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November 29, 2005

Cowboy "Hamentaschen" from Smithsonian Folkways

Months ago Robert Cohen sent the URL for the Smithsonian Folkways global folk music online catalog. Tonight I tried it out with the kewords "Jewish" or "klezmer". Got 22 hits, the second of which was "Hamentashen" on Hootenany Tonight, as performed by the "Jewish Young Folksingers". Check it out - there are some ipodable gems here: www.smithsonianglobalsound.org

November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving - not a Jewish holiday; but a holiday Jews celebrate

On my synagogue mailing list this week there was a rather self-righteous discussion about celebrating Thanksgiving in a Jewish way—bringing this American holiday into the Jewish canon. Some folks think of Thanksgiving in that way. On the other side someone went so far as to criticize America for having only one day of Thanksgiving, when we Jews give thanks for creation ("she-lo asani isha" comes to mind, but that's for another forum—I mention it here for sarcastic impact) each and every day.


But, here's the thing. America has been a wonderful place to be Jewish. We haven't felt at home since the peak of influence of the Council of the Four Lands (Poland, during the earlier, larger part of its history when Jews were more welcome, and Jewish culture reached a wondrous peak of depth and scholarship and even security), maybe we haven't felt as at home here since the heyday in Babylonia and the subsequent yeshivas in which the Babylonian Talmud was written.

My father's father, like all of my grandparents, was born in this country. He felt that America had been good to him, and to Jews, in ways that his grandparents had never experienced in Lithuania, whence they came. For him, giving thanks to the existence of America, and for the way in which it welcomed Jews, was a big deal. In that sense, as for all of us, I think, Thanksgiving is certainly a Jewish holiday.

But let's not confuse our giving thanks for living in a country that, by and large, has been good to us.

There are many reasons for us to join other folks living in this land to set aside a day to give thanks in a secular context with a Jewish context (which doesn't stop us from organizing and trying to ameliorate many activities—many currently ongoing—in which this country is not doing good and needs some correction—and that, too, is for another forum, and certainly, for me, part of the aforementioned Jewish context). Thanksgiving is not a Jewish holiday. Why that should stop Jews from celebrating it, and even from bringing a shekheyanu and some good klezmer to the table I dunno. In that sense, let us all emulate Cantor Jack Mendelson as portrayed in the recent, amazingly warm and wonderful documentary, "A Cantor's Tale," and bring nusakh to Thanksgiving, as to everything.

A burgeoning Jewish scene in Moscow

A few days ago I added information about the Russian Klezmer mailing list to this blog, and to the KlezCalendar. Anna Anna Smirnitkaya writes back a few words:

Thank you also from our Moscow bands - this will be encouraging for them, as I hope.

Actually, now as I see, an intensification of Klezmer& Yiddish life here is beginning. I have seen the people who came to Klezmerfest in cultural center "DOM" in October - they were so excited :) It's nothing compared to what was here 2 years ago, when nobody knew such a music. Also there is one new CD released by the ensemble "Dona" (www.dona-dona.ru) and as far as I know, two others CDs of other Moscow artists are being prepared, and will be published in January.

Our band also tries to make something good, we are in the recording process, but it's a long time to finish. I hope I will translate our little web-page, www.partizaner.ru, in English, and then tell you.

You get some idea of why we were so excited to bring a bunch of folks from all over the former Soviet Union to KlezKanada this year! [ari]

November 21, 2005

Sephardic music article in the Forward

Joel Bresler writes to the Jewish-Music mailing list:

The Forward continues to cover Sephardic music quite intensively! Ladino: Alive in Song, If Not Speech, By Elissa Strauss, Nov 4, 2005. Please note that there actually was at least one other Ladino lyricist in Los Angeles, the 'oud player Isaac Sene.

November 19, 2005

Go See "Ushpizin"

movie posterFor the last couple of weeks, people here in Boston have been talking about this amazing new Israeli film, "Ushpizin." Here's the thing. It really is an amazing movie.

