Berlin and balalaika on tap at the J

Arizona Balalaika Orchestra

Two Celebration of Heritage concerts will take center stage at the Tucson Jewish Community Center in the coming months.

Robin Bessier
Chris Pena
Mike Levy

Robin Bessier’s band returns to the J on Sunday, Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. with the next concert in the Jewish Jazz Connection series, “The Life and Music of Irving Berlin,” exploring the legacy of the composer and lyricist. One of the most prolific contributors and shapers of the “great American songbook,” the Russian-born, self-taught composer rose up from an impoverished childhood to write more than 1,500 songs over a 60-year career. Vocalist Robin Bessier’s band includes master musicians Chris Peña on piano and Mike Levy on bass.

The Arizona Balalaika Orchestra will perform on Sunday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. The orchestra was founded in Tucson almost 40 years ago by Mia Bulgarin Gay. The concert will feature Roma style vocalists Natalia Neazimbyetov and Guy Velgos, musicians in full costume playing on imported Russian instruments — the triangular balalaikas, rounded domras (resembling the mandolin), accordions, woodwinds, and the exotic harp-like gusli. Along with traditional Russian folk melodies, the concert will also include Moldovan, Jewish, and Ukrainian songs.

Tickets are $10. Register for the Irving Berlin concert at for the Arizona Balalaika Orchestra at, or by calling 299-3000.