A selection of publications from the Yidishe Heftn periodical

 

 The following is a representative sample of articles I have been publishing since January 2013 for a Yiddish cultural organization based in Paris. As outlined in my statement of purpose, there is still a dearth of publications in France on the history of klezmer music. As a consequence, these articles are addressed to neophyte readers and sometimes involve simplification. Furthermore, the format is cultural rather than academic. Subsequently my editor often encourages style to take precedence over text weighed down by references and quotations, and for me to imbue my writing with a breath of poetry. However, I strive to give my readers substantial guidance in foremost bibliographical and musical resources. The length, generally restricted to three pages, enables me to provide analytical and concise insight to distinctive themes and innovative connections between concepts related to klezmer music and its history.

 

 

 

Article 1. Naftule Brandwein (1889-1963): The King of Klezmer Clarinet

 

Article 2. Dave Tarras (1898-1989): The Benny Goodman of Klezmer Music

 

Article 3. Yiddish Song and Klezmer Music: A Modern Aesthetic of Womanhood

 

Article 4. The American Revitalization of Klezmer Music

 

Article 5. The musical Aesthetic in the Radical Jewish Culture Movement

 

Article 6. Klezmer-Loshn: The Musicians’ Secretive Jargon

 

 

 

 

 

Article 1. Naftule Brandwein (1889-1963): The King of Klezmer Clarinet

 

It is hard to understand a personality as paradoxical and complex as Naftule Brandwein. An unrepentant hedonist, he loved gambling, alcohol, women, the world of night life and the mafia. Naftule was the creator of his own mythology, fed by his arrogance and his recklessness, his madness and his virtuosity. He was to New York klezmer music what Charley Patton was to the Mississippi blues: the bad boy, uncouth and brutal, eccentric and devil-may-care, lover of both darkness and celebrity.1 He was also the embodiment of the cultural figure become legend, that of the ignorant klezmer, an unschooled, miscreant wanderer. But what we should remember of Naftule is his musical genius, his role of cultural emissary and his contribution to the emergence of today’s klezmer music.

Naftule was born in 1889 in Przemyslany, a small village in Eastern Galicia and the cradle of the Stretiner Hasidic dynasty (1815-1939). Although modest, his family’s role was both musical and spiritual, being descended from Rabbi Yehuda Hirsch Brandwein. Pesakh, Naftule’s father, married four times and had fourteen children. He was a violinist and a badkhn (wedding poet), and led the family Kapelye, which Naftule joined at a very young age. Together, they formed the Brandwein Brothers Orchestra (Fuks, 1989: 83). He travelled all over Poland’s Eastern Galicia with the band, playing in Romanian wine cellars and at balls organized by Polish landowners, from the second half of the nineteenth century until the First World War. Enjoying a certain notoriety, the Brandwein family had the honor of playing before Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. He was also playing in kretshmers (local taverns), a problem for his family, since Jewish musicians weren’t usually playing in that kind of place, unless it was owned by the musician’s family, like Jankiel, the dulcimer character of Adam Mickiewicz’s epic poem Pan Tadeusz.2

Naftule left for the United States with six of his brothers between 1908 and 1914, and Naftule himself in 1909. The date is confirmed by the Ellis Island Immigration Records.3 He even recorded a tune which help to support the time of his arrival with Yiddish-named Russian dance Fufzehn Yahr Fon Der Heim Awek (Away from Home for Fifteen Years, 1924). The brothers then set out to conquer America. Moyshe played violin and French horn, Mendel the piano, Leyser was the drummer and Azriel, who was to become Naftule’s first music teacher, played cornet. This first instrument shape Naftule’s roughness of his sound. Although he could not read or write music, Naftule learned to the clarinet with his brothers after arriving in New York, which eventually became his favorite instrument. One can find Naftule posing for pictures with a saxophone or a balalaika, but he never learnt to play these instruments.

