On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Dec. 18, 2020

Dave Cohen (Aug. 8, 1985 – ): Country Music Keyboard Player, Songwriter, Producer

By DAVID EISENSTADT

“Nashville cats, play clean as country water
Nashville cats, play wild as mountain dew
Nashville cats, been playin’ since they’s babies
Nashville cats, get work before they’re two…”

Defined by that Zal Yanovsky/Lovin’ Spoonful lyric, country music keyboard player and producer Dave Cohen is a “Nashville cat.” And he’s Canadian.

At 35, Cohen is one of the most in-demand musicians in Nashville, playing on many Top 40 Country hits with artists like Big & Rich, Chris Young, Ed Sheeran, Florida Georgia Line, Joe Nicols, Josh Turner, Kip Moore, Old Dominion, Rascal Flatts, Reba, Steven Tyler (see photo above, Cohen left, Tyler right), Toby Keith, and Wynona Judd, among others.

He was born in Toronto to Robert and Shelley Cohen, and the family moved to Calgary in 1989.  His father played the guitar, and Cohen started playing piano at five. As a teenager, he joined the PT Junction Blues Authority, a group that included my cousin Sandy Shuler’s son, Josh Goldenberg, as guitarist and lead singer. She told me about Cohen and how they won the battle of the bands at his high school, Henry Wise Wood.

Kid Rock and Dave Cohen

Rachel Barsky noted in The Canadian Jewish News that Cohen didn’t plan to become a musician. “It was in Grade 12 when he was accepted to Humber College’s jazz program in Toronto that he started thinking about becoming a professional musician.” 

Cohen told me, “I wasn’t that passionate about jazz itself as an art form. More so as a tool to learn music and become a better player. A soon as I had an opportunity to go on the road as a sideman, I dropped out.” 

He continued to work as a freelance musician in various groups in Toronto. “That’s how Cohen got his first major gig, as the keyboard player for Amanda Marshall, which led to playing with her at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in front of 55,000 people,” Barsky reported. That was in 2006, and led to working with Scottish-Canadian country music artist Johnny Reid.

After touring with a few Canadian acts, “I realized there was a ceiling as to how high my career would go if I didn’t move to a larger market,” he told me. So Cohen headed to Nashville in 2007.

Tired of the rigours of the road in 2012, he settled into a studio musician’s life. Speaking with Hanna Jessica of Building Our Own Nashville blog, he said, “Every artist does things differently, but broadly. We get set up and ready to go at 10 a.m. We listen to the songs we’re going to play that day and make charts so we can all be on the same page. Then (we) make music until 9 p.m. some days. Everything I play in a session is improvised. We often have a demo recording of how the songwriter intended the song to be played, but we’re not locked to that. We’re free to give ideas.”

In 2017, he received the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Piano/Keyboards Player of the Year Award. “My first thought was that my career was peaking too early and that I was destined to fade out early,” he told thecountrynote.com. “Those thoughts quickly turned to how I could live up to that title. It’s obviously a huge honour to win an award like that. A lot of the records I have worked on are consecutive and it’s a very cool experience to have your own rapport with the artist you’re working for. Many times in the studio, you just show up and do your job and don’t really feel connected to the project. With consecutive records, it’s cool to have a relationship to build on and use as inspiration for the tunes.”

His Jewish connection to music came from his family and growing up in Calgary.

“My years at Camp B’nai Brith Riback in Pine Lake, Alberta were where I got together and sang songs with my camper peers,” he recalled. “During high school, my bandmates were Jewish and all members of BBYO, playing at dances and band battles. I owe a lot to the Calgary Jewish community for laying the groundwork for me both musically and socially to be able to thrive in this career.”

Of late, Cohen has been doing more producing in addition to songwriting and session work. Musicrow.com reported that he recently signed a worldwide publishing deal with Spirit Music Nashville as “co-producer of eight No. 1 songs and session musician on over 50 No. 1 songs. He joins a roster including songwriter Jonathan Singleton, Grammy-winning songwriter David Garcia, a MusicRow Song of the Year winner and Grammy-nominated writer Jeremy Bussey, and ACM Guitar Player of the Year Derek Wells as well as Bobby Hamrick, Brinley Addington, Frank Ray and Neil Thrasher.” 

Not bad for a Nashville cat from Calgary.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding Partner of tcgpr.com the Canadian Partner firm of IPREX Global Comunication. He is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Montreal Bagels Bring in Bucks for Alberta BBYOs

Sept. 25, 2020 – By JEREMY APPEL

Thousands of legendary Montreal bagels were shipped overnight to Calgary and Edmonton just in time for the first night of Rosh Hashanah as a fundraiser for Alberta’s two branches of B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO).

Fairmount Bagel in Montreal sent 468 dozen, or 5,616 of the oven-baked goodies, to Edmonton, and 150 dozen, or 1,800, to Calgary via FedEx overnight shipping to ensure delivery for Sept. 18. Local BBYO organizers had sold most of them in advance.

Stacey Leavitt-Wright, who sits on BBYO Edmonton’s parent board and hails from Montreal, said the honey-sweetened bagels baked in a wood-fired oven were a big hit because they’re different from the bagels in Edmonton.

