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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Welcome to Straight No Chaser, the Award-winning Podcast hosted by Jeffrey Siegel

Jun 1, 2012

The Yiddish Book Center, located in Amherst, Massachusetts, is a great cultural jewel, serving as a repository and place of advocacy for the left-for-dead language of Jewish Eastern Europe. They will host “Yidstock!",  from July 11-15, a multi-day festival of new Yiddish music including musical performances, music-related films, lectures, exhibitions and other events culminating in two days of concerts featuring some of the top names in klezmer and Yiddish music.

Klezmer music and jazz have always intersected in America, and this Festival presents a great opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences between the two art forms. This summary puts it nicely:

While Klezmer features improvised solos over a series of chord changes, it's far removed from what we know as jazz. Klezmer does bear some resemblance to the early New Orleans Dixieland jazz—in which all solos take place within a very tightly constructed framework—but while jazz continued to evolve with ever-increasing difficulty and harmonic complexity, klezmer remained a more static form.

There were, however, Jewish musicians who played both klezmer and jazz. The mixing of these styles led to a short-lived fad: Yiddish-pop crossover. Hits from this style include Benny Goodman's "And the Angels Sing," the Andrews Sisters' "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon," and Cab Calloway's, "Ot Azoy." But none of these songs could slow the tides of change. Young American Jews cared more for their new culture than the remnants of the Old World, and by the 1950s, klezmer was no longer a key part of Jewish life.

However, Klezmer is alive and well and some of the finest jazz musicians in the world perform it on a regular basis. I talked with music critic and author Seth Rogovoy (The Essential Klezmer: A Music Lover’s Guide to Jewish Roots and Soul Music) who wrote the all-time bestselling guide to klezmer music. An award-winning music critic, teacher, radio commentator, and musician, Seth – who curated the festival - is the editor and publisher of Berkshire Daily and the Rogovoy Report and the author of Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet, the first full-length biographical analysis of the famed rock poet from a Jewish perspective. Seth frequently writes about Jewish music and culture for Forward, Pakn Treger, and the Berkshire Jewish Voice.

Click here to listen to our conversation, including musical interludes by artists who will perform at Yidstock!, including:

Frank London & Klezmer Brass All-Stars – “In Your Garden Twenty Fecund Fruit Trees” from Carnival Conspiracy. My favorite of London’s albums is this wonderful mixture of Yiddish-Brazilian-Mexican brass sounds. Band members include London  on trumpet; Danny Blume (guitar); Sanne Moericke (accordion); Matt Darriau (alto saxophone; Curtis Hasselbring (trombone); and Mark Rubin (tuba).

Don Byron - Berele's Sherele from Plays the Music of Mickey Katz. It’s easy to forget that the amazingly diverse talents of Don Byron (who is African-American) include gigs playing Klezmer music. This tribute album, full of the music of a Borscht Belt comic/musician provides glimpses into the klezmer/jazz connections.

Joseph Cherniavsky's Yiddish American Jazz Band – “Yiddisher March” from Yiddish-American Klezmer Music 1925-1956.  When you are talking American Klezmer, you’re talking Dave Tarras. Henry Sapoznik worked with Tarras before his death in 1989 to put together this exhaustive collection of wonderfully cleaned up masters. Freed of the snap, crackle, and pop of unedited 78s, what emerges is real soul music with swing. It’s only a short hop from Tarras to Benny Goodman and the Andrews Sisters.

Andrews Sisters – “Bei Mir Bistu Shein” from Their All-Time Greatest Hits. The title translates to "To Me You're Beautiful” and comes from a Yiddish stage play. Composer Sammy Cahn supposedly heard it being played by an African-American band in a nightclub and convinced the still unknown Andrews Sisters to record the song on November 24, 1937. The result was a monster hit, covered hundred of times in the last 75 years.

Andy Statman – Title Song from Flatbush Waltz.  “The dean of living klezmer clarinetists”, Statman learned klezmer from legendary klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras, who bequeathed several of his clarinets to him.

Klezmer Conservatory Band – “Mayn Ershte Vals” from A Taste of Paradise. The title is Yiddish for “My First Waltz”. Hankus Netsky, a multi-instrumentalist and composer, is the founder and director of this internationally renowned Yiddish music ensemble and serves as research director of the Klezmer Conservatory Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to research in and perpetuation of Yiddish music.

Solomon & Socalled feat. Michael Alpert – “Kale Bazetsn (alt. shul)” from HipHopKhasene. The track can also be found on The Rough Guide to Klezmer Revolution, which I highly recommend this compilation for those curious about the latest carrier of the Klezmer torch. Here, the traditional - violinst Solomon - teams up with the modern - beats, loops, and samples from Socalled, aided by clarinetist David Krakauer (Klezmatics) and trumpeter Frank London.

Frank London & Klezmer Brass All-Stars -  “T'hay Yeshua Zoys” This arrangement was originally performed at the Moers Jazz Festival. It is Frank London’s interpretation of Shmuel Brazil’s nigun in the style of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and features London, Matt Darriau (sax) and Marcus Rojas (tuba).