Interview with Yossi Green
November 23, 2003
Conducted by Tzvi Turner and Binyamin Bresky
88.7 FM WJCU
Jewish Community Radio: You are the guy thatís composed all these albums over all these years.
Yossi Green: Yeah, so they say.
Jewish Community Radio: Avraham Fried, Mordechai Ben David, and Dedi and all these guys. You wrote the songs?
Yossi Green: Yes. With the help of Hashem
Jewish Community Radio: And produced the albums?
Yossi Green: Some of them, yes.
Jewish Community Radio: How long have you been doing this?
Yossi Green: Writing, Iíve been doing for over twenty-five years. Producing, the first album I produced, Dov Levine. Or Dov Hoffman. I donít know if you go back that far.
Jewish Community Radio: Yeah, I remember Dov Hoffman and Dov Levine as well. That was a great album. We used to sing it a lot in yeshiva. Is there a point where you really took off and skyrocketed and people across the country were like, "yeah, Yossi Green!"
Yossi Green: No. It still hasnít happened. Iím still looking to skyrocket.
Jewish Community Radio: Is there one artist in particular, like Mordechai Ben David, Moshiach Moshiach Moshiach? Which album or singer really made the mark for your compositions?
Yossi Green: Well I began in the London School of Jewish Song. I donít know if you remember those. I guess Avraham Fried was really the first when we did No Jew Will Be Left Behind, I guess that was the first album that really took off.
Jewish Community Radio: After that how many did you do for Avraham Fried?
Yossi Green: At least eight.
Jewish Community Radio: Iíll never forget when that tape came out. I played it over and over again. And from there you became involved in New York School of Jewish Song? And from there you did Meir Sherman?
Yossi Green: Right.
Jewish Community Radio: And you said the song where you wrote a letter to moshiach, that started the moshiach songs?
Yossi Green: Yeah, I think that was the first one. That was the first English song really that involved moshiach at that time.
Jewish Community Radio: What was it before that? What was there theme to the songs?
Yossi Green: There werenít that many if you think about it. There was Hineini by Mordechai. Which really had a different kind of message. And then there was, I think, Someday Weíll All Be Together. Remember that song?
Jewish Community Radio: You wrote all of these?
Yossi Green: No, I did not write Someday.
Jewish Community Radio: When you write the songs, are you going for something? Do you have an audience in mind?
Yossi Green: No. Basically my audience grew up together with me. We just sort of wrote and they just sort of listened. And we continue to grow with them. Same thing with the singers. I mean, when we started out with Avraham Fried, he was a very young man. He came to the house. I remember him. And we were sitting by the piano. Usually what I do when I sit down with an artist for the first time, I try to get an understanding of what he is interested in singing about -- what kind of lyrics interest him. And thatís usually where I connect. And when I sat down with Avrumil, thatís Avraham Fried, as we called him, Avrumil. And I asked him -- he was I think nineteen years old -- and I said, what do you want to sing about? And he told me, Iím a chasid of Chabad and our motto is that no Jew will be left behind. To me that was a very powerful statement by a young man. So, I turned around to the piano and I did the first bar of [singing] "no Jew will be left behind." And we went from there. That was my introduction to Avraham Fried.
Jewish Community Radio: And the rest of history. From that album to the current album. What I like is what heís doing with the Chabad niggunim. And they have such beautiful niggunim, as you know. And heís really going to task to what he set out to do. Really bringing those niggunim back.
Yossi Green: Right. He does two kinds of albums. An album with me, which is an original album, and then he does an album that has Chabad songs, like Baal Shem Tov or Chazak Chazak. These are every second album. We always skip. One original album and he puts out a Chabad song album.
Jewish Community Radio: I think right now weíre up to an original album because the last one was Avinu Malkeinu?
Yossi Green: Right. Now weíre almost finish selecting songs for the new album.
Jewish Community Radio: And you hit on this before, with talking about Abraham Fried and asking him questions. But what amazes me is for each singer, the songs that youíve written for them are really for each of those singers. How does that happen?
Yossi Green: Yes well I donít have stock, an inventory of songs, you know. Many people call me and ask, well do you have anything that you can give me now? And thereís no such a thing. I donít give people songs on the phone. I usually, what I do is sit down at the piano with them and sort of weíll go through a very serious interview. Here I get to see whether this person just wants to sing, or does he want to -- you see by us, our songs are full of messages. And just wanting to sing is not enough for me to write. Itís enough, I mean, I donít mean to say that every singer has to have a message. Itís just that for me to be able to write something unique for a singer, I have to see how he connects to a lyric. And usually someone will come and help me look. Thereís this lyric, thereís this tefillah -- this prayer that I say that has special meaning to me for this and this reason. Can you write me a song on that lyric? And usually it is very, very easy for me to write a song for him, knowing that. Because Iíve sort of detected a connection between him and a lyric. And somehow it sort of starts flowing at that point. On the other hand if I have a singer that will come and sit down next to me by the piano with very short responses, it will be very difficult for me to write something unique for that person.