“The [Montreal] bagels go through a different process than a commercial bakery bagel,” she explained. “It makes them a little crunchy on the outside and they have that smoky, wood oven taste. It just adds a different flavour to the whole thing, and when you toast them, to me they’re magic.”

The bagels, served with honey and lox on the side, were distributed drive-through style at Talmud Torah Jewish day school, with BBYO members placing them in the trunk of each vehicle.

“It went beyond our dreams of how successful it could be and how much money we could raise for the group,” Leavitt-Wright said.

“We had a lot of people outside the Jewish community participating. They were all so glad to be able to support teens who are developing leadership skills.”

The BBYOs raised between $3,000 and $4,000, which will go toward programming that is decided by the youth groups’ membership, as well as filling a financial gap created by removing membership fees, she added.

The fundraiser’s genesis comes from another BBYO parent board member, Tamara Vineberg, who saw a news story about someone in Toronto who had ordered “a whole whack” of Montreal bagels in May.

After Vineberg ordered a shipment to Edmonton from Montreal’s St-Viateur Bagels, Leavitt-Wright suggested they do something similar for a BBYO fundraiser.

For former Montrealers, or even anyone who’s visited the city, there’s a certain nostalgia associated with bagels, Vineberg said.

“The smell is just amazing,” she said. “It just fills your car.” 

Given the relatively small Jewish populations in Calgary and Edmonton, their BBYO chapters coordinate extensively. While Edmonton has no Montreal bagel shops, Calgary has four, which is why their shipment was much smaller, explains Barry Pechet, who was responsible for the BBYO bagels in Calgary.

“A lot of people felt, ‘It’s a Montreal bagel from Montreal,’ so it has that novelty aspect to it,” he said.

In Calgary, drive-through pickup was offered at the Jewish Community Centre.

Pechet said the funds raised in Calgary will go toward BBYO’s recreation, educational and community service programming, “and allow us to pump in more money so we can have a better output of our programs in frequency and quality.”

Vineberg said another fundraiser is planned, following this one’s success, possibly in the spring.

Canadians Sign Up for Global Jewish Pen Pal Program

Aug. 28, 2020 –

By SUSAN MINUK

By early April, the coronavirus pandemic had the world hunkered down in self-quarantine. As people were isolating, Pennsylvania-born Madison Jackson knew the timing was right to launch her passion project: The Global Jewish Pen Pal Program.

Madison Jackson

“The best way to dispel myths about what it means to be Jewish in other countries is to create one-on-one friendships and international Jewish connections where you actually get the chance to learn about Jewish life from someone who lives in a different country than yourself,” Jackson, 22, told the CJR.

To date, 450 people have signed up for the program and 400 matches have been made. Thirty Canadians from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Saskatoon have been paired with Jewish pen pals in Ukraine, Poland, Australia, Mexico, Switzerland, England, Hong Kong, Georgia, the Netherlands, India, and the United States. The youngest pen pal is seven, the oldest, 83.

The idea for the initiative came about in the summer of 2018, when Jackson worked as an intern at the American Jewish Committee’s Central Europe office in Warsaw, after receiving a Goldman Fellowship.

She researched and wrote reports aboutJewish communities in seven Central European countries, and researched and edited content for a book about Polish-Jewish dialogue. After that, she traveled in the region.

“I realized there are Jews living all over the world with so much in common,” she said.

There’s a vetting process in which applicants must state how they learned about the program – whether through their synagogue or a Facebook group.It’s all free and open to Jews of any age who can speak, read and write in English.

The criteria for a match require that people come from two different countries and be no more than two years apart in age, Jackson explained.They also have to sign up for the same form of communication, whether handwritten letters, emails, or video calls.

“We just had our first person sign up from Croatia!” Jackson exclaimed.

The program has garnered attention from synagogues and Jewish youth groups, such as B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO) International and Hillel International.

Jackson was raised in a Conservative Jewish home in Cleveland, Ohio, and spent summers at Camp Ramah inMuskoka, Ont. as a camper and later, as staff.

In the summer of 2014, she travelled to Hungary to attend Szarvas International Jewish Youth Camp, where she met Jewish peers from countries outsideNorth America and Israel. She quickly grew passionate about Jewish life in Europe and India, especially about individuals who were “ecstatic to learn about Jewish traditions and customs they learned from camp…and bring it back to their parents and their local communities.”

This experience led her to pursue her education in contemporary studies in Jewish life. She graduated from Binghamton University in May 2019 with a double BA in Judaic Studies and English.

The Global Jewish Pen Pal Program engages its participants by sending out monthly conversation starters. It highlights a pen pal “Pair of the Month,”and shares Jewish recipes and fun facts from other countries via Facebook and Instagram.

Jackson is also hosting pen pals as guests on her own show, “The Pen Pal Perspective,” aired on Radio Melitz, an online operation that aims to connect Jewish communities, schools, institutions, and projects around the world.

“In addition to matching individuals, I am now matching school classes with Jewish pen pals in another country,” she said.

Jackson is devoting all her time to theprogram, as she was laid off from her job as a program associate at the Cleveland JCC amid COVID.

To learn more, visit the Global Jewish Pen Pal Program on Facebook or @global_jewish_pen_pals on Instagram.