Elaine Hoffman Watts / I Remember Klezmer

Album cover: I dunno. Duotone of mother and daughter playing in cemetery. Type is too big for the space. Elaine Hoffman Watts
I Remember Klezmer:
The Art of Klezmer Drumming
, 2003

Album available via cdbaby.com

I first saw Elaine Hoffman Watts playing in the album release party for Alicia Svigals wonderful "Fidl" album. Here was a solid third generation klezmer, mother of a next generation of klezmorim, and a raucous, wonderful storyteller, to boot. In subsequent years she has been appearing around the world with a variety of Jewish music ensembles, often appearing with her daughter, the fearsomely wonderful tumpeter, Susan Watts. Finally, mother, daughter, and lots of friends are all together on this amazing updating of the Philadelphia "American" klezmer sound. It's about time.

The album opens, fittingly enough, with a track of Elaine's father, Jacob Hoffman, playing xylophone, with Elaine, David Licht, Gerry Brown, and Aaron Alexander joining in. This album is, after all, subtitled "The Art of Klezmer Drumming."

Drumming is only part of the story, of course, trumpeter Susan Watts is joined by bandmate Frank London (the Klezmer Brass AllStars) and the renowned latest-generation Philadelphia klezmer Rachel Lemisch on trombone. Susan also shows off her soulful vocal style, first singing scat on the "Gasn Nign", and closing with an amazing "Aveenu Malkeynu"--not a cantorial number here, just heartfelt Jewish soul.

In some ways, this feels like a throwback to another generation. The rolling drumming that opens "Shtetl Ias", supporting a brilliant brassy melody, reminds one more of old klezmer 78s and invokes the age when John Phillip Sousa was king. But, that's also because this album is a celebration of great klezmer drumming. That's the point. And Elaine is great. Here's an album, in which a female musician - a gender with which the musician's union had great problems, to its discredit - performs the first "Drum Doina" on record. Indeed, that doina is part of a suite, composed by Elaine, in honor of her father, that also features daughter Susan on trumpet, soloing back and forth with her mother ... the two latest generations of Phildelphia klezmer.

This music is, indeed, a throwback to the best of klezmer as it had evolved in the United States prior to the revival twenty years ago. As noted, heavily rhythmic. Lots of brass. A sound with which the Epstein Brothers would feel quite at home, but less dependent on the New York Yiddish show tunes that the Epstein's featured - this is the Philly sound in full force and dance-compelling splendor.

For all that the album features Elaine Watts, this is also the first album to give an adequate showcase to Susan Watts' amazing trumpet voice, as well. Listen to her dueting with her mother on the aforementioned "Eateleh's Suiteleh" or swirling divinely in "Lakeleh" (written by her grandfather, Jacob Hoffman, for his daughter Leanore's wedding) or spitting out whole clusters of perfectly annotated phrases in "Trish's Freilach".

This is a "must-have" CD. It is an amazing document of Philadelphia klezmer, played by exceptional musicians who grew up with the music. It is also a wonderful tribute to those generations of klezmorim, and incredibly fun music.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 5/1/04

Personnel this recording:
Elaine Hoffman Watts: drums
Gerry Brown: drums
David Licht: drums
Aaron Alexander: drums
Susan Watts: trumpet
Frank London: trumpet
Rachel Lemisch: trombone
Travis Johnson: tuba
Jay Krush: tuba
Kat Flagg: accordion

Jacob Hoffman: xylophone excerpt on track 1


  1. I'll just keep going rhumba (Jacob Hoffman) 2:59
  2. Freilach 21 2:10
  3. Gasn Nign 5:46
  4. Freilach 2:58
  5. Shtetl Ias 3:03
  6. Eateleh's Suiteleh (Elaine Hoffman Watts) 8:41
    • Drum Doina
    • Trumpet Interlude
    • Eateleh Freilach
  7. Lakeleh (Jacob Hoffman) 3:00
  8. Chasidishe Freilach 3:27
  9. Zigainer Tantz 4:22
  10. Trish's Freilach 1:25
  11. Bagopolier Freilach 3:35
  12. Aveenu Malkeynu
  13. (trad.) 2:32

Unless otherwise noted, songs written out by Joseph Hoffman

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