| Why play "traditional
style" klezmer and, more importantly,
what the heck is "traditional"?
Nayes choose to play in our way because we live in East Europe, where Jewish
musical traditions did not reflect the American immigrant Jewish tradition.
Klezmer music has always been evolving, but in its original context it
was a dance music for weddings. Table songs, instrumental versions of Sabbath
zmiros, and accompanying vocal songs filled out the repertoire. In one sense,
this means shrinking the ego-role of the performer as center of attention.
Traditional music is the music of a community the guy wailing away on
clarinet has to serve the communitys taste if he wants to get paid.
However, most traditional klezmer today is played in a concert setting, not at
a wedding. Tastes have changed. Egos have grown. The pay is about the same.
Dr. Walter Zev Feldmans article
"Bulgareasca/Bulgarish/Bulgar: The Transformation of a Klezmer Dance Genre,"
in the journal Ethnomusicology 38:1 (1994), 1-35. is probably the
best study of "archaic" klezmer there is. If you cant find it, Dr.
Feldmans sonorous voice can be heard in a excellent 1997 lecture on the
topic (with musical examples galore) at the Virtual Askenaz sound files:
Why dont you play your own compositions or use
Because other people do that better.
Among the best traditional klezmer players are Brave Old World and the
Klezmatics, but in order to serve a modern concert audience they utilize modern
arrangements and elements. Hey people want art. When they kick back and
just pound out the old tunes, however, there are probably is no better old
style klezmer bands than BOW and the Klezmatics. Why? Not only do they have
amazing musical chops, they have the yikhes they did their homework,
they searched out and met the older generation of musicians, they spent more
time learning and researching Jewish musical tradition and have earned the
right to "express themselves in a klezmer medium".
Isnt the klezmer repertoire rather
There were thousands of Yiddish records published
during the gramophone era. A small fraction of that has been reissued. There is
a huge amount of fresh stuff to find, not to mention field recordings and music
remembered by older Jews. Please try and avoid including "Monti's Csardas" or
"The Lark" on your klezmer CDs.
dont you sound like a chamber orchestra?
Belf was not a chamber orchestra. Among the bands playing traditional or old
style klezmer, there are basically two categories. One "school" approaches the
repertoire and playing style as a "classical" music. This is fine it
makes really beautiful music. Khevrisa, Budowitz, Australias Closet
Klezmer, Alicia Svigals, and the Chicago Klezmer Ensemble are the best in this
realm. And there was a tradition on attending actual "Jewish Musical Academies"
in the pale of settlement. Di Naye Kapelye, however, being ornery, hard
drinking, chain smoking, meat eating bastards (its true we are not
nice people, we all speak horrid guttural languages, we would be jailed or
institutionalized if we lived west of the Danube) take our cues from living
folk music traditions around us in East Europe. There were lots of Jewish bands
who played in a folk manner, but these were not the bands that got on record.
To illustrate the difference, compare the approaches of two of our
favorite musicians, Emil Bruh and Prince Nazaroff. Bruh, a classically trained
klezmer fiddler from the Carpatho-Ukraine, used an exquisite sense of tone and
pathos to render beautiful arrangements of Jewish music in the late 1940s.
Nazaroff, at the same time, whacks out the tunes, didnt give a hoot if
his mandolin was tuned, sang love songs about vodka, and punctuates his
performance with bird calls, foot stomps and whistles. Who do we listen to
more? Nazaroff. And Nathan Hollander.
Nathan Hollander was a klezmer harmonium
player in the 1920s and, perhaps, the worst musician ever to record. Predating
techno by over seventy years, he began his musical career by owning a recording
studio, and then issuing his own 78s mechanically pounding out Yiddish songs
and dances on a pump organ. He makes mistakes, his rhythm is absolutely crap,
occasionally he stops and forgets the tune Ein a word, wonderful!
Nobody will ever reissue a Nathan Hollander 78.
