Gillespie's Goddaughter Blows Her Own Horn Jennie Litvack's memories of late jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie lend a sentimental touch as she plays the shofar at Adas Israel synagogue in Washington, D.C.

Gillespie's Goddaughter Blows Her Own Horn

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Yesterday, as the Jewish Day of Atonement came to a close, worshippers in synagogues around the world heard one last blast of the shofar, the ram's horn. It's blown mostly on the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah. And then with Yom Kippur yesterday, the official shofar-blowing season comes to a close. It's traditional for some members of a congregation to blow the shofar, and I have to say that the people who blew the shofar in my congregation did it extremely well. But last week, I heard from two independent sources that the woman who blew the shofar at another synagogue was exceptional and that this shofar player even had a close relationship with the great jazz trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie.

So here, fresh from her turn at Congregation Adas Israel in Washington, D.C., is Jennie Litvack. Welcome to the program.

Ms. JENNIE LITVACK: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: And I want you to describe, first of all, the remarkable instrument you brought with you.

Ms. LITVACK: Well, this is a shofar. It's a ram's horn. It's about three and a half feet long, and this one plays really nicely. Sometimes it plays like a bugle, but there's nothing manmade about it. Each shofar is different and plays differently.

SIEGEL: And what happens in the synagogue is typically, the rabbi would call out for a series of notes, and you as the shofar player respond.

Ms. LITVACK: Correct. There are basically four types of notes. There is tekiah, which is a medium-length note; the shevarim, which is three shorter notes; a teruah, which are nine staccato notes; and then a tekiah gedolah, where you basically take the biggest breath you can and hold as long as you can.

SIEGEL: How long do you hold that?

Ms. LITVACK: Well, at home I normally am able to do about 40 seconds, but this year during the services with a little bit of divine inspiration, I guess, I was able to do 52. My son was counting with his watch.

SIEGEL: That may be too long for our program, actually. It's a long program, but it may be too long for…

Ms. LITVACK: We don't want any car accidents.

SIEGEL: Okay. Well, first, before we get on to some more exotic playing on the shofar and your story as a horn player, why don't we hear some of those notes from the synagogue? I'll give you the call, okay? Tekiah.

(Soundbite of shofar blowing)

SIEGEL: Shevarim.

(Soundbite of shofar blowing)

SIEGEL: Teruah.

(Soundbite of shofar blowing)

SIEGEL: Tekiah.

(Soundbite of shofar blowing)

SIEGEL: Now, you are also a trumpet player.

Ms. LITVACK: I am, yes.

SIEGEL: When did you start playing the trumpet?

Ms. LITVACK: Oh, I started many years ago, when I was 12 years old.

SIEGEL: You're a 12-year-old kid in Montreal, playing the trumpet, and you told me your dad took you to a jazz club.

Ms. LITVACK: Yeah. My dad took me to the Rising Sun, a wonderful jazz club in Montreal, to hear Dizzy Gillespie play, and afterwards, I went up to him, and I asked him if I could try his trumpet. You know, he had the famous trumpet that bend upwards, and I played, and I think he was impressed. So I asked him if I could have a lesson with him. So he invited me the next day, and I went in. My mother was waiting in the car outside, and she waited for four hours until she finally knocked on the door because we just hit it off. And after that, he just decided that I was his goddaughter, and so we developed a very special relationship.

SIEGEL: To your knowledge, did Dizzy Gillespie ever try playing the shofar?

Ms. LITVACK: It's the type of thing he would do, but I never saw him do it, or I never heard of it. He was a Baha'i, and then we used to have great conversations about Judaism and Baha'ism and the oneness of mankind. But I do say when I play, I also feel Dizz. I feel his connection with me, and that feels really special.

SIEGEL: Now, how about something completely out of the synagogue environment that you can play on the shofar.

Ms. LITVACK: Would you like to hear "Taps"?


(Soundbite of song, "Taps")

SIEGEL: Well, Jennie Litvack, thank you very much for coming here and for playing the shofar for us.

Ms. LITVACK: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity. It was a pleasure.

SIEGEL: Do you want to try one tekiah gedolah now? Okay.

(Soundbite of shofar blowing)

SIEGEL: She went on for 32 seconds this time. I'll take this opportunity to tell you that you can see what makes this sound at, where there's a photo of Jennie Litvack's shofar or ram's horn.

(Soundbite of music)


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