Bell Man

By | Feb 08, 2013

One of the last in a lineage of great Jewish violinists, this “farm boy” of the American heartland drives a Porsche and plays the world’s most famous “Jewish” violin.

Joshua Bell’s tall frame tilts sideways on the sleek gray banquette of the Tamarind Tea Room, a tiny, elegant cafe near his loft in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park neighborhood.

At the moment, Bell looks more jaded rock star than emotive violin virtuoso. He’s wearing a green thermal shirt and jeans and he seems sleepy, with a bit of bedhead in his trademark bangs.

“Their teas are really good,” he offers softly, pouring himself chai from an earthenware Japanese teapot. I ask if he’s jet-lagged, knowing that he’s on the road 200 days a year performing at sold-out concerts. Bell, 39, begins to explain that, yes, he’s been “crashing” at home after playing two concerts in the town where he grew up, Bloomington, Indiana. But then he stops.

“Actually,” he says with a half-sheepish smile, “one of the reasons I didn’t get any sleep was that we all went to a casino together and basically pulled an all-nighter”—a family outing. “My mother, all her sisters and my sisters and I, we all have that gene that loves gambling.”

I half-joke that maybe it’s a Jewish gene, and Bell muses that his mother Shirley prefers slot machines while he himself is drawn to the exhilaration of higher-stakes games like blackjack and craps. Only his father, Alan Bell, a psychotherapist and one-time Episcopal priest who died in 2002, never joined in the family pastime. “It could be a Jewish thing,” he concludes, adding that his Israeli-born maternal grandfather was known to enjoy a game of cards.

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