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World Music Features

Michael Dorf

By Tad Hendrickson
Published June 5, 2008

Michael Dorf has been an arts presenter in New York City since he founded the original Knitting Factory music club in 1986 at age 23. Dorf later went on to found the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival, The Digital Club Network and non-profit organizations like the Tribeca Hebrew after-school program.

While he has a new wine bar and winery called City Winery opening in the fall of 2008, Michael Dorf has focused a lot of energy over the last few years to producing the 60@60 celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary at Radio City Music Hall in New York City (May 7) and the Kodak Theatre in L.A. (May 10).

60@60 must have taken a lot of planning. Where do you start with something like this?

I actually got invited to Israel to seewhat’s going on by the ministry, musically and culturally, in November of 2006. And I hadn’t been to Israel for 20 years, and frankly, as an American Jew, I was—and with my weird hat on as a concert promoter—I was certainly booking some Israeli talent, but I treated it just like any other foreign artist. And occasionally you hear some really exciting things, but I was blown away by the musical community, the artistic community, and what’s happening in Israel. The number of incredible artists was so impressive—and the scene, in terms of how people work together and collaborate and work off of one another—it just reminded me of periods of the way Paris was with jazz, London in various musical styles at different times. It was just such an unbelievable, thriving community. I mean, it’s evident today by seeing Yael Naïm, and seeing her song on the Apple commercial. You know, Israel is as international and more mixed up of a great global rhythm scene as any other market in the world.

What is something that has been the biggest surprise for you in pulling this all together?

Um, honestly—let me phrase this correctly because it could get me into a lot of trouble. It’s the competing forces within the various elements of the Jewish community, not seeing the value of all collectively working together to pull off something on an international basis that would be a positive focus on the state of Israel. And the difficulty of coordinating different communities, different cities, different markets and really creating a unified and global campaign. And you know, look at stuff and say “Boy, there’s a lot of musicians here. And if we created something like a milk campaign globally around how great this culture is, and music in particular coming out of the state of Israel, I could use that as a focal point for the 60th and all of a sudden generate long lead articles in newspapers and magazines and get coverage on this, like a positive element of what’s happening there versus what does come up on the news, which is bombings and other kinds of negative things.” This could be a big positive PR campaign. I get a lot of “That’s a great idea!” kind of thing from people, but it’s very frustrating because it