He calls himself “just a guy from Queens who happens to be a music fan”, but today, Avi Newmark has fans of his own. Raised on a diet of Mordechai ben David, Avraham Fried and Miami Boys Choir, music played an important role in Avi’s childhood, as singing was a focal point both at the Shabbos table and at family gatherings.
Avi recalls that growing up, “My father always had MBD on in the car and I was always amazed by how many good songs he had on one album. At family gatherings, my Bubby and Zaidy always loved when we would sing at the piano. While I always shied away from the actual singing I remember my dad encouraging me, asking me which songs the other kids should sing. Our Shabbos table was always filled with both the zemiros of my Zaidy and current Jewish music. As I got a bit older I found myself critiquing song productions to my dad telling him how I would have done the song differently.”
Childhood friend Nachum Stark of Miami Boys Choir was a frequent Friday night guest at the Newmark house, singing his latest songs and always asking Avi for his opinions. As Avi got older, his parents would have weekly Friday night tishes where they would host his friends, while Avi would lead the zemiros, lining up one song after another.
First and foremost, Avi credits his parents for making him who he is today.
“My parents subconsciously pushed me and brought out my creativity. They always supported my musical ambitions, be it in providing me with piano lessons, drum lessons or the willingness to take me to every concert, even if I didn’t ask. Without question, the love of music that I have comes from them.”
Ironically, it was at his own wedding that Avi Newmark’s career really got off the ground. Like so many other music lovers, Avi hand picked the musicians for his wedding and the very next day his phone started ringing with people asking his advice about booking musicians for their upcoming events. Avi began putting together bands, which he booked for Neginah Orchestra. It was at a l’chaim where Avi made his first major discovery, telling the one man band who had been hired for the night that he was wasting his time behind a keyboard instead of pursuing a career as a singer. Two lives were forever changed that night, as Avi Newmark began his career as producer and manager for the soon to be famous Dovid Gabay .
Avi used his connections in the music world to get Gabay as much exposure as he could. Not only did he book Gabay as the singer on all his jobs with Neginah, he also got him on Gideon Levine’s 2002 album, Best of the Best 2 and Sameach at the Wheel, released in 2003.
Always on the lookout for new opportunities, Avi was involved in other projects as well. He hosted a weekly Top Ten show on now defunct Five Towns Radio that was so successful that when Avi left the show his fans ran a campaign on Yahoo’s Jewish music group entitled “Bring Back Avi Newmark!!” Even now, seven years later, one of his loyal fans recalls Avi’s shows fondly saying, “His Top Ten shows, commentary and interviews were fantastic. He had the greatest taste in music which reflected what people wanted to hear. I loved his shows and never missed a single one of them.”
Meanwhile, Avi was also hard at work on his first production, a single, composed by Ari Goldwag, entitled “Ranenu” featuring Donny Baitner, David Pearlman and Avi Katz, formerly of the Chevra. The single, released in 2005, also included a remix version of the song and later appeared on AKA Pella 2.
Avi’s second project and first full scale album, was Dovid Gabay’s highly anticipated debut album, LeGabay. Released in 2006, the album was an instant hit and both Avi Newmark and Dovid Gabay were well on their way to building illustrious careers in the Jewish music business.
The very well received Shabbos Get Ready, released in 2007, was Avi’s next production, featuring the voices of Miami star soloists Ari Goldwag, Nachum Stark, Yitzy Spinner, Nachman Seltzer and Yitzchok Rubin, in addition to the debut of child singers Shimon and Moshe Bell of Sheves Achim. Pesach 2007 found Dovid Gabay in the envious position of being included on Oorah’s Afikoman CD with some of the top names in Jewish music, singing the Newmark-produced Hatov. Eight months later, Yitzy Spinner’s debut album, you and I, hit store shelves, also bearing Avi’s now familiar AN logo.
A gifted musician, composer and arranger, in addition to being a talented vocalist and a perfectionist, Yitzy Spinner explained why he chose Avi to produce his first album.
“What led me to work with Avi was his uncompromising attention to detail. While every producer has his own way of working, Avi’s is very simple – he micromanages every facet of a production, from the smallest detail to the largest, beginning to end. It’s a level of quality control that is rarely seen in any business. Having grown up in the music industry, I’ve had the privilege and honor to work with virtually every major act of the last twenty years in either a live or studio setting. Some talents come and go while others shine for years. To me, Avi Newmark is a name that will be in this business for many more years, and when you see a CD cover with his name on it, you know that therein lies a quality product.”
If 2007 was a busy year for Avi, it was nothing compared to 2008. March brought Dovid Gabay’s sophomore album, Omar Dovid, a groundbreaking CD that managed to be both mainstream and out of the box all at the same time. Lag B’Omer brought the free download of Yitzy Spinner’s newly remixed Mi Sheshikein. December 2008 brought not one, but two Avi Newmark releases: Shea Rubenstein’s debut album, Ohavti, featuring the hit song Window in Heaven and Chasoif, a free download in honor of the Mumbai Shloshim, a collective effort by some of the top names in Jewish music, featuring the voices of Benny Friedman, Yisroel Werdyger and Yitzy Spinner. Rubenstein describes Avi as “a pleasure to work with. I was referred to Avi by a composer who told me ‘if you want to get the job done, go to Avi.’ Avi understands music and has great insights on choir work. He worked endless hours, often well past midnight, because he is so devoted to his projects. Producing is more than just a job for Avi. It is a passion.”