At weddings, in cafes and landsmannschaften,4 he soon earned a solid reputation as a showman for his antics and outrageous performances. He might play, for instance, with a sign around his neck or his trousers around his ankles. Mickey Katz saw him in the Lower East Side accompanied by a dog wearing a sign that declared: « Naftuli, The Greatest » (Katz, 2002). Once, while playing in a holiday show, he draped himself with Christmas lights and was nearly electrocuted due to perspiration. Like Miles Davis, he sometimes played with his back to the audience in order to conceal some of his fingering techniques. He was nicknamed « Nifty », but proclaimed himself « The King of the Klezmer Clarinet ».

Abe Schwartz, in a talent search for Columbia Records at the time, hired him in 1917 for a series of recordings, thus launching Naftule’s career. Although a brilliant clarinetist, his behavior aroused antipathy. He showed up late or not at all, was often drunk and sometimes violent. For some musicians, Naftule’s manners and language made it difficult to cope with. Harold Silverman remembered for example: “Brandwein looked back at me, he says « you a piano player? You a shit! Du viIst ayslernen?” (Do you want to learn?) (Harold Silverman, Interview with Joel Rubin, 1994). In his autobiography, the xylophonist Joe Helfenbein also recalled a traumatic experience of playing for Naftule.

In the end, Abe Schwartz decided, with regret, to part with this unstable talent. Joseph Cherniavsky took this opportunity to add Naftule to his vaudeville orchestra, the Hassidic-American Jazz Band. But his talent was not enough to excuse his appalling behavior. Joe Helfenbein, the band’s drummer, said that Naftule was sometimes a mean drunk. His colleagues complained, and avoided sharing a room with Naftule whenever possible when the Cherniavsky vaudeville toured the Borsht Belt5. Once again, Naftule was fired. In both cases, it was Dave Tarras, Naftule’s new rival, who replaced him and threatened his notoriety. Dave would become his Nemesis in life as well as on stage. Rita Ottens and Joel Rubin wrote a beautiful comparison of this opposition: “Brandwein was the modern Stempenyu, demonic, sexual, Dionysian; and Tarras as the modern-day Shepsl, pious, refined, disciplined, Apollonian.”

One hired his accompanists through the Musicians’ Union, the Local 802, the other at a poker table. One was sober, rigorous, professional, could read and compose music, the other utterly disregarded all that. As Sy Tarras remembers it, his father tended to disparage Naftule, considering his style too folksy, unworthy of a respectable klezmer. But Andy Statman, one of Dave Tarras’ students, recalls that he admired his rival and appreciated the role he played as emissary and champion of a tradition that was disappearing. Although he was married and the father of a little girl, Naftule became the klezmer of Prohibition. Through his personality and his music, he had attracted certain members of the New York Jewish Mafia Murder Inc., led by the notorious Arnold Rothstein, known as « The Tsar of the Underground », and he became this organization’s protégé. They say he played for the crooks at the back of a Brooklyn candy merchant’s shop, which was probably a cover for an illegal business.

He was fond of the traditional repertoire that his father and brothers had taught him, preferring these Eastern melodies to the popular American music. His repertoire, replete with references to Yiddish culture (Naftule Spielt Far Dem Rebin, Der Yiddisher Soldat in die Trenches, Mazeltov der Schwieger), was the product of his apprenticeship in the family Kapelye and their kinship with the Gypsies. Through Naftule’s recordings, we traverse Europe from Poland to Turkey, starting from his homeland with its Kolomeyka, through the land of his wandering youth, Poland, Romania and Russia, to the ends of the Klezmorim musical empire, Greece and Turkey. Naftule also likes to play along his audience nostalgia, with recordings such as Wie Bist Die Gewesen Vor Prohibishn (1924).

