David Kaufman in studio
David Kaufman’s debut album has been a long time coming. Some 50 years after he wrote the songs during his brief career as a singer-songwriter in the 1960s, he has finally released Second Promise.
Listening to the album, which was just released, is like going back in time to a coffeehouse during the peak of the folk music revival.
Kaufman, 70, first thought about recording the songs after recovering from lymphoma about 13 years ago and he added the project to his bucket list.
Kaufman was part of the folk-music scene that blossomed in Montreal in the ’60s. As a young teenager, he often traveled an hour by bus from St-Laurent, Que., where he lived, taking his guitar to jams and open mikes in downtown clubs like the Montreal Folk Workshop and the Yellow Door Coffeehouse.
In a memoir on his website, Kaufman recalls one of the high points of his Montreal performance days – playing with his band Xanadu on a double bill with Kate and Anna McGarrigle in McGill University’s student union building.
In 1965, during his second year at McGill, Kaufman began writing songs and poems. He was the winner of the McGill Daily poetry contest in 1968, a competition Leonard Cohen won in the mid-1950s.
In 1966, Kaufman, along with other Jewish students who published a cultural magazine at McGill, interviewed Cohen. “He was very helpful and extraordinarily kind,” Kaufman said.
Cohen sang a few of his songs for the students and then Kaufman, who in his memoir acknowledges that he had a lot of chutzpah back then, borrowed Cohen’s guitar and sang his own. “He was not overly impressed and unhesitatingly voiced the opinion that my lyrics were somewhat clichéd,” Kaufman recalls.
However, despite his criticism of the lyrics, Cohen must have heard some worthy qualities in Kaufman’s songs, because he recommended Kaufman to his manager, Mary Martin.
The introduction got Kaufman an audition with John Hammond, who signed Bob Dylan to Columbia Records. But after auditioning for 10 minutes, Kaufman said he realized it wasn’t going well and Hammond politely ushered him out the door.
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In 1972, Kaufman moved to Toronto, where, after playing small clubs and restaurants for about 18 months without making much of an impression, he called it quits. “I was not a good enough performer and it was in a way the end of an era for that period of the singer-songwriter,” he said.
Leaving music behind, he went on to pursue successful careers in filmmaking and architectural photography for the next five decades. But over the years, Kaufman continued to feel the pull of his unfulfilled career in music.
In 1993, he wrote the touching and slightly humorous song, “Child of Mine,” for his twin daughter and son’s bat and bar mitzvahs. It was recently released on YouTube as an advance single and video for his debut album.
With the exception of “Child of Mine,” the songs on Second Promise were written in Kaufman’s youth. Two of them are co-writes with Natan Walden. Kaufman’s baritone is sturdy and easy to listen to, while Aviva Chernick and other local singers provide some angelic background vocals.
The album’s producer, Jason Fowler, plays guitar on the recording, as the arthritis in Kaufman’s hands makes it difficult for him to play the instrument. The musicians Fowler put together for the project are a dream team of some of Toronto’s top session players.
The album’s cover features Kaufman’s stunning photograph of the copper angel on top of the Notre Dame de Bon Secours chapel in Montreal. In his song, “Suzanne,” Cohen refers to the angel as our lady of the harbour. “The angel for me is the spirit of creativity, looking out over the harbour of Montreal,” Kaufman said.
To download Second Promise, or purchase the album, visit davidkaufmanmusic.ca.