With so many successful projects to his credit, it comes as no surprise that both the listening audience and those in the Jewish music business came to respect the man who seems to have an uncanny knack for recognizing new talent and developing it to its fullest potential. Singer, concert producer, and composer Avram Zamist says, “It is through Avi’s incredible abilities that stars like Dovid Gabay and Benny Friedman have been born. His knowledge in song selection, producing, and promotion is unparalleled in the industry”. Leib Yaakov Rigler described his experience working with Avi in glowing terms saying, “I’ve known Avi for over three years, starting from the time he asked me to arrange songs for Dovid Gabay’s second album,Omar Dovid. I’m impressed with his professionalism, his ability to keep to a schedule and keep his word, his overall good taste in music and most importantly, his mentchluchkeit. Composer Elimelech Blumstein adds, “what I like about Avi is his ‘no compromise attitude’. Anything he touches, from song, arrangement to choir will be perfect or it won’t hit the shelves. With Avi there is no style that is too old or too new. It’s not about doing what is ‘done’, it is about doing what’s best.”
Ian Freitor, whose Staten Island recording studio is, in Avi’s words, “my favorite place in the whole world”, credits Avi’s success to his open mindedness and his willingness to try something new.
“People take the producer for granted, but they don’t realize just how much a producer brings to the table. Avi has a clear idea of what he wants to do, but is very accommodating and lets his artists try things a different way if that is what they want to do. If Avi likes what he hears, we develop it together. If not, we go back to Avi’s original vision. Because of his flexibility and his willingness to hear other ideas, the results are much better and we are bringing lots of innovation and new styles to Jewish music,” says Freitor, who has been working with Avi for the past four years.
Freitor attributes the sudden influx of Jewish artists who have begun flocking to his Staten Island studio to the success of Avi’s albums saying, “Avi was the first person I worked with in the Jewish music business. Once we got started, we became a team.” Indeed, since the release of Avi’s latest production, Benny Friedman’s blockbuster album, Taamu, released in November 2009, both men find themselves busier than ever. Additionally, Avi’s Nagila Orchestra, featured on Benny Friedman’s album, is the band of choice for music aficionados who want the highest level of musical quality without an extravagant price. Avi personally attends every Nagila job, ensuring that the same level of excellence that he brings to his albums is present at every event.
January 2010 brought Avi’s first foray into the world of concerts when he teamed up with Bernie Dove and Avram Zamist for the premiere of the Chelsea Unplugged Concert Series. This intimate concert was a huge success, with all-star performers Benny Friedman and 8th Day delivering top-notch music as they connected with their audience in a very big way. More concerts in this series are in the planning stages. With all that Avi has accomplished, the next logical step was the creation of Newmark Productions, which in addition to musical and all forms of media production also provides artist representation and management.
Not surprisingly, Avi is back in the studio, hard at work on a number of projects including Yitzy Spinner’s second album, a solo album with Pi Shnayim’s Sholom Jacobs and an all new kids album. Of course, plans for Benny Friedman’s next album are also underway. Always one to avoid hype and hoopla, Avi declines to give expected release dates for any of his albums, simply saying “they will be released when they are ready.”
Without exception, Avi’s peers can’t seem to say enough about this very talented producer, lauding his attention to detail, easy going nature and his fierce dedication to his clients. Hillel Hirsch of Sameach Music says, “Avi has a great ear for picking out the right songs for each artist. Be it a wedding, a studio session or a concert, Avi is the guy you want to make the experience complete.” Sholom Jacobs of Pi Shnayim explains he chose Avi to produce his new solo CD because, “Avi has great insight in the Jewish music field and his results speak for themselves. He knows his stuff and is an absolute pleasure to deal with.” Sruly Meyer, in house graphics designer at Aderet, who worked with Avi on both Chasoif and Taamu, describes Avi as “one of the most talented guys I know. Not only does he have an extreme passion for music, but he understands things from the viewpoint of the man on the street. Avi knows what people want and at the same time has the foresight to plan for shifting trends and that makes for the best musical experience for everyone.”
Benny Friedman, touted by some as the next Jewish music superstar, heaps praise upon his producer and manager saying, “Avi is extremely talented. His uncanny ability to innovate musically, without losing the warmth that defines Jewish music, creates the unique sound that people are so very excited about. Working with him, seeing how his mind never stops working and his energy and enthusiasm for the project never run dry, is a very cool experience.”
Always quiet, understated and unassuming, Avi seems genuinely surprised by his success. He recalls being stunned when composer Yitzy Bald approached him at a wedding and said, “Every single album you have ever produced is absolutely terrific. You just know what to do with everyone you work with. Everything you have done, from beginning to end, is amazing.”
Yet with all the accolades bestowed upon Avi by his peers touting his musical acumen, none means more to him than hearing himself described as someone who has “an amazing grasp and understanding of true talent, but more importantly, has an amazing grasp of good middos and character.” After all the albums, all the singers he has promoted, all the bands he has booked and concerts he has arranged, the production that Avi himself is most proud of is the sterling reputation he has earned.
Avi and his wife Tamar live in Cedarhurst, with a house full of little music fans. They continue the Newmark family tradition, raising their three young sons with a love of all things musical. Recognizing that none of his accomplishments would be possible without the support of his family, Avi expresses hakaras hatov to the people who matter most.
“I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to my wife Tamar, and my boys, Ben, Max and Zach. I would never be able to accomplish any of this without their unwavering support and encouragement. Their never ending patience through all the late hours is simply astounding.”
While some things have changed in the last twenty years, so many others have stayed the same. Music is still a focal point in Avi’s life, but now it is his turn to be the father who encourages his sons’ musical abilities. The zemiros sung at the Shabbos table by a whole new generation of Newmark boys are still those of his Zaidy, but they are interspersed with songs from Avi’s own productions.
Pretty impressive for a “guy from Queens who just happens to be a music fan”.
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for several Jewish websites. Her work has also appeared in numerous Jewish magazines. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.