This vast repertoire was a treasure trove for the music industry. The musicians were always the same, but the orchestras and song titles were renamed for marketing to the many immigrant communities. Naftule recorded with the Russkyj Narodnyj Orchester (1922-1923), Te Piec Dziadow (1927), and others. Naftule Brandwein’s Orchestra recorded its own contributions to today’s basic klezmer repertoire, with its Rumeinishe Doina (1922), Fihren die Mechutonim Aheim (1923), Odesser Bulgar (1925) and Fun Tashlach (1926). From 1927 to 1940, Naftule, suffered from health problems due to his lifestyle, moved away from the glitter and the studios. He cut down on the debauchery, but needing to provide for his family did not disappear from the scene entirely, making some appearances on Yiddish radio stations.

He made his last series of recordings in 1941. With Kleine Princessin and Freilicher Yontov, his playing became supple and calmer, all the while losing none of its brilliance. If he resented Tarras for his carrier, he nonetheless had the humility to learn some of his tune and to adapt his style, his taste evolving with his audience. That same year, the Colonial Music Publisher Company published two of his compositions, Bulgarish Freilach and Naftuli’s Freilach; many others are credited to him but not copyrighted. He spent his last years in relative obscurity until his death in 1963. He bequeathed a unique body of work that I hope will give you as much pleasure as learning about his character.

Even if it is rather difficult to oppose Tarras and Brandwein with dichotomies such as body and soul, technique and heart, Max Epstein, who had the privilege to met both of them, gave a strong statement: “My idol was Dave Tarras, but he played like a cold fish. Technique, fine. Played beautifully, but the fellow who played with fire was Naftule Brandwein. He would take the heart out of you.” Beyond Naftule’s incomparable technique, you will hear his obsession with pleasure, a sweet frenzy and a deep nostalgia, the wounds that he carried within him, melodious burdens born of wandering and rootlessness, immortalized, etched into these few gems.

 

Notes

  1. Charley Patton (1891-1934): acknowledged for his musical style and his character, he was also one of the founder, with Robert Johnson, of the Mississippi Delta Blues style.
  2. Mickiewicz, A. and Kirkconnell, W. (1962). Pan Tadeusz, or, The last foray in Lithuania. New York: Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America.
  3. See http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/
  4. Landmanschaftn: immigrant benevolent organizations formed and named after the members’ birthplace or East European residence, for mutual aid, hometown aid, and social purposes.
  5. The Borsht Belt was a nick name for the Catskills Mountains north of New-York, a popular vacation spot for New York Jews at the time.

References

Fuks, M. (1989). Muzyka Ocalona: Judaica Polskie. (Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Radia i Telewizji).

Katz, M. and Coons, H. (2002). Papa, play for me. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.

Rubin, J. (2001). The Art of the Klezmer-Improvisation and Ornamentation in the Commercial Recordings of New York Clarinetists     Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras 1922-1929. PhD. City University of London.

Sapoznik, H. (1999). Klezmer!. New York: Schirmer Books, pp.103-105.

Discography

Sapoznik, H. (1997). Naftule Brandwein, King of Klezmer Clarinet 1922-1941. [CD] Cambridge: Rounder Records.

Yom. (2009) New King of Klezmer Clarinet. [CD] Paris: Buda Musique.

 

 

Article 2. Dave Tarras (1898-1989): The Benny Goodman of Klezmer Music

 

From his native village in Ukraine to the streets of Brooklyn, Dave Tarras’ destiny has invariably been to make him one of the most famous klezmorim of the twentieth century. Between 1914 and 1917 he played in Tsar Nicholas the Second’s army as well Franklin Roosevelt’s during the Second World War, traversed the Golden Age, and withstood the post-Depression decline of Yiddish radio and the music industry. Tarras met the greatest stars of the New-York Yiddish world, musicians, composers and actors and dethroned Naftule Brandwein and became the king of klezmer clarinet, a cornerstone of Yiddish-American music and a major cultural conduit for contemporary klezmorim.

