Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians: Brian Katz. Musician, Educator, Recording Artist, Improviser, Composer

Brian Katz 003 JPG

Brian Katz

“I really do feel that my Jewishness is the anchor of everything I do musically.”

Music Online

Welcome to our weekly Sunday music section called

“Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians.”

By David Eisenstadt

TORONTO. Dec 26/21 – Canada has many internationally-acclaimed musicians who in my view, are under the radar. The talented Brian Katz is one of them. 

Katz’ achievements are significant. 

His mentors are a who’s who of innovative musicians and composers.  Composition teacher Sam Dolin; guitarists Eli Kassner, Norbert Kraft and Ralph Towner; composition composer Fred Stone;  South Indian drummer Trichy Sankaran and pianist Casey Sokol are his influencers.

He was born on December 1, 1955 to Bernard (Bernie) and Norma Katz in Toronto. Dad Bernie was an amateur musician who played the harmonica and was Brian’s “first jamming partner.”

Young Brian listened to lots of music including his Dad’s extensive klezmer and Yiddish 78rpm collection.  “My Jewish music path got reignited in the early 1980’s during the beginnings of the klezmer revival. I played the usual string of weddings and bar mitzvahs, with various bands including the Flying Bulgars. “This was the music I heard during my childhood and I thought that perhaps I could do something with that background which feels like the expression of the music and myself.  So, I began to arrange klezmer and Yiddish songs, adding my classical and jazz influences. That led to me playing, arranging and touring internationally with many of the leading Jewish performers – singers Lenka Lichtenberg, Shura Lipovsky, Allan Merovitz and Theresa Tova; classical flutist Barbara Ackerman; virtuoso klezmer clarinetists Jonno Lightstone and Martin van de Ven.” 

Brian Katz A Journey From Klezmer To Jazz 002

A Journey From Klezmer To Jazz

>>>Click HERE to watch this video <<<

Katz began playing the guitar at nine, influenced by the Beatles.  He learned the cello and started playing piano in his mid-teens.  He attended five universities, earning undergrad and graduate degrees in Music Education.  Katz studied jazz at Humber College in Toronto;  composition and classical guitar at the Royal Conservatory of music in Toronto. He also scored “a teaching certificate from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA in Dalcroze Eurhythmics, an approach to music education that experientially examines the intrinsic relationships between physical movement and music listening and performing,” he told me.  Today, he teaches that course at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music as an adjunct professor. He also teaches Music Education and Performance (including a klezmer course) at UofT and York University, online since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

Niginum, the wordless melodies stemming from the Hasidic tradition “has really called me for many years now,” he explained.  He has written a collection that will be featured on his next recording – “Wordless Melodies For Our Time”.  He added, “That title came to me while improvising with a student in my York University office.  I performed that song this past summer with saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett, as part of the Ashkenaz Festival – my first live concert since the onset of the pandemic.”

Katz is well-regarded as a soloist and composer.  He has performed extensively in Europe and the northeast United States since the 1990s, playing for audiences in the thousands to intimate venues that host smaller music lovers.  “Crowd sizes don’t really matter”, he said.  “What matters is making an impact on my audience.  I want listeners to have a transformative experience with my music, which is of prime importance to me.”

The Toronto Star’s Geoff Chapman reviewed one of Katz’s early klezmer recordings “Collected Stories” and reported, “Guitarist Brian Katz and clarinetist Martin van de Ven play music that lives and breathes despite its ancient origins, and is often enchanting.”

Jazz In Time, a Belgian Journal included a complimentary article in 1990 regarding an ensemble recording, “Solana” for the German label Bellaphon.  Reviewers also raved about Katz’ solo guitar recording, “Leaves Will Speak” released in 2013.

Brian Katz Leaves will speaking 001

Brian Katz Leaves Will Speak/ Circling

>>>Click HERE to watch this video <<<

Thierry Girard, writing in the French publication, Culture Jazz said, “Upon first hearing, one is attracted by the freshness and purity of these musical statements, which succeed in capturing our attention by drawing from a diverse range of sources to form a beautifully coherent program.”  Jazz Weekly’s George W. Harris noted, “You never feel like you’re being overwhelmed by technique as much as by being won over by a convincing discussion.”

Katz said, “ I really do feel that my Jewishness is the anchor of everything I do musically.  That array of Jewish sounds always finds their way, the minor call, the yearning, the unanswered questions.  Being a Jew is who I am, and my immediate background is but a current expression of it – plus, thousands of years of Jewish cultural history I’ve inherited.”

Music notes

Credits: David Kaufman;  Brian Katz/YouTube; Cantor Beny Maissner/YouTube

A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in the Category section.

Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact David Eisenstadt at

David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communication and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Reader’s Comments

-Thanks for the piece about myself. I really appreciate you taking the time to research and write about me. I feel less off the radar this morning 🙂 – BK, Toronto, Canada

-Wonderful article about Brian Katz!  He’s an amazing musician, a fabulous teacher and a loving, charming dreamer. I loved the pics! – CL, Toronto, Canada

-He’s an amazing musician and a great soul. We have seen many of his small concerts and they are very exciting. He plays around town all the time. His original pieces are my favourite of his performances. One of his specialties is Klezmer but don’t be surprised when you hear Baroque, Indian, or anything from the worldwide musical lexicon, as well as current favourites. – MM, Naples, Florida, USA

Brian Katz is a very close friend of mine and we teach Contemporary Improvisation together at Toronto’s York Uiniversity. Such a great guy and musician! Thank you for this. – SK, Toronto, Canada

-Well done, David. I love the way you cull the musicians from here, there and everywhere. – LS, Toronto, Canada

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