September 12, 2013

Would the Last Jewish Artist Please Shut Out The Lights?

Boston Jewish Music Festival co-founder Joey Baron has a lot to say about the dismal state of funding for Jewish culture on this morning's eJewish Philanthrophy blog. Makes a lot of good points. Time to respond and make sure he is heard:

Would the Last Jewish Artist Please Shut Out The Lights?, by Joey Baron, posted on eJewish Philanthropy blog Sep 12, 2013

If Jewish community institutions continue to offer only second-rate klezmer bands and clichéd cantorial concerts as their cultural attractions, we may as well put a sign on the door saying the culturally Jewish are not welcome here…. [more]

September 1, 2011

no Jewish music in Istanbul? Au contraire!

Alexander Gelfand, a writer that I often admire, has a curious story in this week's Jewish Forward in which he laments the lack of remaining Jewish community in Istanbul. That is true—the Jewish community in Turkey in general, and Istanbul is much diminished. He doesn't mention, but I will, that even the Holocaust had an effect—witness Kurt Waldheim's nasty efforts to help eradicate the Jewish community of Salonica (since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, part of Greece).

But there is so much that is exciting that still remains!

First read the article, "Lost Music of Istanbul's Sephardic Jews", from the Sep 9, 2011 edition, which also contains some excellent pointers to new Sephardic music in US and Israel. Then look at comments by Judith Cohen and myself (and others?). I'll repeat my own comments:

I have several as-yet-unreviewed Jewish recordings made in Istanbul in recent years. Notable among those that I have reviewed are a recording by Hadass Pal Yarden (who also seems to perform locally in Istanbul, and internationally), "Yahudije" or this kid's recording reviewed by Professor Judith Cohen in 2006, "Izzet Bana & Estreyikas d'Estambol / Un Kavretiko".

In short, although the Jewish community in Istanbul is much diminished, it has not vanished and there are some fascinating places still alive and worth exploring.

December 29, 2010

Down with the old shtick. Gimme some new shtick

In the run up to Chanuka, Hanukkah, Khanike, someone sent me this year's parody of a famous rap song, complete with a guy in fake beard and payes (peyot, peyote) singing in one of those grating faux alte zakhe accents in yinglish.

I declined to post it. I felt about the same way I felt about "2 Live Jews" in their day. Old. Tired. Stupid stereotypes that can be allowed to disappear. There are many ways to represent Jewish life. Using caricatures of our fundamentalists doesn't do it for me. (Likewise and even more emphatically to anyone pushing the old "Jewish mother" misogyny, but that's yet another story—I was hoping we left that behind with Shelley Winters' portrayal of same in "Last stop at Greenwich Village," but once again, what on earth do I know?). Likewise, there aren't many Jews who have an accent like my bubbe and zayde used to have. So, when you rely on those tropes, you are already telling me, "passe, old, tired." Unless you're as brilliant as Mickey Katz or Lenny Bruce, it might be worth working with material that resonates with those of us alive today. I'm not sure what that will be (poking fun at the jewy-ness of Hebe magazine comes to mind, but I'm not sure how few people who know of Hebe mind "Jewy-ness").

In any event, I serve notice. Not only am I cranky, overworked, and underpaird. I need new shtick. To paraphrase what I used to say when I sold underground newspapers on the corners of Dallas, TX in my youth, "accept no dated b.s. Insist on fresh b.s."

Agree? Disagree? Until I get the new blog software installed so people can comment at will (you know things are bad when that sounds easier than fixing my incomprehensible mucking about with the current software), at least send me some email and let me know what you think.

December 13, 2010

Kruzenshtern and Parahod live in Tel Aviv

Kruzenshtern v Parahod live at Levontin 7On a recent quick trip to Israel I managed to catch one of the bands I have most wanted to see, Kruzenshtern and Parahod (קרוזנשטרן ופרחוד). I have reviewed a couple of their CDs here on the KlezmerShack, starting with their first, The Craft of Primitive Klezmer. The band was as wonderful as I had already hoped. The set was part of a showcase of Israeli bands, none of which seemed particularly interesting to either my companions or me. But when this quartet took the stage, everything changed. Imagine John Zorn and Fred Frith taking "Naked City" to a pop showcase:

Talking to the bandleader, Igor Krutogolov, on a quiet afternoon in Tel Aviv we reviewed influences (okay, Zorn and Frith are obvious; others include the UK band, the Cardiacs, and ZU from Italy) and talked about the frustration of being a niche band in a tiny country. There is no place local to tour—there aren't enough local people interested in avant garde jazz to sustain anything beyond the occasional concert in Tel Aviv. They have been to several festivals in Europe, and periodically consider moving the band there.

Krutogolov talks mostly of the music as personal expression. It has precision; he often compared what he is doing to classical music, and indeed, as I stood opposite the band's newest member, accordionist Boris Martzinovsky in concert, I noted complex charts spread across a large music stand. The band is also very, very tight.

The music is really what he does. He has a day job to pay the bills, but, if we are fortunate, he will continue to push the music far into the future. A new KvP CD may be in the works this year. If I had my way, I'd see them here in the States. Anyone interested in helping, should contact me

You can get copies of their CDs via, or find out more about the band from their website,

April 19, 2010

"Bar Mitzvah," dancing, and then Klezwoods at Atwoods!

Yesterday was one of those wonderful music-inflected days that I never seem to have unless I'm in major procrastination mode. We started the day by seeing the Boston premiere of a film newly-restored by the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis, Bar Mitzvah. The film, itself, is not a masterpiece. It is very much a menu film--string together the usual popular vaudeville song and dance with the audience's favorite themes (in this case, mom and Jewish identity), throw in a vaguely plausible plot and have fun! We did have fun. Set somewhere in eastern Europe, the film revolves around the impending Bar Mitzvah of the youngest son of Boris Thomashefsky's character. (Did I mention that this is the only known surviving film of Thomashefsky? Have I talked yet about what an amazing film presence he has? You would have to see this film just to enjoy, and finally start to understand, the phenomenon of Thomashefsky, grandfather of San Francisco's symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.)

Continue reading ""Bar Mitzvah," dancing, and then Klezwoods at Atwoods!" »

December 18, 2009

Rootless Cosmopolitan nails it

Like much of the rest of the Jewish world, I have been assaulted by countless copies of the video showing a new shlock Hanukkah (official JWA spelling) song by right wing jerk happenstance Jew (but only the "right" kind of Jews)-lover Orrin Hatch.

I have refrained from mentioning the item on these pages. Now, Rohl Kafrissen puts her finger on what is significant about this recording: turnabout is fair play.

Like Rokhl, my family has managed to forget this new one as we light candles this year, although we've done our usual couple of variants of "Ocho Kandelikos" and the Sephardic version of "Maoz Tzur" that Judy knows....

It all ends tonight and through tomorrow. Enjoy the brightest lights tonight and here's to hoping that Hatch's song joins "Hanukkah with Monica" on the trivial pursuit pile.