Virtuoso of klezmer music, his legacy was ensured by thousands of musicians who, still captivated by his melodic and technical subtlety, were inclined to re-appropriate his repertoire and bend to the unparalleled elegance of the master. Tarras and Brandwein had the same temperament, arrogance and severity when relating to their musicians. But conversely to his rival, Tarras knew how to read and transpose music and in addition to this created favorable working conditions for himself by unionizing upon arrival in the United States. Naftule other the other hand was impeded by his drinking problems, his hedonistic almost chaotic nature, and his questionable friends. Consequently, Tarras enjoyed a long and fruitful Yiddish mainstream career, while Naftule, who fell out of favor with twice, became the prince of underground klezmer.

Dave Tarras was born on March 20th 1898 in Ternovka, a city in currently Ukraine, formerly a part of the Russian empire. His father, Rakhmiel, was a trombonist, a badkhn and leader of the familial kapelye. He began Dave very early: balalaika, mandolin, cobza1 and flute. At age ten, Dave joined the kapelye to play in Jewish and Christian weddings. At thirteen, his father sent him for a few weeks to Uman, in central Ukraine, to learn the clarinet. At this time, Dave was also in contact with Hassidim who taught him nigunim. In 1915, he was conscripted to Nicholas the Second’s army, and subsequently joined the military band. His officers quickly noticed his talent and asked that he would entertain their nights in exchange of more favorable treatment. His soldier pay increased tenfold, and the officers made sure Dave would never see a battlefield. In 1918, he fled the Bolshevik revolution, pogroms and the army. With incredible luck (an officer found him hiding in a wagon and, after he recognized him, kept his silence) he made it in New-York. It took him two years to reach the Goldene Medineh (the “Golden Land” in Yiddish).

At Ellis Island, his clarinet was destroyed by fumigation, and he would have to wait a whole year before purchasing a new one. In the meantime, he was hired in the fur trade with his brother in law. His first patron would be a fellow klezmer musician, a friend of his cousin, Sam Ash, who hired him to play in weddings on Hopkinson Avenue. He would also publish a doina in 1932 as his first composition and sell it in his store.

One night in 1923, Tarras met Joe Helfenbein who introduced him to the Musicians Union for a charity concert. Helfenbein was at this time a percussionist in Joseph Cherniavskys’ band, and proposed to replace Brandwein for a set of concert in Philadelphia. The compensation was seductive and Tarras decided to try to make a career as a musician, something that he though to be impossible until then. Still with Cherniavsky, he began recording for RCA Victor the music of a theater adaptation of the Dybbuk.  He was then contacted by Moe Nodiff who worked at Columbia Records, on recommendation of Abe Schwartz, then at A&R (Artist and Repertoire), to record ethnic tunes (Polish, Greek, Russian and Yiddish). At this time, Dave Tarras was paid forty to eighty dollars a session, a fraction of the two hundreds and fifty dollars Naftule was receiving for playing.

In 1925, Tarras was hired by Alexander Olshanetsky for his play, A Nakht in California, during which he met the famous Aaron Lebedeff. At the same time, he was recording as conductor of the Columbia Greek Orchestra. In 1927, he was invited to join the Boibriker Kapelle for a Yiddish vaudeville under the direction of Hirsch Gross. The following year, he secured a seat in a small symphonic orchestra for silent movies of Fox and Paramount. He notably interpreted Gershwin’s successful tune, Rhapsody in Blue. In 1929 the golden era of Yiddish radio began. The Boibriker Kapelle, Molly Picon, Irving Grossman and other personalities of Yiddish theater all participated in the first Yiddish shows ever broadcasted on the then young Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).  These were “Stars of the Yiddish theater,” and “The Jewish Day Radio Concert.” But with the crash of 1929 and the economic depression that followed, musicians had to be more determined than ever. In a single day, Tarras could record in the morning and go to a radio show in the afternoon before continuing at night at a wedding, a landmanschaft or a union party.

