to the crowd and quipped “don’t fight it – go with it.” “Rabbit Hole” is a mid-tempo swinging 6/8 blues.
Wisnia mimicked a muted horn solo and then did his best Louie Armstrong impersonation. Let me put it this way, Satchmo would have been proud. There is a very cute black and white video of the song. It can be seen on YOUTUBE or by going to Avi Wisnia’s site.
Thursday was the second time I heard “Sink.” Since then it’s chorus has been stuck in my head. To perform the song, Wisnia came out from behind the piano to stand with violinists DelaCruz and the newly introduced Jodie Kelly. In front of them was a stool with a white cloth on top of it, which Wisnia unveiled to reveal his childhood Fisher-Price Xylophone. Wisnia actually played the Xylophone and it sounded great!! It made me wonder if Avi Wisnia was a child prodigy like Mozart.
After doing the song “Não é Coisa, “ Avi Wisnia said the song’s title didn’t really mean anything. He said that the phrase was made up because he really didn’t speak Portuguese, he just liked the way it sounded. Wisnia was being sly but honest. Whatever it means, it’s a fun song!
Wisnia ended his set with the title song of his new CD “Something New.” Oddly enough, it quotes numerous pop songs. While I was listening to it, I caught quotes from “Eleanor Rigby,” “Smooth Operator,” “I Will Survive” and “Saturday In The Park.” I ‘m sure there were more songs mentioned within the song but those were the ones I caught.
When Wisnia came back he performed the first of his two encores by himself on piano. The song was “It’s Only Me,” which was so good I was surprised he risked saving it for the encore. For me personally, it was one of the highlights of the show. It was a ballad in a minor key and in 3/4 time - it had the feel of a sad lullaby with a chorus that dramatically grew toward the end of the song.
The show ended on a high note with the band performing “So Danço Samba,” which they did as a throw away. That is to say, I could tell they had done the song many times before; it seemed like they were having fun with the song rather than offering it up as a performance. Yet, the audience loved it nonetheless.
When I checked the calender for Joe’s Pub on line, as I do periodically, I was really glad to see that Avi Wisnia would be performing. I sincerely hope it means he has been getting noticed as an extremely talented musician, singer/songwriter and arranger – in my book his talent warrants recognition.
Ran Waite Music Review: Avi Wisnia in Concert
“Avi Wisnia specializes in Brazilian Bossa Nova and applying that sound to his own unique songs. This young, creative and good-looking musician brought his talents to The Electric Company stage on September 12, 2009. The Electric Company is obviously a rock and roll establishment–so Avi wasn’t kidding when he said “I bet the this place has never had bossa nova played in it before!”
Avi presented a number of tunes from his debut EP “Avi Wisnia Presents:,” two cover tunes and a few tunes from his soon-to-be-released full-length studio CD. Only his guitarist Toru Takiguchi was able to travel to Utica to play with him on this occassion, but luck was on his side and he invited up some help from some fellow local musicians. He met a man on the street who represented VS Custom Drums, Vince Sperrazza, who came in and played drum on a few songs. He also told us that he had forgotten to bring a kazoo, and Vivian from the following band stepped up and played a kazoo solo for him.
Avi played keyboards and a melodica throughout the set–it all sounded fantastic, along with his terrific vocals. His original tunes offer clever lyrics and fascinating beats. I especially enjoyed “Something New,” “I Wish That I Could Writing Songs About You,” and “Rabbit Hole” from his first EP. The new songs sounded great–the new album is now at the top of my wish list! The biggest surprise of the set was when he said that he was going to take us back to the songs of the 90′s and then launched into TLC’s “No Scrubs”–I never knew that it was possible to take a rap song and put it to a jazz beat–and it sounded incredible.
I got a chance to sit with Avi, after his set, for a few minutes. He’s been honing his craft for a number of years now and he made some new fans at this show. This son of a rabbi from Jersey is destined for good things and a long career!”
>> Avi Wisnia receives Songwriting Honor Award for “Rabbit Hole” in 9th Annual Great American Song Contest
“Maoz Tsur” Album Cover
“Something New” Album Cover
“Avi Wisnia Presents:” Album Cover
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AW Logo, black
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