Why dont you lavish praise on Giora Feidman?
The father of "Euro-klezmer". Living in Europe, one hears a
lot of "klezmer music" that consists of stylish new age Kenny-G clarinet
"taking klezmer to new horizons". How many ways can you spell "commercial
crap"? For one thing, Europe loves Giora Feidman. Giora comes from a Klezmer
family, but face it, he is a classical clarinetist selling composed Jew-Pop. He
was a TV celebrity in Germany, and this was the first exposure to klezmer for
many Europeans. He may compose out of traditional ideas, but basically he makes
it up. More power to him, but he is not "The King of Klezmer". If I want to
learn about klezmer music, I would rather listen to Nathan Hollander.
Then who is the King of Klezmer?
Klezmer musicians have been ruled by a democratically elected assembly since
the passing of the former king, Dave Tarras. Our present motto is "we serve no
king can we get kosher meat in this town?"
Why are so many klezmer musicians ornery bastards?
Some are frustrated classical musicians who are vegetarian and
armed and dangerous. Frequent raids by the more aggressive classically trained
klezmer musicians against the more peaceful jazz-trained klezmer musicians have
resulted in widespread casualties and loss of livestock. It is unfortunately
true that some klezmer musicians today learned their behavior at the Idi Amin
School of Charm for Young Klezmers. In the case of Di Naye Kapelye, we
dont really rate as world-class nasty bastards, although the managers of
many German motel breakfast nooks would debate that.
Nuts and Bolts: So you want to sound like an old
For more on krekhts and other
technical elements of Jewish music....
- Listen to the older recordings of klezmer music: The Belf
Orchestra, early Abe Schwartz, Leon Schwartz, Naftule Brandwein, Shloimke
Beckerman, early Dave Tarras. Listen to them a lot. Too much, in
- Listen to groups like Brave Old World, Khevrisa, Chicago
Klezmer Ensemble, Joel Rubin, and Budowitz
compare to the old
they did their homework!
- Find old folks. This sounds easier than it is, but it helps
to have somebody who was raised in the Yiddish tradition as a mentor,
especially if you are not Jewish. See if any Jewish old age homes are nearby,
ask if they would allow you to visit and inquire about music. Always ask around
to see if there are any older musicians in your area you never know what
you may find. There arent many left, but we dont always know who or
where they can be found geezers have a habit of disappearing and then
popping up unexpectedly. For example, the Gypsy musician Mishka Baranov from
Ocna Slatina in the Karpatho-Ukraine mentioned that there was a Jewish fiddler
from his town who emigrated to Australia in 1992. We still havent been
able to track him down. He could be fiddling for Hasidic kangaroos for all we
- Learn Yiddish, especially if you intend to sing in
- Read everything Zev Feldman has ever written. Go out and buy
Khevrisas CD on Smithsonian Folkways.
- Use the same musical tools that the old generation of
Klezmorim used. Remember that Klezmorim played in a multi-ethnic milieu, and
those folk traditions are usually quite intact in East Europe. It helps to have
a background in Romanian, Ukrainian, Polish, or Hungarian music, if only to
avoid the steady 4/4 clump-clump rhythm of an American international folk dance
orchestra. Take a cue from Dr. Feldman and learn Turkish classical modes and
musical practices they are important sources of klezmer theory and
repertoire. Listen to as much Hasidic and liturgical music as possible. If you
want to "imitate the sounds of Jewish prayers" you have to know what you are
- BIG IMPORTANT RULE OF THE MONTH: Klezmer is not just a
"klezmer melody". Klezmer is ornamentation, phrasing, instrumentation,
arrangement. A krekhts is not just a "weird noise" on a clarinet. The
trill you use in Irish fiddle is not the trill you use in klezmer fiddle.
Naftule Brandwein was not Ornette Coleman.
- Listen to the Belf Orchestra recordings again.
Read Bob Cohen's
article on Jewish fiddle