Within the Jewish community, the cantor is the person who may lead worship services, singing in Hebrew and running synagogue music programs, among other duties. While they are usually fine singers and musicians, that talent is normally employed for liturgical purposes, but Cantor Jamie Marx is as much like most other cantors as lightning is like a lightning bug.
Marx, 37 (probably no relation to Karl or Groucho), is an exponent of what he calls “Jewish hard rock.” He recently recorded a six-song rock EP, “In Pursuit,” at Morningstar Studios in East Norriton that was released on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. “The studio was recommended by a friend who had recorded there,” the rockin’ cantor told us last week. “Glenn Barratt is a fabulous producer and engineer there.”
Marx, who grew up in California, never considered pursuing a career in pop or rock music, but he has always been a singer, instrumentalist and songwriter. “This is the first time I’ve really pursued the opportunity to play rock music out in the world,” he said.
“I grew up with pretty diverse influences. My mom introduced me to musical theater and big bands. I loved her four-LP set of live Glenn Miller recordings. My older sister was into ’80s pop and new wave, so I’ve always listened to Erasure, Depeche Mode, Prince and Michael Jackson. And from my older brother I got rock: Guns n’ Roses, Faith No More, Aerosmith and the like. And as a saxophonist in middle school and high school and later as a Music major in college, I listened to a ton of classical music.”
Marx received his Master’s in Sacred Music in May of 2010 and his cantorial ordination in May of 2011, both from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He earned a BA in Music from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in 2003.
“In Pursuit” is not Marx’ first foray into having his music published. He released two singles of Jewish pop in 2016. His setting of “Yih’yu L’ratzon” was chosen from among more than 400 entries for inclusion in “Shabbat Anthology Vol. 8,” published by Transcontinental Music Publications. “I go where the inspiration takes me. Sometimes that’s the liturgy, and sometimes that comes from studying scripture.”
Marx wrote a blog series entitled “Jewish Voices on Rock,” discussing the intersection of rock music and spirituality. Next month, he’ll be performing on the Jewish Rock Radio stage at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial Convention in Boston.
Cantor Marx in currently in his fourth year serving as cantor of Temple Sholom in Broomall. Prior to this position, he was the cantor of Touro Synagogue in New Orleans. (What city could be better for a musician?)
An event that inspired much of Marx’ music was a concert in 2009 in Madison Square Garden by Billie Joe Anderson and his rock band, Green Day. “That concert remains one of the most moving worship experiences of my life,” he wrote recently on ReformJudaism.org. “Upbeat, ecstatic music, joined with a community fully engaged, singing and screaming our hearts out. If Green Day’s loud, hard-charging pop punk doesn’t speak to you, it’s easy for the sense of spirituality to be lost in the volume. But the hard-rock aesthetic expresses certain emotions especially well — fear, ecstasy, terror, anger — all of which are found in our traditional prayers.
“Our liturgy is more than just sweet platitudes of praise and timid words of request; our petitions sometimes come from pain and anger. When we see people we love stricken by illness or unexpected death, we become filled with a sense of injustice and helplessness. When we narrowly dodge a car accident or find a child who went missing for a few moments at the mall, we feel immense gratitude tinged with the breathless terror at how small and fragile we are.
“All of these ideas came together as I was writing the music for ‘In Pursuit.’ I went looking for another way into some of our familiar Friday night prayers and other sacred texts, a way to express the text in a musical ‘language’ that I have spoken for most of my life … I wanted ‘In Pursuit’ to bring a new approach and to offer up another doorway into an honest, prayerful moment, whether it’s in a synagogue, a venue or a bar.
And more than anything else, I just wanted the music to rock.”
Cantor Marx lives in Wynnewood with his wife Anna and children, Eliana and Isaac.
For more information, visit www.cantorjamiemarx.com