The end of the 1930s turned to be a surprisingly prolific period for Dave Tarras. In 1937, when Benny Goodman was recording with Martha Tilton the very Yiddish Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn, Tarras became, thanks to Abe Ellstein, the official clarinetist of the popular show Yiddish Melodies in Swing, where he recorded with the Barry Sisters. He also became the musical director of a local Brooklyn radio station, the WBBC. Between 1938 and 1941, he recorded with Al Glaser and Bukovina Kapelle for the Dacca label. In addition to his activities as a performer, Tarras composed dozens of tunes in books now filed in the Institute for Jewish Research (YIVO) archives.

The majority of his compositions, destined to gain popularity by labels or radio were saved by the Colonial Music Publishers Company between 1939 and 1946. In the 1950s and 1960s, the American-Yiddish culture began its decline due to the assimilation and rise of a new generation who discarded their Yiddish roots. His public was narrowed to the orthodox whose massive migration after the Second World War which allowed to renew klezmorim audiences. Even if Tarras was able to assimilate into American popular music, he could never completely lose the Yiddish musical sounds and character, responsible for his initial success.

Dave Tarras was one of the most brilliant klezmorim of this immigrant era and finally became a key actor in the movement of the bale-kulturniks. In 1971, Giora Feidman visited him several times. His recordings popped up with the research of Henry Sapoznik and Walter Feldman. In 1978 and 1979, the Balkan Arts Center3 organized a series of concerts, gathering Tarras’ former trio with Sammy Beckerman and Irving Graetz. For many years, his little house in Brooklyn was constantly flooded by musicians, journalists and historians, all wishing to meet one of the last klezmer of the old world. In 1984, five years before his death, he was nominated by Ronald Reagan to be the recipient of the National Heritage Folk Life Award, the highest prize for a folk musician. He one day told his protégé, Andy Statman, a story which oscillates between anecdote and legend. As the story goes, Dave was in the trenches of the First World War, and his clarinet was breaking the reigning silence. When he stopped playing, one could hear, beyond the No Man’s land, an ovation coming from the other side. So, here goes the story of a man who lived all his life by and for music and who survived the wars, revolutions and pogroms of his century with that very art.

 

Notes

  1. Cobza: Rumanian version of the Turkish oud, played with a plectrum and imported by Ottomans during their invasion of southern Europe.
  2. Progressive Musicians Benevolent Society, local 802. About unions, see James Loeffler : Di Rusishe Progresiv Muzikal Yunyon N°1 fun Amerike, The first klezmer union in America, in Mark Slobin, American Klezmer, its roots and offshoots, pp. 35-52.
  3. Renamed the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, directed today by the banjoist and tsimbalist Pete Rushefsky

References

Strom Yale, Dave Tarras, The King of Klezmer, Or-Tav Music Publications, Israel, 2010, 128p.

Rubin, J. (2001). The Art of the Klezmer-Improvisation and Ornamentation in the Commercial Recordings of New York Clarinettists Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras 1922-1929. PhD. City University of London.

Rubin, J. (2007). What a jew means in this times-Naftule Brandwein, Dave Tarras and the shifting aesthetics in the contemporary klezmer landscape, In: Conference on Jewish Arts. Practicing Jews: Art, Identity, and Culture. University of Wisconsin Madison Library Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing in collaboration with Wendt Library.

Discography

Schlesinger, M., Alpert, M., Rubin, J. (1989). Dave Tarras, Master of Klezmer Music vol. I, Original Recordings 1929-1949. [CD] New-York: Global Village.

Statman, A., Feldman, W. Z. (1978). Dave Tarras, Music for the Traditional Jewish Wedding [CD] Brooklyn: Center for Traditional Music and Dance.

Sapoznik, H. (1992). Dave Tarras, Yiddish-American Klezmer Music 1925-1956.  [CD] New-York: Yazoo Records.