September 6, 2009

A good day for music / reconnecting with Danny Kalb

Danny KalbYesterday was a wonderful music day, full of contrast and interconnection. Early in the afternoon I wandered over to Club Passim, in Cambridge, where they have been holding an annual "campfire" series--continuous music, mostly by younger artists, non-stop from noon to midnite, over the whole weekend. It's an interesting mix of bands that looked like a lot of Celtic music and singer-songwriters. This is not a bad thing at all, but it contrasted bluntly with the recent Old Town Folk Fest I attended in Chicago in which the Old Town Music School hosted a lively festival in a local park with the staff bands (just considering the staff bands) ranging from hillbilly to African drumming. I adore Club Passim and have attended some of my favorite shows of all time there. For 50 years (not always under the same name) it has been a place to find good traditional music and the excellent things that come therefrom. The campfire festival may not fairly represent the span of the club and it's associated school's offerings. But I did note the difference from Old Town.

Continue reading "A good day for music / reconnecting with Danny Kalb" »

May 26, 2009

The disturbing reappearance of Global Village Music

This is one great source of Yiddish and Klez music I wrote for Whole Earth Review back in 1995. I was a bit less sanguine when I wrote an article for the KlezmerShack back in 1996 or so. Little did I know.

Here's what I do think I know. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Michael Schlesinger (sp?) started a company to make music from other cultures available in record stores. He got great distribution, so far as I could tell, such that I was able to find copies of some amazing LPs--the first Maxwell St. Klezmer recordings, the first Joel Rubin CD (for which I typeset some last minute copy for the cassette spine), the first Alhambra LP? Cassette?

At some point, around the time when I began noticing CD versions of these recordings and began seeking them out, I started hearing from the artists that all was not well. In fact, GVM seemed to be ripping them off. See this letter from the Jewish-Music list, from 1999: "outing" Global Village Music. At some point, Schlesinger stopped paying royalties. Then he made unauthorized CD editions of the recordings giving the artists nothing. My guess, based on a brief correspondence with him in the early part of this decade, is that he put his heart and soul into creating a business that went broke, and that he has been trying to dig out of a hole by stiffing the artists who once trusted him with their work. I don't really know. I did receive this today from one of the artists (another artist's email from today is represented below):

Michael Schlesinger, sole owner of Global Village Music, had a habit of ignoring contracts and never paying royalties to the artists he recorded. Several of us discussed engaging the services of a lawyer experienced in show business issues to sue him, but nobody wanted to invest the money in a project which would probably yield less than the investment. Sadly, Judy Frankel didn't live to see Global Village go out of business.

Today I (and other denizens of the Jewish-Music mailing list) discovered that several Global Village recordings have been available on iTunes since November. These are inferior and unauthorized versions of music for which the artists have not given permission, and for which they are receiving no royalties. I must request that any person interested in material originally recorded on the label contact the artists (many are listed on the KlezmerShack; I would be happy to help locate others) and purchase recordings through them. One artist that I do know wrote today, "Michael Schlesinger taught me some remarkable things about myself--including how I could live with an enormous injustice to my musicians and never succeed in overcoming it despite efforts and money spent." Should this matter be resolved to the artists' satisfaction, I will happily remove this post and replace it with one telling a more positive story. Based on the last 15 years, that seems unlikely.

If you purchase music through Global Village Music, you are screwing the artists whose music you like well enough to purchase. Those recordings are available without their permission and they are earning no royalties. Many have been mistreated by Schlesinger. Don't do it. And if you know anyone working for iTunes, or know how to contact iTunes management about this matter, please let me know so that I can pursue this further.

May 4, 2009

Off-topic again - teaching Jews about Judaism

Dr. Judith Cohen has a thought-provoking article on the formerly crypto-Jews of Belmonte. As they learn about Judaism and Jewishness, what models are appropriate? What does it mean to be a Jew, and is the Orthodox model the best, or the only appropriate model? In addition, who decides for a heterogeneous community what "it's" voice is? This is not a new question. Anyone who has encountered Jews in the former Soviet Union is likely to have encountered a similar monopoly on what such Jews are expected to learn and to practice to "return" to the Jewish culture of which they were deprived for so many decades—never mind that it was in their communities that much of the diversity in Ashkenazic culture that we now celebrate, arose. For one more example, I point out isolated Jewish communities in Africa and Asia as similarly isolated culturally, and to whom "one" Judaism is presented as the only valid model.

It is troubling that we have not yet fully accepted diversity amongst ourselves here in the United States (or in Israel, for that matter, where one's options for birth, death, and marriage are limited to approved orthodoxies). It is sad that Jews around the world, where resources are even more constrained, are given so few opportunities to discover themselves in the Jewish community.

April 20, 2009

Order me a corned beef and rye

detail of Zingerman's corned beef sandwichRecovering from the KlezKamp Roadshow extravaganza last weekend in Ann Arbor, I take myself to the local deli, Zingerman's, and order the simplest possible corned beef sandwich. It arrives on hand-cut, phenomenal Jewish rye. The meat tastes pretty good, too.

You order your sandwich in the deli building, where you can also order an extravagent selection of breads and meats and cheeses from around the world. You then trudge in the rain next door to hang out and wait for the sandwich with free wifi at the bagel shop next door. Not a bad way to pass time on a rainy afternoon. Worth being in Ann Arbor for.

April 5, 2009

Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird - Yiddish Culture is Alive, like it or not

So, a while back, someone clueless in the UK wrote about how only jerks ignorant of "current" Jewish culture would be caught up in lifeless klezmer concerts vs., say, the Ramones or Leonard Cohen. Personally, I dig both, but don't actually think of their work as "Jewish" or substitute for same.

Ruth Ellen Gruber, in this article that I should have posted ages ago, counters indirectly by reporting the energy and crowds appearing to hear Daniel Kahn's "Painted Bird" ensemble. Of course, if you've been listening to "Partisans and Parasites" or have seen Kahn and Painted Bird, this will not be news. In all events, the article is fun to read:

Ruthless Cosmopolitan: Klezmer and the ghost of Germany past, by Ruth Ellen Gruber, February 25, 2009

Read that, and then look at Turn off the klezmer and turn up the Ramones. Shades of Heeb magazine! Another person confused about the difference between "Jewy" and "Jewish".

December 29, 2008

Blog in Dm comments on "Beyond Boundaries"

I've been hoping that someone would have something to say about the "Beyond Boundaries" session a couple of weeks ago. I have talked with one participant on the panel who said that the panel was probably too large for the time, and that there wasn't time for the audience to really participate. The concert was reported as "okay." This is reportage? Fortunately, Blog in Dm offers up some germane and insightful coverage: Some Comments on Beyond Boundaries: Klezmer Music in the 21st Century

November 23, 2008

I wanna be a rebbe

Whoa! This one spotted on the Blog in Dm, which caught it elsewhere. Looks like the attempts by some haredirabbis to make being a rebbe look pretty stupid are bearing fruit. If poking fun at the rebbes isn't your cup of tea, there are some excellent recent CD reviews this past week. Need I mention that the holiday that has no historic gift-giving tradition overlaps this year with the majority culture holiday that, likewise, had no such tradition until coming to Amerike:

National Day of Listening

Many of us listen to NPR when we listen to radio, and of those of us who listen, we have long listened to the snippets of stories presented by StoryCorp. What fewer people know is that I earn a living (well, something close enough to a living to squeak by) by working for an organization that does often-similar work, the Jewish Women's Archive. Among our projects, we work with local historical societies to help uncover, gather, disseminate, and preserve North American Jewish women's stories. We are always looking for better ways that a small organization (us) can facilitate the uncovering of more stories (so very many).