It's hard to describe. It's a fable. It could be a movie about faith, or about the foolishness of faith. But the people, ultra-Orthodox (haredi) and secular; straight and criminal, are so real—these are the next generation of the street gang folks I worked with 30 years ago, and of the religious folks I knew in Meah Shearim and Geula. It is also the rare movie that treats the haredim as secular, complex people. Some of their foibles and parts of their life style seems open to satire. But they you keep experiencing real people inside that community and realize that there is more to know before you laugh "at."

All of which is to say that this is a very, very complex simple movie. Or, a simple movie that is also very, very complex. Or, it should be enough to say, "there is something here, an Israeli movie made by a secular director, starring a haredi actor and the actor's wife (not a professional actress—but someone who delivers the stunning performance of the movie). There are scenes that I am afraid to describe for fear of giving away the movie, but they are so very, very funny, or moving, or amazing. You will never think of miracles quite the same way. Or you will.

Typifying all of this ambiguity is the sound track. A gravelly voice person chants familiar Jewish prayers in a way that could be taken as satire, or as a perfect soundtrack to the modern haredi life. The voice reminds me of Yankele Rothblit, on his first solo album, as on the song making fun of the Israeli knesset. On my notes I wrote the artist's name as עדי כן or עדי רן. If anyone knows more about the singer, please to post!

Klezmer Mailing list in Moscow

I am months behind in announcing a mailing list maintained by Anna Smirnitskaya of Jewish music events in Moscow. She sent me a list of events for October that I never got posted. But you needn't rely on me for that information. Instead, E-mail email Anna to subscribe to the list, yourself.

UK Jewish Music Podcast

Leslie Bunder posts this new to the Jewish-Music mailing list. The one time I was able to catch his show, I really enjoyed it:

The UK's only weekly world Jewish music show, the SomethingJewish show broadcast on Resonance104.4fm radio in London is also now podcasting. We have just soft-launched it over at jewish.libsyn.com

This week, Leslie and Caroline played music from artists including Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, David Krakauer, Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars and Pharaoh's Daughter.

Plus, in the versus series of the show it was Australia's Yidcore against California's The Makkabees.

Leslie and Caroline discussed the merits of both bands - but what exactly did they say? And who did they choose as the winner?

We will also be adding further shows from the archive as well as each week's show. Plus, it will also be hosted at JewishPodShow.com which is a new project we are developing.

Klezmer Madness on "My Space"

band photoI guess "Myspace.com" isn'tt just for teenagers trying to see who has the most connections anymore, Elliott Simon posts about the new David Krakauer CD page on My Space:

Hi all...check out the groovy new Klezmer Madness "my space" at www.myspace.com/klezmermadness ..get two free downloads off the latest CD...."Moskovitz and Loops of it" and the title track..."Bubbemeisis...Lies My Gramma Told Me"...and see latest band pics as well....best to everyone...Elliott

November 16, 2005

First "KlezmerShock", Minsk, Belarus, Nov 23-24

On 23-­24 November, 2005 the "KlezmerShock!" First
International Festival will be held in Minsk, Belarus.

The concerts will take place at the Trade Unions Palace of
Culture (Dvorets Kultury Profsoyuzov) in Minsk. Address:
Prospekt Nezavisimosti 25.

The prices for admittance range from 9,000 to 27,000
Belarusian rubles (USD 4,40 ­ 12,50).

"KlezmerShock!" is organized by the ClassClub concert
agency, the oldest enterprise company on the Belarusian
show market.
tel: +375172275930

It is for the first time that a klezmer festival will be held
in Belarus that in this sense until recently has remained
a gap in Eastern Europe. At the festival, wide variety of
Belarusian audiences will face music presented by the
masters of contemporary Jewish music Michael Alpert and
Paul Brody, as well as their East European counterparts
Dmitri Slepovitch and his "Minsker Kapelye", S.-Petersburg
based ethnic group "Dobranotch", a unique klezmer
violinist Alexey Rozov (Moscow), guitarist Ivan Zhuk,
leader of Moscow Jewish blues scene, Israeli percussionist
and ethnomusicologist Yaniv Itzhak, and a number of young
yet devoted and professional musicians from Russia and

November 14, 2005

Pics of the Frank London Klezmer Brass AllStars in Richmond, VA

Rubin and London in front of port-a-pottiesAnd what says "down home music" like Klezmer, especially big, loud, brassy klezmer (and other world music) as played by Frank London's Klezmer Brass AllStars? Many thanks to Mark Rubin for brightening up a late night attempt to catch up on just a few hundred of the most urgent messages to the KlezmerShack.

