Interviews

Kevin Deas on Jewish Music and Dave Brubeck

An Interview with The Acclaimed Baritone


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Kevin Deas and Dave Brubeck at the Gates of Justice recording session in Maryland, March 2001.

To help celebrate our 30th anniversary, we reached out to several artists who contributed to our recordings. We asked them about how their lives, careers, and views on the Jewish music world had grown since their initial participation. Enjoy this interview is with Kevin Deas and share your own story with us, below.

How did you get involved with the Milken Archive to begin with?

I was asked to participate as the baritone soloist in Dave Brubeck’s recording of the Gates of Justice.

Describe your experience with Jewish music prior to your involvement with the Milken Archive. 

As a freelance singer in New York City, I sang at several reform Synagogues—the outer boroughs in smaller Temples, as well as Temple Emanuel in Manhattan. I was, for several years, a member of a professional quartet at Temple Sharey Tefilo in South Orange, New Jersey. Singing some solos for the High Holy Days, as well as regular services. I found the music soulful and deeply affecting.

Being African-American I felt empathy for the music’s “soulfulness,” often dark and rich, but also it’s jubilance. The congregation was appreciative and engaged.

How might your experience with the Milken Archive have impacted or influenced your career?

I sang the Gates of Justice when I first worked with Dave Brubeck in the late 1980s. Our first meeting was deemed such a success that I continued to collaborate with him for the next 20 years. Singing not only my color-specific role in the Gates of Justice, but numerous other sacred works. This had a profound impact on my continuing pursuit as a classically oriented singer.

Update us on your career since working with the Milken Archive. What are you working on today? What are some of the highlights or accomplishments you're particularly proud of?

I have had substantial success in my continued pursuit. I perform standard and new repertoire with major orchestras around the globe. I have been engaged by major conductors: Solti, Barenboim, Zuckerman, Perlman and Mehta, to name a few.

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Kevin Deas with Cantor Alberto Mizrahi at the Gates of Justice recording session in Maryland, March 2001.

Highlights would include recording the Gates of Justice with Alberto Mizrahi. Singing Beethoven’s 9th with Mo Barenboim and the La Scala Sinfonia in Ghana on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of it’s independence.

What stands out when you reflect on your experience recording for the Milken Archive? Can you share a favorite memory or anecdote?

Mostly that when I look at the archival video, I’m struck by how young I looked, and how high I could sing. But seriously folks, it was truly an honor and a privilege to be a participant in such a landmark, historical experience! Its message of civility, empathy and unity is what modern culture needs most!

Did working on the Milken Archive change your connection to—or conception of—Jewish music? If so, how?

Only in the way previously described. Profoundly.


Short documentary on Dave Brubeck's The Gates of Justice


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Explore Further 

Kevin Deas's Artist Profile The Gates of Justice

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