Jewish Community Radio: So on that note, thereís a lot of songs that you have written over the years that have come from Gemorra, Chumash, even Rashi. And, for instance, the one I have in front of me is the Yachad Vírabbah that came from aich ha rabbah. How does that evolve?
Yossi Green: Well Yachad Vírabbah is different. With Avraham Fried, I have a totally different relationship. That is because we have so the same ideas about what I want to write about and what he wants to sing about that I donít need for him to sit with me any more. I select material for him. For instance, I just found a brand new tefillah of what happens the first day you take your son specifically to cheder. Itís a tefillah written by one of the first achronim. And I found that to be incredibly moving. This guyís saying, Iím taking my son to cheder for the first time to learn Torah. To me thatís very, very powerful. And I knew right away, I donít even have to call him. That I have to try to write something on this lyric that wound be for Avraham Fried.
Jewish Community Radio: Obviously that would be a slow song?
Yossi Green: No, actually not. Itís a spirited song. Itís a medium.
Jewish Community Radio: How do you determine whatís going to be the upbeat ones, as far as the lyrics?
Yossi Green: You can see the lyric. Itís strange. Some people will use lyrics, which in my opinion, should go for a slow song, used for a fast song. Some of the younger crowd has a different way of looking at various tefillahs. Certain thing develop new meaning as we get older. So to me, something like that is a medium fast song.
Jewish Community Radio: Now letís talk a little about Ohad Moskowitz, which is the newest album youíve worked on. To me, thatís just an album that all ten songs are just powerful. Itís not just like I skip over this song or that song. Have you gotten that kind of response?
Yossi Green: Thank G-d weíve gotten great response on Ohad. Ohad is the first time it ever happened to me that young man would start and do an album that every song on the album would be -- he inspired me to do the best job that I could for him. And first of all heís an amazing young man. He lives in Modiin. Heís about twenty-seven years old. Heís married. He has two children. Heís a great father, great husband and he is a role model. Heís somebody I would not mind taking my kids to see in concert. I donít mind them looking up at him. Heís an incredible singer, and an incredible talent. Has a voice that you hear once -- very, very rare. And when he came to me for the first time -- I can give you an interesting example. The name of the album is Verastich. He has an agent who, the first time he came to see me in my office, it was after five oíclock, in the afternoon. He had come from Israel that morning. They were rather tired and I sat down by the piano and I started the interview. I started to doing my thing in order to see what is this Ohad, what is he into? And suddenly his agent asks me what time is it. I say its 5:30. And he says to me, oh my G-d, we didnít put on tefillin yet. So I said, okay, no problem. So called my wife and said letís get the tefillin over here. Now in the morning when we say tefillin, we say verachtili when you wrap the tefillin around your fingers. So right away I immediately connected to those lyrics and sat down by the piano and wrote that V'eirastich song based on that. That was the first song that I wrote for him. Iím trying to give you an example of -- an understanding of how I write. The connection isnít only something that you speak to the singer about. Itís also what takes place around him.
Jewish Community Radio: And that V'eirastich, what would you label that kind of music? Because that has a different kind of beat.
Yossi Green: I think itís a real, well, itís a rock song. Itís, well, itís hard for me to classify. I donít do anything really according to classification.
Jewish Community Radio: It has a very interesting sound to it and itís really upbeat
Yossi Green: And Mi Yitein which is song number 2, is something its from a zmiros that I say every Shabbos day. Itís from chaya sheva brochos, right? But whatís interesting to me is that you come home and you make kiddush and you sing chai hashem and you itís one of those kind of zmiros that you donít really pay too much attention to. Well I didnít pay to much attention to what the meaning of it was. You just start the meal and everyoneís hungry. And you know from after shacharis and I spoke to Ohad and Ohad points out to me "me tain venuchasi," that he likes very much those lyrics. So I take a look at those lyrics and I see that itís unbelievable. The author is describing what he would like the end of his life to look like. And to me, it was like, wait a minute, I canít get over this. Heís describing that at the end of his life that when his menucha comes, that his mitas should be shlayma, should be complete, and angels to take his neshoma when the time comes. And I say, my goodness gracious, I canít believe that this has been there all along. And the song didnít take three minutes to write.
