Avi Wisnia grew up in Yardley surrounded by Jewish music – but also exposed to many other genres.
The son of a rabbi and grandson of a cantor, the singer-songwriter has been performing since he was old enough to reach the keys on the piano keyboard.
He describes his own music as a mix of jazz, pop and folk.
Wisnia released his second album, “Catching Leaves,” late last year, in part co-written with Seth Croll.
“Catching Leaves” was inspired by the legacy of Wisnia’s Polish-born grandfather, David. Made to perform by the Nazis who held him captive for three years at Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Holocaust, David Wisnia sang to survive.
Before the war, he sang in synagogue, in theaters and opera houses, and on Polish radio, according to the New York Times.
“It’s really an incredible story. He amazed me all the time with his resilience,” his 39-year-old grandson said.
Avi Wisnia, who released his first studio album, “Something New,” in 2010, said he found it difficult to continue creating his own music after his brother, Dov Benjamin Wisnia, with whom he had collaborated, passed away from a brain tumor in 2012, at age 33.
“It was really hard for me to find my way back to music because I associated making music with him,” Wisnia said. “You can never anticipate how grief and loss is going to affect you. Sometimes you need to sit with that grief for a long time. I just wasn’t ready.”
What ended up bringing Wisnia back to music was his collaboration with his grandfather, when they started performing together in earnest, in 2015.
“Helping him tell his story through music taught me you can move forward through your life. You never really move on, but you move forward.”
Wisnia said that even though his grandfather’s singing was part of such a trauma, he was able to return to it professionally, and it was what kept him going until he was almost 95. David Wisnia died last year at age 94, after serving as a cantor at Temple Shalom in Levittown for 28 years, then at Har Sinai Hebrew Congregation of Trenton for 23 years.
The longtime Levittown resident composed two songs in Auschwitz, one in Polish, “Oswiecim” (Auschwitz), and another in Yiddish, “Dos Vaise Haizele” (The Little White House in the Woods), according to the New York Times. Both are on display at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
After he was transferred to Dachau, David Wisnia escaped into the woods in December 1944 and was rescued by the American 101st Airborne Division. Joining with the 506th Parachute Infantry, the New York Times said, he worked as an interpreter and engaged in combat during the war’s closing days. He moved to the United States in 1946.
To be able to make music with his grandfather, Avi Wisnia said, “was just really meaningful and gave me new purpose.”
“I like to think that was something we could do for each other,” he said. “He really helped me heal and deal with grief and loss and find my way back to music.”
The theme of “Catching Leaves,” Wisnia said, is “trying to deal with transition and change and how do we find our way back to the things we love.”
A 2005 graduate of New York University and a 2001 graduate of Pennsbury High School, Wisnia has performed often in Bucks County; his most recent performance was at the Hammerstein Museum and Theatre Education Center in Doylestown.
Since the pandemic began, the Philadelphia resident has hosted a lot of livestream shows through his website and Facebook page.
Wisnia is planning to restart the Songwriters Night series he created, at The Living Room in Ardmore, next spring. And, while details are still being worked out, he also plans to perform in Bucks County later this year to celebrate his new album, released in late 2021.
Primarily a piano player and singer, Wisnia also plays guitar, saxophone, bassoon, accordion and clarinet. He also plays a lot of kazoo, “to really have fun with my audiences,” he said. Wisnia said he has his own branded kazoos, which he hands out to audiences, and his kazoo tutorial video has garnered a half million views.
For information about his music, which is available on streaming services, his new album and upcoming performances, visit his website at AviWisnia.com