I was thinking about that work this morning as I listened to NPR talk about StoryCorp's "National Day of Listening" project, in which all of us are invited to spend the day after Thanksgiving, not shopping, but listening to someone significant in our lives—gathering their stories and preserving them for our kids and grandkids. They even have a great, downloadable guide to recording these stories. (If you are having trouble starting the conversation, it just so happens that the Jewish Women's Archive has a useful webpage, "20 Questions to Ask the Important Women in Your Life"). Sounds quaint and homey until you realize how significant specific Jewish women have been to our extant sense of Jewish culture.

Some of the women we celebrate include Ruth Rubin, whose recordings and books of Jewish folk songs were the first entry point for so many. Start with a few of her articles on the KlezmerShack. Bronya Sakina, whose life has never been adequately documented, passed on many songs to Michael Alpert and others before passing away. We have living treasures such as Flory Jagoda and Bayle Schaechter-Gottesman, both National Medal of Honor winners for their contributions to Sephardic and Yiddish poetry and folksinging. Drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts is the mother of the next musical link in the family chain, Susan. Younger women who have played critical roles in the revival of Yiddish culture include Adrienne Cooper and Alicia Svigals—catch them while they are still vigorous, still teaching!

But the point isn't to honor famous Jewish women (or more generally, famous people). It is to gather the stories and wisdom of the people around you, from your grandparents and teachers; from people you meet at schools & synagogues—wherever people gather and share culture that they, in turn, learned from their elders.

While I'm at it, let me also encourage people to upload their own performances and share them. Both YouTube and the Internet Archive accept recordings for free, and make them universally available to anyone around the world who has access to the internet.

On Passover, we will retell a story about an ancient exodus from Egypt, but we are commanded, as part of the mitzvah, to retell it every year, in our times. The "National Day of Listening" is part of how one realizes that mitzvah. By learning and preserving the stories of those who came before us, we also give ourselves deeper knowledge and fertile soil in which to grow the stories that capture our own times. Often, our new stories will be retellings and reimaginings that come directly from those we learn from others. Some are new and could only have been sung or told today. But even the new, needs the old for context, lest it be seen and understood as just more digital detritis.

So, do some listening this coming Friday. Where possible, do some recording. If you post stories online, write me and let me know. I'll post some links here on the KlezmerShack to help get the word out. To be Jewish, or to understand Jewish culture, after all, is to have both past and future richly part of the present.

Oh, and while I have your attention? Like all non-profits, the Jewish Women's Archive relies on your help, and actual donations to keep the doors open and the website online. Once you have done some listening this week, do take a moment to participate in our year-end appeal.

November 2, 2008

Let us remember how lies have been used against us....

Here is a piece sung by Alhambra singer Isabelle Ganz pleading that, however we vote on Tuesday, we not let lashon ha'ra—Lies—determine our choice. (And I remind everyone that, much as I have voted for a major brand this time around—Barack Obama, let I appear to be hiding my own choice, there is a broader choice than between coke and pepsi, between Demopublican and Republocrat, and that diversity of choice is also an important ingredient in our political system.)

Der Lign (The Lie) is a musical response to the smear campaign against Barack Obama. Those who are conducting this smear campaign have tried especially hard to frighten, confuse, and deceive Jewish voters.

What the piece doesn't address is something that should have been addressed loud and clear by all candidates this year. What on earth should it matter in our American democracy to which religion a candidate subscribes, or whether he or she subscribes to any faith at all? Was not the intent of our founding fathers in this experiment in democracy to separate faith and government? Let us, instead, rededicate ourselves to oppose fanatic fundamentalism—that twisting of every faith (or lack, thereof) that insists that it is okay to demonize, to hate, to kill those with whom you disagree, or who are from another culture. That is a true evil.

If you haven't yet taken advantage of your state's early voting already (or if your state prevents that as one more tool in their vote suppression arsenal), don't forget to vote by/on Tuesday.

October 30, 2008

My bubby is voting for Obama

I really do not like to let my political sentiments leak onto pages that are focused only on the diversity of Jewish music—regardless of the politics (or lack thereof) of the performers. But, this one echoes some of my own sentiments, and, hey, it's "Romania, Romania."

Long-time readers of this site will recall the very old, "Seattle, Tacoma" from the Mazeltones, and the Australian-tinged, didgideroo-enhanced version from Klezmania. Here, for your viewing and listening pleasure, "Oy, Mcainia":

And, remember, regardless of your political affiliations or leanings, you have just a few more days to dig into the issues, make informed decisions, and get your tuches to the polls on Tuesday (by Tuesday if your state allows early voting)—remember, man proposes, G-d laughs—don't leave voting for the last minute if you don't have to.

October 28, 2008

Palin comes out against Klezmer Fiddling. Feh.

I have to thank Bob Cohen, whose band, Di Naye Kapelye is about to release a new CD featuring SoCalled, Michael Alpert, yet another hutsul band... right. I have Bob to thank for this choice tidbit. I'll give ya'll the start, but to read the whole thing, check out his own blog post:

I found this bit of ignorant Republican wingnuttery on the morning news surf today, which I present as an example of the level of intelligence that the GOP campaign offices are able to attract these days. Last week Republican talking points included attacks on Saul Alinsky (1909-1972) who is generally considered to be the founder of modern community organizing in America, the political practice of organizing communities to act in common self-interest. Alinsky was active in Chicago during the 1950s and 60s, mainly working in civil rights issues. So of course, he's a terrorist, even though he's been dead since the Nixon era. What is fun, however, is the not so surprising fact that Republicans can't spell...

sign captured by Bob Cohen. Who is 'Solinski'?Oh, yeah. My stepson used to play with Alinsky's grandson, as sweet a kid as you could ask to know. Slandering Alinsky is slandering my son's friends. Feh. If your state allows early voting, get your rear in gear and vote so that you can spend nov 4th helping get out the vote and getting people to the polls. Me? I'll be helping said stepson, who is running a campaign for state senate for a mensh of a candidate. I guess that Alinsky stuff wore off on him. He can do a decent freilach on the sax when pushed, too.

July 10, 2008

New JTA column by "virtually Jewish" Ruth E. Gruber

Kinky Friedman, photo: Ruth Ellen GruberHey, I got it on the grapevine by reading the original Rootless Cosmopolitan, that writer Ruth Ellen Gruber has a new column, on the JTA website. To help confuse the perplexed, this, too, is called "Rootless Cosmopolitan."

What I find very interesting is that, for the first subject of her new column, Gruber touches on Texas country music icon, Kinky Friedman. Heh. It was only a few decades ago that I was starting a multi-lingual newspaper in Jerusalem. I needed an editorial. So, as the October War changed history around me, my first published newspaper column was on, um, Kinky Friedman and how the Israeli Knesset would react if he carried out his threat to concertise in Israel.

Gruber has far more interesting things to say as she discourses on "From klezmer to country: Linking the soundtracks". Check it out!