You can view the whole set at markdrubin.blogspot.com/2005/10/national-folk-festival-2005-richmond.html

November 13, 2005

NPR Interview: John Zorn and John Madof

album coverHey, if this isn't a good excuse to be up early and listening to NPR instead of working! A really nice interview with John Zorn about his Masada music, and John Madof who recently released one of the 10th Anniversary Masada albums, and of John Madof. What I found especially interesting was the assertion that the Radical Jewish Music label was formed to give a voice to Jewish music that is broader than klezmer—to counter the notion that klezmer and Jewish music are synonyms—a goal with which anyone who knows and loves Jewish music (see last week's entry on "A Cantor's Tale," for one non-klezmer roots example) will heartily concur.

It's an interesting interview with excellent song samples. The audio should be available for rerun online today after 1pm EST at 'Masada Songbook': Zorn Redefines Jewish Music

link updated 3/21/07

November 6, 2005

Blown away by "A Cantor's Tale"

I have too much work to be spending time writing about things on the KlezmerShack right now, but I can't not mention the most amazing, music-affirming movie I have seen since the Epstein Brothers movie, or Michal Goldman's groundbreaking "A night in the garden of eden."

I am talking about "A Cantor's Tale," of course, a movie that manages to be part biography of the amazing cantor, Jack Mendelson, part history lesson, and more than anything, a movie that undoes years of bad Hebrew School experiences and excruciating Saturday mornings spent listening to the Jewish prima donna onthe synagogue bima, waiting for the moment to mumble appropriately in response to some endless tortured solo—the guys (it was always guys back then) who turned the repetition of the amidah into a reprise of the descent into the underworld..

Mendelson loves cantorial music. Okay. But what makes this movie so amazing is that by the end of the movie, everyone loves cantorial music. You want to come home and do as we did—Judy put on some Kousivetsky (sp?) upstairs, and I immediately plugged in Frank London's most recent CD (not coincidentally featuring this same amazing Jack Mendelson) and bask in the joy and affirmation that comes from it.

Mendelson gets everyone singing cantorial music. In Israel, he gets the obviously un-Ashkenazi guard near the Kotel (Western Wall) to start singing with him. Mendelson walks into eateries in Boro Park, Brooklyn, and gets people to sing cantorial music. In Mendelson's world, everyone knows some nusach. Watching the music, you not only come to love the music (do you think it a coincidence that this is London's second cantorial record? That David Chevan is also involved? That klezmer/yiddish plucked string instrument master Jeff Warschauer is in cantorial school?), but you also get a sense of cantorial music as sort of the "slow food" version of speaking with God, a way of channeling kavanah, intent, a way of davenning not as audience, but in participation with someone able to put focus religious intent and to bring about a belief that God listens and it matters to he/she/it (assuming that God exists, which is a subject for a different weblog) that such a dialogue happen.

Frank London / Hazonos, on TzadikDid I mention that all of this happens without watching people praying? It's something that sinks in as Mendelson sings and interacts with other cantors, we hear snippets of interviews with friends, historians, other cantors, we come to know Mendelson, but more than anything, we get a sense of the mame Jewish music, Ashkenazic in this case (but anyone who has listened to cantor ben Sasson of Toronto knows that the tradition is broader and goes back farther than mere Ashkenaz) whence came klezmer and other Jewish music. This is the wellspring of what it means to sing and make Jewish music.

I'm being pretentious. Do yourself a favor. Find a festival where this movie is appearing and make sure you see it. When it comes out in DVD in a year or so, get a copy so you can get a refresher viewing when you need a "pick me up".

In the meantime, don't forget to pick up a copy of Frank's new album, "Hazonos," on Tzadik. A review will follow shortly, somehow. (London composed the score for the movie, of course.)