 

 

Article 3. Yiddish Song and Klezmer Music: A Modern Aesthetic of Womanhood

 

For centuries, klezmer music has been an exclusively male profession. Women were forbidden to play any instruments. Singing was also often considered to be forbidden or inappropriate. The fictional character of the Purim-shpiels were played by men. Fortunately, the modern and secular societies, the Enlightenment, the social and political struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries contributed to lift the greatest part of gender inequalities. Today more than ever, women have become successful in all areas of Yiddish cultural production, the better to participate in them. They embody, play and sing of maternal or conjugal love, hope or revolt, passion and everyday life. Like the vestal virgins of Orphism, they always have a liedele on their lips, a melody composed of an enchanting chorus, a sweet verse and graceful harmonies. In a repertoire that they develop at will, there will be a lullaby for a newborn, a farewell lament to a son who goes to war or to the husband who will not return from it, a chant in celebration of Shabbat or an eldest daughter’s marriage. Bube, mame, kale, all magnificent ambassadors, draped in red and black, alone or in groups, representing, carrying on the tradition of and spreading Jewish culture from all corners of the world.

Out of the devastation of the shtetl, the pogroms and the Holocaust, women have been adding social and political facets to artistic creation whenever the opportunity has arisen. In the album Work and Revolution (1999), Zahava Seewald sang the anthem of the Bund: « Di Shvue« .1 In another example, Adrienne Cooper (1946-2011), who helped to create and direct the Klezkamp festival, participated in the recording of a humorous ode to the International Union of Musicians, entitled « Klezmer Bund« , ​​in Daniel Kahn’s album Lost Causes (2010). Similarly, Milena Kartowski, an expert in the philosophy of religion, revisited the Shabbat songs and Hasidic music, previously only performed by men.

Actresses, singers, composers, each has in her own way marked secular Judaism with the stamp of modernity. Fanny Brice (1891-1951), an emblematic figure of the Zigfield Folies, inspired the world of jazz and blues, among others Etta James, Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee, with her recording of « My man« . Her contemporary, Isa Kremer (1887-1956), joined Columbia Records to establish herself as a multilingual soprano after a brief career as a revolutionary poet. Sophie Tucker (1887-1966), Regina Zuckerberg (1888-1964), Bertha Kalish (1872-1939); the complete list would fill a book; all were among the pioneers, the grandes dames of Yiddish song. Their deep, throbbing voices originated in Europe. But their fame extended far beyond the borders of their native countries and every one of them enjoyed an international career and reputation.1

From generation to generation and in all genres, these women have built on their sisters’ success. When the era of swing arrived, they bore this musical style to the top. The Andrews Sisters covered Nellie Casman’s (1896-1984) « Yosl, Yosl« , transforming it into « Joseph, Joseph » and « Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn« , which became emblematic of the period. Anakronic Electro Orkestra‘s accordionist, Corinne Dubarry, has also paid a tribute to Lisa Gutkin, the Klezmatics‘ current violinist. In « Lady Mydriasis« , her group samples « A Vaibele a Tsnien » recorded by the Barry Sisters, who had started out under the name of Bagelman before joining Sam Medoff and his popular radio show, Yiddish Melodies in Swing.2

The theater, recording and the entertainment industries have always largely depended on their talents and charms. But women’s influence on instrumental music came later. Until the nineteenth century, the profession of klezmer generally involved wandering and its inherent dangers. Moreover, social and religious conventions long held women back from participating in this vital sphere of culture. Even though, according to ethnomusicologist A.Z. Idelsohn, women were included in what I call proto-klezmer musical groups from the fifteenth century, it seems that this participation faded quickly, to resurface only in the late nineteenth century. It is the very nature of these patriarchal societies that instilled in them the desire to make vocal and instrumental music, a vehicle for protest. This question was raised by the vivacious Molly Picon in the movie Yidl Mitn Fidl.3