On the LadinoBus with Judith Cohen in Turkey

Judith Cohen writes to the Jewish-Music list about her travels.

on the bushi, well, it wasn't called LadinoBus, but that's what it was—I'm just back in Madrid from a couple of weeks hanging out on a bus careening through Turkey with a bunch of Sephardim mostly in their 70s and 80s, speaking Ladino (which is what most of them have resignedly taking to calling it these days; it isn't what any of them said at home) and visiting the cities they or their parents were born in; then a week in Bulgaria mostly with Sephardim as well, in their case mostly resisting the use of the term "Ladino" ("we don't care what they've decided in Turkey or Israel; Ladino isn't what is spoken"). I was on the Turkey trip as a sort of domesticated ethnomusicologist, and it was quite fascinating to see what memories of songs (and stories, recipes, proverbs etc ) the trip stirred up, between the places themselves, the interaction with others on the bus, and the interaction with Sephardim who had stayed in these cities all along.…

Photos of the trip are available on Flickr

Continue reading "On the LadinoBus with Judith Cohen in Turkey" »

June 30, 2008

The Lipa Ban - Charedi music controversy continues

Over at Blog in Dm, the author has been detailing curious stories of bizarre over-reaching by some charedi rabbis in Brooklyn. The most intriguing one was a ban on listening to an Orthodox entertainer, Lipa Schmeltzer, right before a major gig. It doesn't seem to have worked, and the new Lipa LP, "A simple guy" (a poshuter yid) is now out. More details from the source: This Review Is Banned! -- Lipa Schmeltzer's "A Poshiter Yid".

I took a quick gander at the promotional video for the new LP:

By me, this is good, current dance music set to frum words. Neither is something that I have a great interest in, although I'm getting ready to pick up my own copy of the CD to weigh in on the controversy. What keeps coming up for me, and I'm sure I've mentioned this before, is what the rebbes in Babylon must have said when those modern piyyutim folks started bringing in these pietistic poems set to the current dance music of the day some 1500 years ago (stay tuned--I attended a piyyut class in Jerusalem while I was in Israel this spring and it was damn fun--blog post to follow, I hope, before time erases it from my memory). So, today, at a time when I run around talking about how Judaism is changing and Rabbinic Judaism is sooo last century, people still living in the middle of that allegedly outdated community are listening to what's happening around them and setting pieties to today's modern dance music. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Irony on me if the big changes that stick have to do with music (especially when you consider that I quite like most traditional musics and have no interest in the current stuff), not מנהג or הלכה. heh!

And the anti-Lipa rabbonim? The dustbin of history will be theirs soon enough. Too damn bad they have to engage in such nasty lashon ha-ra on the way.

More on Heeb's allegedly Jewish "Diamond Days"

I wasn't the only person at a nonplus when looking at Heeb's "Diamond Days" event coming up this summer. Teruah - Jewish Music had even more questions than I had, and actually followed up with the Heeb folks, confirming what I have suspected for a while--Heeb is for posers--people who like Jewish ephemera, but don't really want to get too … Jewy or anything. Feh.

June 15, 2008

Heeb's "Diamond Days" - this is Jewish?

As I got through months of accumulated email messages, some of them actually relevant and worth posting, my breath was taken away, once again, by a music fest hosted by "Heeb" magazine, the publication for people who want to feel "Jewy," but don't want to be contaminated by anything Jewish. So, it will come as no surprise that Heeb has a new music festival coming up in July called "Diamond Days" that features nothing recognizably Jewish in the lineup.

I would be the last to suggest a token klezmer band. I'd be satisfied even with one of the sterile nouveau religious bands featured in Moment Magazine's "Jewish Music sampler" of a few years ago, or some hip hope like SoCalled or Matisyahu or Y-Love. Perhaps something less classifiable like Pharaoh's Daughter, or Sephardic music of some form--Divahn, say. There are hundreds of people making music that draws on Jewish text or culture in some way. It would be kind of neat if an event targeted at Jews that involves 30 acts found room for some of that.

Or would that get in the way of the desire to hang with people who may be genetically Jewish (I find it as unlikely that a Jew by choice would find this event any more of interest than those of us who are Jews by tradition) without getting too … Jewy?

I like Heeb's attitude, in theory. I don't find the magazine particularly readable or interesting, and I gotta say, I am even less interested when so much efforts goes into something so irrelevant. And I guess that's as much thought as I can give it. On to updating the calendar and maybe getting some Jewishly relevant content back on the blog.

January 17, 2008

Blog in Dm: "The Klezmer Gene"

Over at Blog in Dm, there is lovely musing about what compels unaffiliated Jews to hire a klezmer band:

Over the past few years, I've played a lot of small weddings for unaffiliated Jews. In many instances, the calls for these affairs come in a week or two before the wedding. In one case, a fellow walked over to us at a Sunday night gig and hired us for his wedding on Thursday.

Coming off of a really fun one of these weddings, where we had them dancing in the street in Greenwich Village, I've been thinking about what makes people who have clearly been planning their dream wedding for a very long time, suddenly decide that they need "authentic" live Jewish music at their affair. more

I find it especially interesting because my boss, not a klezmer aficionado, is trying to find the perfect band for her Boston-based wedding—one that can play the jazz and oldies and rock that she and her spouse-to-be adore, but one that can also do something better than a canned klezmer set. Not quite ready to contact 'Hasidic Musician,' but not necessarily convinced to sign up for Shirim or the Klezmer Conservatory Band, either.

January 13, 2008

Alicia Svigals article: "Queer Klezmer Quandry" in Shma

shma logo
"On October 12, 2007, over 100 musicians prominent in the contemporary revival of klezmer music gathered on the steps of the Eldridge Street synagogue on the Lower East Side of New York for an historic photo. This Ashkenazic Jewish music tradition had faded to a whisper in the 1950s and 1960s but returned with an unexpected crescendo in the 1970s, and the photo was intended to document the thriving creative community that the klezmer world has become. Among the faces in that photo are several people, like myself, who are openly gay and lesbian; our disproportionate presence is an oft-noted and curious fact about the current klezmer and Yiddishist scenes...."

rest of Alicia Svigals' article in Shma, Dec 2007

Those familiar with her article several years ago in Judaism, from a conference on the Klezmer Revival back then, later published in book form in Slobin, Mark, American Klezmer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

December 7, 2007

Rosenblatt & Lemisch @ Stanton St. Synagogue Honors Luncheon

reading from the TorahThe only thing that could pull me away from the Yiddish Dance confab this Sunday is a differently amazing event happening nearby. Jonathan Boyarin and Elissa Sampson are old friends who have spent much of the last 20 or 30 years working to preserve synagogues on the Lower East Side. I have davened in firetraps up and down the area, and a couple of them are actually rebuilt or being rebuilt, largely as a result of Sampson's and Boyarin's efforts.

If you wanted to honor them, the best way to do it would be to invite some damn fine musicians (2/5 of Shtreiml is one excellent choice), which is what the Stanton St. Synagogue is doing this Sunday, 12/9/07.

At my request, Sampson has gotten the synagogue to offer some limited discounts to the luncheon (which, in addition to honoring her and her spouse, is also trying to raise funds for the synagogue):

First 20 people to go to the Stanton Street website ( and sign up, can get the half price student rate to hear top klezmorin Jason Rosenblatt and Rachel Lemish at the Orensanz Center do a benefit for another historic shul, namely Stanton Street. They get lunch and chanukah gelt money goes to a good cause. To create a discounted reservation, at the half price rate of $60, in addition to following the website instructions, they should also cc: teshuvah [at]

You heard it here first. Yiddish Dance? Historic synagogue honoring two of the hardest working and nicest organizers on the Lower East Side and hear Jason Rosenblatt & Rachel Lemisch? The choice is yours. Both matter!

October 20, 2007

Tango controversy - what do you think?