Jewish Community Radio: Mr. Green, I ask this of a lot of different musicians that we interview; what exactly is Jewish music?
Yossi Green: Thatís a great question. When you say Jewish music, are you talking about Chassidic music? Simply Jewish music is music written by a Jewish person. That would be the most simple answer. Rogers and Hammerstein is Jewish music.
Jewish Community Radio: Yes. I see what you mean. You donít know how many requests Iíve gotten to play the Beastie Boys. And I say no.
Yossi Green: I donít know the Beastie Boys. Iím not sure who they are. I mean, when we were growing up we heard Rogers and Hammerstein. And we knew that Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein were Jewish.
Jewish Community Radio: Almost like Simon and Garfunkel.
Yossi Green: Exactly. You can call that Jewish music too. But youíre probably asking what is Chasidic music, which means where the audience is people that do not listen to regular, secular music. They listen to only music that that has a Jewish message behind it. And usually the Jewish music that has a message behind it is music written to tefillos, to various things in Torah. But where a melody is joined with a specific lyric that familiar or not familiar, to teach a certain message, to convey a feeling, that makes you closer to G-d. That basically what we consider as Jewish music.
Jewish Community Radio: Now some people, they write songs specifically to try and make people religious or try and be inspirational. I donít know if I feel that from you.
Yossi Green: Okay explain. What do you mean by that?
Jewish Community Radio: I mean, a lot of albums that come out are geared towards getting kids to be more Jewish or thereís a message. Itís almost kind of dragging it out.
Yossi Green: I find that itís not entertaining though. Music has to be entertaining. You canít write music with the objective of sending a message. Because children are not interested in being given messages to. The way, in my opinion, was always to write the best music possible and to produce it in the best way. And then once people would start listening to it and be interested in it, the message would come through. Afterwards. But to go ahead and to just write with the idea of sending a message? The music ultimately has to be entertaining. It has to be something that makes you happy that makes you want to listen to it.
Jewish Community Radio: You just had a concert with Ohad last Sunday?
Yossi Green: We do the annual Jewish hospice concert at Lincoln Center. Itís about mid-November and, thank G-d, the concerts are sold out. The organization, there is an unfortunate need for it, itís for Jewish hospice patients -- itís being called Yossi Green and Friends -- where Iíve had the opportunity to invite various people for an evening of music and inspirational message and humor. Itís kind of a combination talk show/music performance. Weíve had a very, very beautiful turn out. As Iíve said, we sold out every ticket for the last few years it was this past Sunday night I had some surprise guests. This year we had Dudu Fisher come and surprised me. Yaakov Shwekey surprised me. Mendy Wald and Ohad were advertised. Ohad, Shloime Simcha and Dov Levine they came on. Thereís a piano at center stage and we talk and itís like we interview each other and then we sing. Itís a very, very unique format.
Jewish Community Radio: Just to close here, what are you currently working on? Are there any singers that might come back with an album? One that comes to mind is Dov Levine.
Yossi Green: Well Dov is not doing any individual albums right now. He performs a lot. He does a lot of concert work -- weddings and things like that. Iím currently involved in an album with Shloime Simcha and with Avraham Fried. Naturally Iím doing Shades of Green Volume 2. Iím also doing my own album for the first time.
Jewish Community Radio: Okay, and what do you mean by that?
Yossi Green: Iím doing a solo album.
Jewish Community Radio: Are you going to sing?
Yossi Green: Yes.
Jewish Community Radio: Oh, okay, so itís a solo album.
Yossi Green: Itís a solo album where Iím going to have various guests. But its my solo album. Itís been in the works now for a year and a half. Iím also putting out two music books for the first time. Hopefully, it will be out not this Chanukah, but G-d willing, next Chanukah.
Jewish Community Radio: Sheet music?
Yossi Green: Yeah. Music, anecdotes, lyrics, some of the stories that Iíve said behind every song and the actually music. Itís being put out in the form of an art book. Like a coffee table type book. Theyíre coming out two books at the same time. Each book has eighteen songs. Some of the well-known songs and how they came about. Sort of a combination music book and autobiography type of thing.
Jewish Community Radio: That should be interesting. Looking forward to that book. Yossi, I want to thank you for coming on this morning. We learned a lot. We really appreciated you taking the time.
Yossi Green: Thank you Tzvi and Ben and thank you to the Cleveland audience.
Copyright 2004 Jewish Community Radio