Until then, women were relegated to accompanying instruments such as the dulcimer and the piano, which were signs of privilege and class, particularly among the European immigrant working classes in the United States. The rare exceptions to this proved the rule. Thus, the daughter of xylophonist Jacob Hoffman, Elaine Hoffman Watts, a drummer who has recently been honored by the « Philadelphia Folklore Project » foundation, managed to pass down an old Klezmorim dynasty to her daughter Susan, a talented trumpeter. Yet, whether as a couple (Lara and Joseph Cherniavsky, Merlin and Polina Shepherd) or a father-daughter duet (Abe and Sylvia Schwartz), man-woman combinations have always been the most prolific. In France, Estelle Goldfarb just recorded her first album, Naissance (2014), with David Krakauer and Frank London. In England, Sophie Solomon, a graduate of Oxford University and artistic director of the London Jewish Music Institute, was a pupil of the legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin. In the U.S., Alicia Svigals taught the classical violinist Itzhak Perlman the basics of Yiddish folklore instrumental techniques.

In addition, the major groups of the klezmer music revival would not have been possible without them. Here we include Lauren Brody (Kapelye), Margot Leverett (Klezmatics), Ilene Stahl and Robin Miller (Klezmer Conservatory Band). After the 1970s, a crucial period in women’s history, with all the different emancipation movements releasing them from their cultural and social imprisonment, and with the revival of Yiddish culture, all-woman bands began to form (Klezmeydlekh, Isle of Klezbos, KlezMs and Mikveh). Klezmer became a means of asserting other forms of identity, changing ideas on sexual morality and the status of women. However, some musicians, like those of the Turin-based quartet Les Nuages Ensembles, gathered in 2009 as an all-women kapelye to play the music they loved but also to advocate in favor of an evolving and yet still men-dominated field of music.

By appropriating all the existing instruments and combining them with new technologies, contemporary artists have transformed klezmer into an avant-garde music style. Annette Ezekiel Kogan, enticing founder of the punk band Golem, breathed into it the vital energy that the Maharal of Prague once gave to that clay creature, as legend has it. They generate musical hybrids, building bridges between cultures. Clarinettist Heiða Bjӧrg Jóhannsdóttir of Iceland, for example, combines her native folklore with Yiddish traditions in her group Klezmer Kaos. Similarly, the Argentinian diva Jacinta invents variations between the Yiddish of her Russian grandparents, the tango of her homeland and the French chanson of her adopted home.

 

In conclusion, I would also like to observe that alongside their artistic accomplishments, many of these women are also great scholars. Collectors and historians, sociologists and musicologists, they contribute to the music which is in turn their research subject. As examples, I would like to mention Ruth Rubin (1906-2000), and Moshe Beregovski, Eleanor Chana Mlotek (1922-2013), the late-lamented musicologist and YIVO archivist who wrote in the columns of Forverts, and Lee-Ellen Friedland, Rita Ottens and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. This work is now carried on and expanded by brilliant erudite such as Valentine Biolay, Eleanor Biezunski and Eleonore Weill. These European Days of Jewish Cultures thus confer on these women the honor they so richly deserve. Like luminous waves, they shine through the prism of Jewish culture and project over the world colors of which we never tire, intoxicating us with delight. Conscious of their role and the extraordinary wealth they can express and offer to these cultures, these women are carving new facets into this splendid prism, like a precious gem of which they have become the sparkling radiance.

 

Notes

  1. Di Shvue (The Oath) was written by Shloyme An-Sky in 1902 and soon became the anthem of the Bund, the Socialist Jewish labor party.
  2. Yiddish Melodies in Swing was created in 1937 and broadcasted by New-York’s WHN. Examples of Yiddish radio programs can be found in a two set compilation produced by Yair Reiner et Henry Sapoznik, 2002: “Music from the Yiddish Radio Project, Archival recordings from the Golden Age of Yiddish Radio 1930s-1950s” and “Yiddish Radio project, Stories from The Golden Age of Yiddish radio”
  3. Yidl Mitn Fidl. (1936). [film] Poland: Joseph Green. The soundtrack was written by the great American composer Abe Ellstein (1907-1963)

References

Idelsohn, A. (1967). Jewish music in its historical development. New York: Schocken Books.