It started innocently enough. (Doesn't everything?) Lori Cahan-Simon spotted a Yiddish Tango on YouTube and called it "terrific," (presumably thinking of the obvious—Yiddish Tango, on YouTube—Sexy Yiddish!) The singer, Zully Goldfarb is one of the featured artist on the CD, "Yiddish Tango, " available from our friends at Hatikvah Music. But the Yiddish words have meaning. The song is a farewell, written by someone about to be sent to Auschwitz. Just because it's a tango, doesn't make this particular song appropriate to this setting:

Indeed, Lloica Czackis, well known as an expert and a performer of Yiddish tangos, wrote:

Continue reading "Tango controversy - what do you think?" »

October 5, 2007

Honkfest in Somerville, MA, Oct 5-7, 2007

honkfest graphic, somerville, ma, Oct 5-7, 2005There is something special about a band marching in a parade. It doesn't have to be an "official" marching band, as at Veteran's Day parades or football games. When I lived in Santa Cruz I remember some glorious marches with a delightful cacophony of musicians and street performers. Anyone who has attended a Gay Pride parade knows of what I speak—but so do the people who have attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Sometime in the last few years, this mix of loud brassy music has gotten fused with social concerns, with community activities, and something noisy and edgy and extremely fun. This weekend, in Somerville, MA, there is a "Festival of Activist Street Bands." One of the organizers turns out to be one of my professors from UMass/Boston's College of Public and Community Service, Reebe Garofalo.

So, tonight there are bands in the Abbey Lounge, in Inman Square. Tomorrow, though, there is a day of concerts in Davis Square, from noon to 7pm. And Sunday? Can you say parade? Sets out at noon from Davis Square to Harvard Square, followed by performances at the Harvard Square Oktoberfest. To find out more about the honkfest, check out the honkfest website. If you see Judy and I there, stop by and say, "hello"!

September 9, 2007

L'shanah tovah tikatevu—It sounds like Chanukah already!

I participate in an online forum called The WELL. Every year about this time, someone opens a topic in one of the general discussion areas about early sightings (and hearing) of music and decorations relating to the brand X holiday that occurs around the winter solstice. I have always felt smugly secure, because I have never walked into a store in August, or even September (when most of us have other things on our minds) and heard "I have a little Dreidl."

That is changing. Once upon a time, Chanukah was noted for simple kids' songs—the aforementioned one, "Dreidl, Dreidl, Dreidl," or for the more culturally aware, "Ocho Kandelikos." For adults, there was always a rockin' version of "Ma'oz Tzur." to enjoy. And then Adam Sandler changed the world.

Continue reading "L'shanah tovah tikatevu—It sounds like Chanukah already!" »

June 11, 2007

Grumble grumble even farther from new reviews

In the bad old days, the KlezmerShack was mostly just reviews. I'd listen to music. I'd share what I heard. End of story.

Now, I am never caught up with the calendar or with the new listings. So when do I have time to write? Today, wanting to check something out I tried sending an email from the KlezmerShack only to get a rude error message. My good compatriot, George Robinson, ran into the same wall.

After bothering my ISP,, which is very good at many things, but which sucks in this particular area, I discovered that they had decided that my email script was being used by spammers, and had disabled it. They sent me a notice, but the notice went to an address that is all spam, so I never saw it. (They similarly turned off comments on the blog part of the KlezmerShack a year ago, and I haven't had time to re-code.)

So, tonight, instead of doing the new web pages that I promised, or homework for class, I spent part of the night updating the various communications scripts on the KlezmerShack, and then trying to track down and eliminate lots of old cruft calling old scripts. Feh. But I also put in place something that should make it harder for spammers to bug people listed here - I installed a "captcha," a graphical device that forces each sender to type in a unique code. This will throw people using lynx, or using other non-graphical browsing tools. But, for now, it's going to have to do. Sorry. And no new review tonight, either. Double Feh.

April 2, 2007

a zisn pesakh

album coverAs I get ready to start the first seder, I find myself thinking about music for Passover. It is a holiday where I find myself singing loudly (to many people's distress) and often, but not one where there are so many recordings that come to mind.

Still, this is a good time to mention Yehoram Gaon's pioneering LP of Sephardic Passover songs. Here's a nice link on Richard Silverstein's blog, along with a link to the music, now available as part of a 2-CD set, from everyone's favorite online music store, Hatikvah Music (it used to be everyone's favorite Jewish music store, but Hatikvah no longer has a storefront.)

Moving back to the future, I am happy to make a strong mention of Cincinnati singer Lori Cahan-Simon's 2001 Songs my bubbe should have taught me, vol. one: Passover. You can also get Lori's CD from Hatikvah, of course!

But, suppose you've been there and down all that? What if you're ready to deconstruct the seder? There is only one answer, the SoCalled Seder. From the JDUB website:

album coverPassover starts Monday night at sundown. Many of you will gather with friends and family for 4 cups of wine, 4 questions, and more dry, flat, unleavened bread than you'd care to think about. Socalled's Passover masterpiece: The Socalled Seder: A Hip Hop Haggadah is the perfect antidote to a seder as dry as the matzah you're going to eat. It makes a great Afikomen prize. Whether you drink the 4 cups or not, its a great sountrack to the first week of April.

Order today and get it in time for your Seder from the JDub Webstore for only $7.99! Or download it from itunes or emusic Listen to Who Know's One? and 2nd Cup: Bless the Wine, and hear two more tracks on Socalled's myspace page!

A sweet Passover to one and all.

April 1, 2007

Yet another Orthodox != Jewish conundrum

So, an institution is holding a series of events featuring musicians who represent different parts of the Jewish music community. One of the musicians is a pop musicians of the sort (as near as I can tell) who sets religious poetry to current rock/pop sounds—the sort of thing that the Sephardic piyut writers did a thousand or two years ago in what is now Iraq.

To me, and to the organizers of the event, this was music best described as "Jewish Orthodox pop"—the qualifier added because it is music very much enjoyed by some parts of the halachic community, but which is unknown and generally making no impression outside that large community.

But, of course, I get an angry email, as though I wrote the concert description, demanding that I remove the word "Orthodox." I do as requested, but all the while, I think to myself, "hey turkey, you may want to pretend that this is music that speaks to the larger Jewish community, but it doesn't. So, you have just removed a signifier that will let that part of the community that isn't aware of your music, know that there is a concert of interest.

And maybe it matters, and maybe it doesn't. The term "Jewish music" as generally used these days, includes nothing but ditties of greater or lesser depth set to folk or pop or rock. If you listen to the sad sampler of "Jewish music" that Moment magazine distributed a year or so ago, there is no klezmer, no Ladino (not pop, not traditional, nada), no Yiddish, no music representing any Jewish folk or popular traditions outside the confines of allegedly "spiritual" music. It is a deadly awful CD, and convinced me that if Moment magazine is this clueless about Jewish music, it may be similarly clueless across the board. 20 years ago it was a great magazine. Today? Who mentions it.

And this Jewish musician? Maybe he belonged on that CD. Maybe he didn't. But I suspect strongly that trying to market his sound as "Jewish music" is the kiss of death across the board. And, of course, this is where I came in. I can't image a problem in describing nusakh as Jewish music, but once you set your words to popular melody? It may be many things, and it may certainly be part of Jewish music. It deserves description.

