New York - Yosi Piamenta: The Man And His Music
New York - Jewish music lovers worldwide are mourning the loss of guitarist Yosi Piamenta who passed away today at the age of 64 after losing a protracted battle with cancer.
Piamenta was born a fourteenth generation Yerushalmi in 1951, moving to Tel Aviv at age 12. According to his Facebook biography, Piamenta’s music career began at age 13, when his uncle, a well known Israeli bandleader, gifted him with an acoustic guitar for his bar mitzvah.
Piamenta dove into guitar playing headfirst and became so enamored with music that his schoolwork began suffering. In attempt to set him back on the path to this studies, Yehuda Piamenta broke his son’s guitar, but two months later, after seeing how crestfallen young Yosi was, the elder Piamenta relented and purchased a replacement guitar.
A self taught musician, Piamenta honed his craft by accompanying songs on Israeli radio. He began performing in public, investing his earnings in better equipment, music magazines and albums, enabling him to further broaden both his musical horizons and his skill set. After serving in the Israeli army, where he performed in the army band, Piamenta became a full time musician.
It was during the 1973 Yom Kippur War that Piamenta first performed with his younger brother Avi, who accompanied him on the flute, as the two played for Israeli soldiers.
The brothers went on to perform as The Piamenta Band and were discovered in 1976 by saxophonist Stan Getz. Getz brought Yosi Piamenta to America to collaborate on an album and although the album was successful, Piamenta quickly saw that the secular music world was not a positive environment and he fully embraced his Jewish roots, entering the world of Orthodox Judaism and becoming closely affiliated with the Chabad movement.
In a 2012 interview with Arutz Sheva, Piamenta spoke of the intricately woven relationship between the Jewish religion and music.
When you read the Torah in the shul, you read it with the notes, with ta’amim,” said Piamenta. “That’s the notes of the Bible. It’s all being sung. And when there’s prayer, the hazan never talks, he always sings. In the Beit Hamikdash when they do the korbanot, then it has to come from the heart. It can’t be done as just an act, because you have to mean what you do. The Leviim used to sing and play on the stages above the mizbeyach. The people who would perform the korbanot would hear the music and cry. And since they cried, their korbanot would be accepted because it came with tears.”
Piamenta, who played concerts, the club scene and countless Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs, is one of the few Jewish musicians whose talents brought him accolades both in the Jewish community and beyond.
Described by some in the secular world as the “Hasidic Hendrix,” a New York Times article observed that Piamenta was regarded by many in the secular world as a guitar virtuoso, albeit one who sang in Hebrew.
Piamenta, who was recognized by Billboard magazine as the number eight guitarist in the world, returned to his homeland several years ago, according to Israeli news site Kikar HaShabbat, in order to care for his elderly father who died in 2011.
“My home was always in Israel,” said Piamenta. “I just rented an apartment in New York, but I was really just living out of my suitcase.”
Piamenta’s Facebook page bears many requests for the public for tefilos on his behalf. A post dated April, 2014 introduced a new song, produced by Yosi’s son Moni and featuring both Piamenta brothers, written as a zechus for Piamenta’s recovery.
“For those of you unaware, Yosi is battling cancer. Naftali Kalfa, a dear friend of the Piamenta family, composed the song ‘Yaancha,’ based on the 20th Psalm of Davi, which asks G-d to provide help in times of trouble. A recent visit to New York by Mr. Kalfa led to a day at Atlantic Studios, on the Brooklyn waterfront, where this emotional dedication to Yosi’s recovery was arranged and recorded…Please keep Yoseph ben Genia in your prayers…”
While he may have been known for his incredible prowess on the guitar as his fingers flew across the frets of his Fender Stratocaster at many prominent music venues, Piamenta always wore his Jewish identity with pride, appearing in his large yarmulka, his tzitzis flying as he sang in Hebrew. Yet for members of the Jewish music, Piamenta’s greatest accomplishments were not his music but the way he lived his life.
“I’ve had the opportunity to use him many times as a featured guitarist at concerts or at chasanas,” singer Srully Williger told VIN News. “You would think someone with such talent would be difficult to get to or a baal gayva. But Yossi was never like that. You were always able to get to him in a second. He was always so nice and always did whatever you wanted, when it came to the music, the price or everything else. It was all about helping people and being able to bring simcha into their lives. He was wonderfully sweet, the sweetest guy you could ever meet.”
“I worked with him for many years and at dozens of wedding,” added Shlomie Friedman of the Shlomie Friedman Orchestra. “Besides the chesed that everyone knows of running to play for sick people that would appreciate it, the thing I remember about Yosi zichrono l’vracha was that he wanted to make the chosson, kallah and the guests happy. Obviously it was parnassah and he was paid, but if for some reason he felt that on a particular night he wasn’t able to bring joy to the people he was disappointed. That was Yosi: a true person of simcha who exuded simcha and just wanted everyone to be happy. Yehay zichro boruch.”
Piamenta recorded 14 albums in his lifetime. His last performance took place this past winter at The Zone in Tel Aviv on February 23rd, where he took the stage with his brother Avi, his son Moni, Ephraim Shamir and Albert Piamenta.
Music legend Sheya Mendlowitz described Piamenta, the father of six, as one of his closest friends and a true tzaddik.
“He was a person that went through the whole Sefer Tehillim twice a day,” said Mendlowitz. “A true baal teshuva who would forfeit nothing, I mean nothing, when it came to keeping Shabbos.”
“Klal Yisroel lost a diamond, a precious diamond,” added Mendlowitz.
The levaya for Piamenta was held tonight at the Shomrei Hachomos Chapels in Borough Park, and the procession passed by World Lubavitch Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway on its way to John F. Kennedy airport, with burial taking place tomorrow in Israel.
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