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Olson Center for Jewish Life jazz event to launch JFSA NW 2020 campaign

Robin Bessier

Jazz vocalist and songwriter Robin Bessier and her jazz trio will bring the rich history of jazz alive at the Ruth and Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life’s 2020 Northwest Division of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Campaign Kickoff dinner, “An Evening of Jewish Jazz Throughout the Ages” on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

Bessier will combine selections from her “Jewish Jazz Connection Concert Series,” focusing on Jewish composer- and artist-influence on jazz as a truly American art form, especially on the intersection between African American and Jewish American cultures in the creation of what we often refer to as the “Great American Songbook,” she told the AJP. 

“The inspiration for this concert series began several years ago when I came to realize the enormous contributions from Jewish composers, which I fell in love within my first year as a music major at age 18. This was personal for me, as it is on my mother’s side of the family (the Jewish side) that we are musicians. I couldn’t help but feel some pride in realizing how much Jewish musicians have contributed to the music I love so dearly. 

“That fascination was fueled when a friend of mine told me an amazing story about his Jewish great grandparents, who had taken an African American boy under their wings in New Orleans and given him his first instrument. I won’t spoil the story (which I will tell as an intro at the concert) by sharing too much here, but suffice to say that it motivated me to look further into the history of jazz and the cultures that came together in its

Bessier has performed five concerts at the Tucson Jewish Community Center in the past two years. The first was an overview of the contributions of Jewish composers and artists to jazz; the second focused on the music performed by Benny Goodman. The third, “From Rio with Love,” focused on Jewish contributions to Brazilian jazz, both there and in the United States, with a special focus on Stan Getz. The fourth concert was a celebration of the Gershwin brothers, and the most recent, in November, focused on the music and life of Irving Berlin. 

“I’ve been very fortunate to receive so much support from the J, which has hosted these concerts, and I’ve been blessed to have been joined by truly stellar musicians,” she says.

For the Olson Center’s event, Bessier will explore a sampling of songs from each decade from 1911 to the 1960s, with Chris Peña on piano, Mike Levy on bass, and Danny Brito on drums.

Before moving to Tucson three years ago, Bessier lived and performed in Washington state, and recorded two albums. The first hit the top of the jazz charts the week of its release and remained in the top 40 for several weeks. The second album, all original material, “has been played literally around the world,” she says.

Jewish Jazz Through the Ages will be held at The Buttes at Reflections, 9800 N. Oracle Road. The evening begins at 5 p.m. for cocktails, followed by the dinner and music at 5:30 p.m. Options are a three-course salmon dinner or a kosher dairy meal upon request. Cost is $45. Check for availability at or contact Anel Pro at or 647-8455.