I titled this piece as though the artist was confused about the difference between "Orthodox" and "Jewish." As I write, I realize that this isn't necessarily so. From his perspective, as someone setting Jewish words to music (and regardless of which denomination you belong to (or think of as how you aren't Jewish), it s"Jewish music". But that simply isn't enough. Even if we were all Orthodox, given the variety of Jewish communities, it still wouldn't be enough, and without further qualification, it is as though the artist is announcing he doesn't see or hear anyone but his own sub-community as the normative Jewish community.

March 11, 2007

The usual Balkan Night complaint

Yup. It's an annual complaint. Every year I go to Balkan night and Judy and I hear several great bands, see many of our favorite friends (especially Jewish ones), get some dynamite dance instruction and dance until we're ready to go home. This year we came home early—a combination of me being exhausted and having to get up early, handicapped by this new Daylight Savings time thing. Sheesh.

I won't go into the longer litany. I won't belabor the very different events that the Irish community celebrates each year (including, I've noticed lately, a whole commercial "Irish food and culture" thing around St. Purim's, er, St. Patrick's day). And I am far too overcommitted to do something useful about this in Boston soon, but there must be events where local bands perform, people learn to dance, and we sing, dance, and jam together. And if that event covered more than one Jewish culture, so much the better. But if we can only do Ashkenazic culture for now, that too, would be a nice first step. But someone has to help organize it and help raise money and keep it together. I did it poorly last year, and have had no time recently. Instead, I whine on my blog and hope someone will put me out of my misery by making this happen.

But, really, if people can pull together singing and dancing and music from several balkan cultures that have been estranged in their native territories recently, surely we Jews can do the same.

November 26, 2006

Klezmer davenning in Philly

A quick shout-out to the Society Hill Synagogue, just south of the Old City in Philadelphia. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Judy and I were guests at the congregation's "fourth Friday" singing shabbes, and greatly enjoyed it. To paraphrase congregational clarinetist Bob Blacksberg, it felt very good to bring doinas and other klezmer (and hassidic nign, and lots of singing, ranging from modern Debbie Friedmanish tunes to traditional Conservative nusakh.

I was down in Philly a couple of years ago to work on the election, and Adobe technical evangelist Leonard Rosenthal showed me around some of the synagogues in the area—it's worth remembering that Philadelphia was the center of American Jewish life until about 150 years or so ago. It's also a nice measure of how the original musical interests that sparked this website have broadened, just a bit, to include actual davenning: traditional and new age and unclassifiable.

So, fourth erev shabbat of the month, Society Hill Synagogue, Philadelphia. Tell 'em the KlezmerShack sent you.

October 23, 2006

Thank Gopod* for the Board of Guardians of British Jews

site logo?I first noticed right before Rosh Hashana when I got an email informing me that something called "the board" had kicked off the Jewish satirist who makes fun of Kazakstan (sorry, I mostly track unpopular culture, so I am fuzzy on who does what) because the Kazak government objected to his satire and it was embarrassing to Jews. I replied with a pithy reminder of Spinoza, also excommunicated primarily because of fears of what the goyim would think.

Then I realized it was a joke. Satire.

Since then, the office uk has sent me further news masquerading as satire, and it's great. If there is one thing the Jewish world needs even more than klezmer (and new Jewish music), satire is it.

Check it out The Board of Guardains of British Jews at

*and what is "gopod" you ask? A typo.

September 3, 2006

Askhenaz 2006, Motzei Shabbat

in the nosheryFirst day of Ashkenaz! We rush down to Toronto's HarbourFront (trying to miss the traffic that is going to a Chinese Festival at a different venue—Toronto has this quaint idea that the city should support arts funding for lots of different cultures and perspectives, one of the reasons this is such a liveable city). Although the "fresser's" tent is filled with all sorts of good food, from Indian to Chinese to Eastern European, we opt for Israeli felafel.

Continue reading "Askhenaz 2006, Motzei Shabbat" »

June 3, 2006

Remembering Jewish Refuge in Shanghai

DVD coverSeveral times in the last few months I have been reminded of Shanghai as a Jewish refuge of the 1930s and 1940s. While viewing the film, "The White Countess" a month or two ago, I found myself sure that this was not the first time in recent memory that I had seen a film that involved China during that period, and that featured Jews (or could have featured Jews). Now the folks at Winter & Winter have released a DVD of 1998's excellent documentary, "Zuflucht in Shanghai: The Port of Last Resort", describing the wide-open port, the only place in the world where one needed no papers, which provided refuge to some 20,000 Jews as Europe was consumed by Holocaust. Despite the alliance of Japanese with the Germans, the Japanese initially favored Jews in Shanghai, and even at the height of war hysteria when food was limited everywhere and Jews were confined to a ghetto, most of those who arrived, survived, and eventually found their ways after the war to the US or Israel, with a few eventually repatriated to Europe after the Communist takeover.

CD coverThe documentary, by Joan Grossman and Paul Rosdy, featuring soundtrack music by John Zorn, is excellent. It features a wealth of contemporaneous letters and photos, interspersed with interviews with four of the survivors. Winter & Winter have done their usual very classy job of producing a well-documented, beautiful DVD package. So taken was Stefan Winter by the story, that he also created a separate CD "soundscape" featuring music by Brave Old World and a Chinese ensemble, along with contemporaneous recordings which is its own fascinating accompaniment to imagining the period: Metropolis Shanghai: Showboat to China. A very different sort of Jewish-Chinese world music CD, and a real pleasure to hear.

May 30, 2006

Bruce Springsteen - almost as good as Hankus Netsky!

I have never seen Bruce Springsteen, and have regularly felt deprived. Truth is, however, that I have neither the budget nor inclination to go to a large stadium to see anyone, however great. And, while Springsteen is one of the few rock and rollers I really enjoy, I don't listen to a lot of rock.

I was especially curious about his new show, however, the so-called "Pete Seeger Sessions." I am thrilled that a wonderful vein of American music is being presented to a wider audience, but somewhat put off that it is being presented in such a second-hand manner—not as Americana, but as music that one would only know from listening to Pete Seeger albums.

Continue reading "Bruce Springsteen - almost as good as Hankus Netsky!" »

January 2, 2006

Goodbye 2005, hello 2006, still the same old 5766

Well, it's that day of the year when I make an archival copy of the website and reflect on the year that has passed. It is worth noting, I guess, that in a year in which I have not managed to review a new CD since March, the website is nonetheless about 200MB larger (compressed, even!) than it was last year. I might also add that this has been an incredibly exciting year, musically, so I feel like a real turkey having been too distracted and too busy to write about it.

Continue reading "Goodbye 2005, hello 2006, still the same old 5766" »

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.


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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."

Continue reading "Go See "Ushpizin"" »

September 18, 2005

Heeb's First Annual Jewish Music Award Fest - Don't you first have to have a clue about Jewish Music?

So, tomorrow night the New York Jewish Music and Heritage Fest and Heeb Magazine will cosponsor something they are calling "1st Annual Jewish Music Awards".

This is undeniably a good thing in theory. Given that there isn't even a Grammy award for anything relating to "Jewish", it is great that at least somewhere in the Jewish community someone is noticing Jewish music. But as I look at the nominees and categories, I can't help but reflect that the awards also feature something else for which Heeb is notorious: clueless attitude.

Don't get me wrong. Heeb is a great collection of bad attitude and Jewish symbology divorced from that messy Jewish context, a place where the confusion between "of Jewish ancestry" and "connected to current Jewish culture" thrives. And this can be a lot of fun.

