rice brothers

Johnny and Chris Rice of The Rice Brothers

Brothers Chris and Johnny Rice spent more time thinking about music than playing music last year.

“Thirty years into performing music and to suddenly be performing less than I was when I was two was quite a shock to the system,” said Chris, who plays jazz, ragtime, classical and other styles with his brother on the piano and cello.

But things are looking up. The Rice Brothers will perform July 25 at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society — the society’s first in-person event since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

AZJHS has had a busy year with online programming, but virtual events just don’t have the same “personal touch,” said Lawrence Bell, AZJHS’ executive director. “I miss seeing all of our friends and members.”

Bell said a musical concert was the best choice for the society’s first in-person program because those have been the most negatively impacted by the move to online.

“For people that appreciate music, you really want to appreciate the sound and it doesn’t always translate online,” Bell said.

The Rice Brothers gave a few virtual performances during the pandemic. It was an odd feeling to perform for people all over the world while also performing for a quiet, largely empty room, Chris said.

“For me, music really is about connection between people and the ability to communicate and have this shared experience of an elevating art form,” he said, and emphasized that virtual concerts make that a challenge.

Johnny said it will be “wonderful to play music for a live audience again,” and that the concert will almost feel like a celebration of a return to “a degree

of normalcy.”

AZJHS’ summer concert series’ theme is exploring Jews and jazz, Bell said. The Rice Brothers can relate both personally and as artists.

Their dad is Jewish and their grandparents came to the United States from Poland before World War I. Over the past ten years or so, Chris said he and his brother have connected more with their Jewish heritage.

“Knowing where we fit in within the story of history and knowing where our roots are has made a tremendous difference as people and as musicians as we approach the art that we are presenting,” Chris said.

He and his brother will perform some music composed by Jewish jazz composer George Gershwin, as well as works by Aaron Copland and David Popper.

Musical concerts at AZJHS would draw up to 200 people pre-pandemic, but Bell said space will be limited to around 100.

“We’re not in a post-COVID environment yet,” he said. The venue will follow the most current public health guidance regarding social distancing, and people who are not vaccinated will be asked to wear a mask.

Diane and John Eckstein sponsored the AZJHS performance and will

be attending.

“When we heard them for the first time four years ago at the Historical Society, we were just kind of blown away by their talent,” John said.

Immediately hooked and drawn to Chris and Johnny, the Ecksteins have sponsored a few of their performances since.

The music space is highly competitive and the Ecksteins want to see The Rice Brothers be as successful as they can be.

“If we don’t support these musicians and don’t go to any of their performances, they’re going to wither on the vine,” John said.

Diane said she is looking forward to enjoying the atmosphere of an

in-person concert.

“I feel more connected to the music and the musicians when I experience a performance in person,” she said.

Chris said there is nothing like connecting with an audience, which is more important than ever coming out of a year filled with isolation.

The July 25 concert is an opportunity to remember how the arts and music can bring communities together, Chris said.

“I think everybody’s really hungry for connection and ready to reestablish,”

he said. JN