Veteran sax and flute player Lew Tabackin, a product of South Philadelphia, is one of the “Jazz Jews” discussed in Mike Gerber’s new book of that name. Tabackin performs in a quartet with his wife, the noted pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, and will appear from June 29 to July 3 at Birdland.
Though Tabackin did not come from a musical family, his parents paid for music lessons and his mother took him to Philadelphia’s grandiose, now-demolished Earle Theatre, a cinema where live bands like Benny Goodman’s would perform. As a youngster studying the flute and later saxophone, Tabackin, who turned 70 on March 26, was particularly thrilled by the sax playing of Al Cohn, a jazzman who enjoyed a cult following in Philadelphia at the time.
After serving in the army and playing with such great musicians as Elvin Jones and Roland Hanna, Tabackin was playing with Clark Terry’s ensemble in 1967 when a substitute appeared for the regular pianist, Don Friedman. She was Toshiko Akiyoshi, a fetching young Japanese woman who was by then already a masterful performer. Tabackin and Akiyoshi married in 1969 and relocated to the West Coast in the 1970s when, as a side effect of the Black Liberation movement, white jazz musicians were generally shunned.