Continue reading "Heeb's First Annual Jewish Music Award Fest - Don't you first have to have a clue about Jewish Music?" »

July 25, 2005

Props for the Ken Ulansey Ensemble

Ken UlanseyAs regular readers of this site know, there are no shortage of old friends in Philadelphia who put on an incredible wedding show. When it came time to suggest a band for my stepson Ben's wedding, I did mention some fine names. The bride-to-be demurred and asked if it was okay if she asked the band that had played at her Bat Mitzvah. (She was, I might add, the 4th generation of her family involved in the Germantown Jewish Center, so there was some yikhes beyond merely being the beloved of a rather special stepson.)

As it turned out, I was pretty sure that Ken Ulansey would be rather good. I had seen him blow with Benny and the Vilda Chayas, as well as with his own ensemble, a few years ago when I mc'd the last Intergalactic Jewish Music festival. I was impressed and had really enjoyed the set, so as much as I would have been happy to send business to people that I know better, I had no qualms about this particular gig.

And, I am writing this to publicly note that Ulansey's ensemble was outstanding. Whether playing klezmer, Israeli folk dance, or very excellent soul and rock, the band rocked hard and kept the dance floor crowded. Very nice people, to boot. Ken and one of the singers also accompanied the ceremony, and other musicians quietly played in the background for the reception beforehand

Mind you, I never recommend bands—you'll find that written on the main page of the KlezmerShack, where it has been present since I began listing bands. But, should you read this and audition Ken's ensemble for a Philadelphia-area wedding, I suspect that the simcha will come off as stunning for you as it did for us. We thank Ken, and we thank the band.

June 9, 2005

Who drove 50 Shekel to Jesus?

Someone forwarded this article to me, "Change for 50 Shekel", by Arye Dworkin

In it, Dworkin writes that parody rapper 50 Shekel has gone over to the dark side, er, announced to the world his embracing of Christianity. The cause (as I understand Dworkin to be writing)? All those nasty Jews who posted hurtful comments about 50 Shekel.

If Dworkin wants to make the point that lashon ha-ra is bad, I am all in agreement. It is not a good thing that we get into the very "hip" sound of dissing folks.

But the idea that 50 Shekel left Judaism because he was dissed? Not a chance. 50 Shekel left Judaism because he is a confused person trying to figure things out, and for now, he has found in Christianity the anchor he is looking for.

It is very popular to criticize those who criticize, and entirely wrong. First off, individuals, both those who do the dissing, and in this case, the one who decided to try a different brand of faith, need to separately take responsibility for their own actions. If there was lashon ha-ra, then people need to look at what they said. (In this case, the items cited go beyond criticism to what looks like lashon ha-ra.) You want to criticize lashon ha-ra, criticize the specific lashon ha-ra. But 50 Shekel has to be held accountable for himself and for his actions. It's not my fault, not Jew*School's fault, not your fault, nobody's fault and all 50 Shekel's responsibility. "Fault," here, as in most places (other than figuring out what broke in an accident) has everything to do with pointless blame, and nothing to do with taking responsibility

I could add something about the language and the posts in which 50 Shekel was dissed as being quite consistent within the hiphop world, but that takes us off topic. Sole responsibility for how he lives his life ultimately rests with 50 Shekel. 'Nuff said.

December 11, 2004

Weekend Edition's "goyish" take on new "Chanukah Music"

Okay, NPR's Weekend Edition this week featured a lot of neat Chanukah Stories. They also featured reviews of new Jewish music by Tom Pryor from Global Rhythm Magazine, who has great taste in music, but didn't seem to know much about Chanukah or other things Jewish. So, I wrote them a letter

Continue reading "Weekend Edition's "goyish" take on new "Chanukah Music"" »

November 22, 2004

A rap for the 'Shack

Abraham Velez sent me this. He says it's for my efforts on behalf of the Hip Hop Hoodíos, clearly the best Latino-Jewish hip hop band around:

Feelin' sad in yuh sack
from the rightwingattack?
need ta getcha groove back
like an accabee-Mac?
Wanna go to a place
that's never wack?
Jew the pedal
to the metal
at the

Okay, posting rap in praise of myself is pure self-aggrandizement, but I dig this one. Thanks, Abe.

October 26, 2004

Wafarin Strangers

The bluegrass/jazz band, "Wayfaring Strangers" is coming to town in a couple of weeks and I am rather dismayed by my inability to sit down and order tickets. Some of this is due to being distracted by the World Series and the election. Some of it is the usual money concerns (employment suggestions for an excellent it project manager—pmp—in the boston area cheerfully considered). But for some reason, even as the band comes up in my mind all the time—most recently I compared some of Michael Winograd's lovely compositions for Khevre to similarly jazzy, spacious compositions by the band—I can't keep their name straight.

I used to think of Wafaring Strangers as Jewish bluegrass. On their first album, and when I saw them a couple of years ago, at the intimate Johnny D's club in Somerville, one of my favorite places to see good music, Andy Statman was still playing with them, and would occasionally break into a bit of nign or klezmer when doing one of his solos. Watching Andy Statman play with musicians of his calibre is a rare event and always worthwhile. (Watching, or listening to Andy Statman play with musicians who are merely "good" or "excellent" doesn't pull the best out of him the same way. It's like watching David Krakauer with most of his bands, just quieter.) From recent band personnel listings, though, it doesn't look like he'll be there. Was Andy even on the second Wafaring Strangers album?

But the worst problem is that from day one I have had trouble remembering the name of the band. I keep talking to friends about this great bluegrass band, "Wandering ...." Wandering who? what? I can't remember. I find myself wondering why a band would be called "Wandering Stars" when we all know that is the name of a book about Yiddish Theatre. I have an odd form of mental dyslexia that makes it very difficult for me to remember some names. (Wanna know the names of the three longest lived monarchs in Europe? I've been unable to forget that since 9th grade. But none of them play bluegrass these days.)

Anyway, I have a bad feeling that I'll procrastinate until the last moment, and then blow it for the last time when I go to Ticketmaster for the overpriced last-minute tix and can't find 'Wafarin Strangers' wondering all the time why a band would name itself after rat poison, and wasn't that a song by the Grateful Dead, anyway?

Sorry. Not really about Jewish Music. But my mind wanders sometimes. There's a band coming to town soon. "Wandering ... Stars"?

September 7, 2004

Ashkenaz 2004: Great music, but still some questions

Toronto's bi-annual Ashkenaz Festival is one of the most eagerly awaited Jewish music extravaganzas. It doesn't have the depth or longevity of say, Berkeley, California's "Jewish Music Festival" held every year, nor is it the once-every-350-years extravaganza taking place in New York City right now, but nowhere else in the world can one stroll around and hear so much Jewish music and Jewish language in one place, most of it for free, much of it happening all at once.

Avrom Lichtenbaum on Yiddish Humor, in YiddishThis year, as in each of the preceding four festivals, there was no shortage of amazing music. So, I'll get to that in a minute. Instead, I'd like to spend a few minutes talking about some of the few things that went wrong, starting with the fact that this festival, officially tagged "a festival of new Yiddish culture" contains precious little that is new, and is clearly not limited to Yiddish culture.


July 3, 2004

Non-Jews, Klezmer, and Anti-Semitism in Germany

Klezmer in Germany is a strange place. It's very popular music, played primarily by non-Jews in a country that killed virtually all of its Jews in the middle of the last century. The fact that the music is played by non-Jews is understandable: German Jews weren't big on klezmer prior to the Holocaust (although from Mahler to Weill to the Comedian Harmonists, Jews were certainly part of German music in all of its forms). Current German Jews, many of them emigrants from the former Soviet Union, aren't much more crazy about it. Ruth Gruber, among others, has written extensively about the phenomenon in her wonderful book, "Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe". Heiko Lehmann (currently in Sukke, among other collaborations) gave a lovely background lecture years ago, Klezmer in Germany/Germans and Klezmer: Reparation or Contribution at WOMEX, in Berlin, in 2000.

Things get even stickier between the preservationists, who insist that true klezmer is what they have resurrected from, say, old American klezmer '78s (think of how many weirdnesses that criterion raises) and those for whom klezmer, like blues or jazz or classical music is one influence in something new that they are creating. Sometimes the results, preservationalist or new, do sound more like cooptation and exploitation than interesting music. Sometimes, both the old and new are simply wonderful on their own terms.

So it's messy. Some of this decontextualized German klezmer belongs to a new and interesting context that may be very much in keeping with klezmer traditions, or may be new, wonderful music. (For an old take on an earlier version of this problem, listen to the Bonzo Dog Band song, "Can Blue Men Play the Whites".) I've reviewed many albums here on the KlezmerShack, including, most recently, albums by Sukke and Khuppe that are among my recent klezmer favorites.

Still, there is also a cesspool of people slinging accusations of "antisemitism" taking the place of music criticism (sometimes non-Jews accusing other non-Jews of same—remember, "klezmer in Germany" is not a phenomenon that involves a majority of German Jews to a great degree). Since there has been at least one recent scholarly article that could justly be described as "the cesspool calling the holding pond putrid" (it's not pretty), I asked some of my friends playing klezmer in Germany what they might refer folks to (in addition to Ruth Gruber's book) to get a sense of what is actually happening.

The book is 'Klaus mit der Fiedel, Heike mit dem Bass' (nice play on 'Yidl mitn fidl' in the title) Philo Verlagsgesellschaft Berlin/Wien 2003, by Aaron Eckstaedt. The book is described as "a very careful study of the German klezmer phenomenon, ... it's based on interviews with musicians who perform Yiddish music here, from amateur to professional, Jewish and not Jewish. Eckstaedt can actually talk about the people involved, because they talk to him."

The book is in German. It may well be worth translating. Certainly this is a subject of interest to many of us beyond the German-reading public. In the meantime, when reading articles on the subject it is very, very important to vett the author. In this subject, as in most subjects, just because someone writes a scholarly article doesn't make the article scholarly, or removed from the author's personal, passionate, and not-necessarily-connected-to-the-objective-world investment in the subject.

April 1, 2004

New Jewish Music fest in Brooklyn

George Robinson uses the start of a wonderful festival of new Jewish music in Brooklyn, taking place on weekends over the next month, to talk about where Jewish music is today in this week's Jewish Week. I get quoted, as does Seth Rogovoy and other luminaries.

Jewish Music Goes Multiculti: "Old World klezmers out, Sephardic and African influences are in, experts say, on eve of BAM events."

November 6, 2003

What does it mean to be a cantor?

Cantor Sam Weiss shared this with the Jewish-music mailing list:

There is an article that I've been meaning to share with this list for a while, and I'm finally getting around to doing so. It does not necessarily represent my practice, but I think it serves as a necessary antidote to the "Three Tenors" conception of what being a cantor is all about. Following the link is the title and a tiny excerpt:

Speaking Before The Heavenly Court, by Cantor Sherwood Goffin, Jewish Week of Greater New York, 3 Oct 2003

... It is then, nearly two months before Tishrei, that it all begins for me the realization that as the cantor of a community, I am the one who will soon be called upon during the High Holy Days to plead on behalf of my congregation, my family, my friends, for a verdict of compassion for the coming year...

August 13, 2003

Now we're "Fair and Balanced"

Every so often someone makes a claim to the English language that is so egregious, and at the same time, hits my funny bone just right, that I am forced to rename the site for a while. The first instance, of course, came when RadioShack decided that it owned the term "Shack" and went after an early web-based community, the Smut Shack. That one seems to have stuck permanently.

This site was only the Twisted Barbie KlezmerShack for a while, and ya'll can guess what prompted that alteration. Now, Fox News is going after Al Franken, whose new book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" allegedly might confuse folks who know Fox's news slogan, "Fair and Balanced."

Continue reading "Now we're "Fair and Balanced"" »

July 20, 2003

new Yiddish music

Just recently I added a new category to the KlezmerShack's review listings, "New Yiddish Music". It is something that I have considered for several years, and have debated around in my mind for a long time. This wasn't just a bureaucratic reorg. I'm hoping that this attempt at categorization will spark some discussion.

Please read the full article and add comments, if you like.

May 7, 2003

A Jewish Dancing datapoint

Among his many projects, Michael McLaughlin, of Shirim Klezmer Orchestra teaches a klezmer group at Tufts University. The band recently gave a dance concert, and as often happens, I fell asleep and missed it. But I was curious, so I e-mailed him about attendance, dancing, and the like:

... My question, though, is whether there was a good turnout and whether folks danced, and if they danced, whether it was some identifiable variant of traditional Jewish folkdancing, or the usual hora mixed in with whatever.

(Meta question: can I find any data points of college interest in Yiddish/klezmer folk dancing.)

To which he replied:

When the dancing started we had about 25 people and most stayed and danced for the forty-five minutes we did it.

As for the dances, Angela Schatz did a mix of Israeli and Klezmer (Freylachs with different steps, and patch tanz.) We were going to do the sher but ran out of time and steam as it had been along night of concertizing and dancing.

Meta answer: You might, it all depends on connecting with the kids....

So, what do you think? If your college regularly (or irregularly) runs dances at which klezmer bands play, what is it like? Do people know Yiddish folk dances? Are they taught? Is there interest? And how often is klezmer played, vs., say, spinning records for Israeli folk dancing (or both together)? Post comments and let me know what you think or what you've observed.

March 30, 2003

Where are the Jewish weblogs?

Nu? So where are the Jewish weblogs? It's getting lonely out here!

If this subject is new to you, and if you want to find out more, let me recommend the new book that I picked up this week, Rebecca Blood's "The Weblog Handbook." It's more about the phenomenon than about anything technical, it's short, and so far, it's very worth reading.

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March 27, 2003

Favorite Passover Recordings

the irrepressible chasia segalDo you have a favorite Passover recording? Is there something that your kids love to listen to every year?

Add a comment to this weblog, or e-mail me, and let me know. I'll add all the comments and recommendations to a document similar to what we put together for Chanuka a few years ago.

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February 22, 2003

Kol Isha?

The subject of "Kol Isha" (literally, "a woman's voice", referring to a prohibition in Jewish Law against a male person hearing a woman singing) has come up again on the Jewish-music mailing list. It is one of the places where the push by some practitioners of holier-than-thou, put a fence around the fence around the fence around the Torah directly affect the income and livelihood of Jewish performers, and I am less sympathetic than I might be.

I also welcome that the subject comes up periodically, and I welcome those few minutes before everyone settles into their usual polarized place in the sport of bashing religious feeling of one extreme or another, those few minutes when some folks can take the time to think about the subject and consider whether the words they are about to state reflect actual examined feelings, or are just an instinctive response to the usual button-pushing.

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