Friedland, L.:

— (1981). A step toward movement notation: the case of a freylekh as danced in the Ukraine, 1900-1915. Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Newsletter, 41(2), pp.29-31;

— (1986). « Tantsn Is Lebn »: Dancing in Eastern European Jewish Culture. Dance Research Journal, 17-18(2-1), pp.76-80.

Ottens, R. and Rubin, J.:

— (1999). Klezmer-Musik. Kassel: Baldrenreiter.

— (2001). Juddische Musiktraditionen. Kassel: Bosse.

Kirshenblat-Gimblett, B.:

— (2002). Sounds of sensibility. In: M. Slobin, ed., American Klezmer, its Roots and Offshoots, 1st ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp.129-173.

— (1995). Theorizing Heritage. Ethnomusicology, 39(3), p.367.

Discography

Gottesman, I., Rubin, J. and Ottens, R. (2003). Di Eybike Mame-The Eternal Mother. [CD] Berlin: Wergo.

 

 

Article 4. The American Revitalization of Klezmer Music

 

In 1930s the decline of klezmer music started as in Europe as the United States. After the Second World War musicians, just like the Yiddish, were both surviving in small communities that resisted perpetuating the practice of the language, culture and traditions of Ashkenazi Jews. This musical No Man’s land is span on about three decades, from 1945 to 1975. However, some veterans, such as Ray Musiker, the Epstein Brothers, or Howie Leess, were still active in the Borsht Belt.1 The Hassidic communities that immigrated to Palestine from Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century managed to preserve their cultural habits. In the big picture, klezmer music vanished in the limbo of a world that was brutally annihilated. However, in terms of the revival, it is fortunately possible to investigate and understand such a phenomenon during this time, despite it being interactive, diffuse and evolving, from a time and spatial point of view, to be unlocked easily. For this reason, I have chosen to write the story of this revival in a series of articles of which this will serve as the introduction. As a prelude, let me start with a small semantic clarification.

Why should we talk of a ‘’revitalization’’ instead of a ‘’renaissance’’? Because the latter implies that there was, at a given moment, death. Indeed, we talk about the revival of Greek and Roman cultures and aesthetic canons in the sixteenth century Italy. However, in the case of Yiddish culture and klezmer music, it isn’t life itself but vitality that we are talking about. We do say that they survived the Holocaust and other scourges, not that they died like antic cultures. We can therefore think of this revitalization as the completion of an historical process. This does not mean that it’s process; rediscovery of cultural goods (recordings and sheets), reactivation of the musical production, reinterpretation of a traditional and folkloric repertoire, and creation of new compositions related to multiples aesthetic inclinations, technologies, instrumentation and contemporary hybridities; are following in a chronological, or even logical order. We should note here that these terms of reactivation and reinterpretation were used by Mark Slobin to replace the too-widely used ‘’revival”. It is only for a matter of convenience that we should use it to refer to this global phenomenon.

Western Europe holds a crucial role in this revival, particularly in Germany, with the festival of Weimar and Aufwind, a Berlin-based band founded in 1984, which challenged the anti-Semitic USSR politics. Also in Poland, with the Cracow Jewish Culture Festival which started the same year, or in France, where Adama and Bratsch started to play as soon as the early 1970s. In Argentina, Giora Feidman, himself the son of a klezmer, already recorded his first Jewish music album in 1971 in which he introduced klezmer tunes, and The Magic of Klezmer in 1973. However, it is really in United States that the movement sprung in significant proportions. This was partly a consequence of when, in the 1960s, the Jewish American youth was trying to find itself a new identity linked to East-European roots as an alternative to the one that was forged after the creation of the State of Israel.

Alicia Svigals, co-founder of the Klezmatics, was arguing that the revitalization of klezmer music was the result of those who decided to discard religion and to keep culture. In her manifesto, she maintained that klezmer was now not only the music of her grand-parents, but music that we would listen to ike tourists would visit the remains of a lost civilization.2 However, according to John Zorn, the reactivation of a forgotten repertoire is not the single motivation for the perpetuation of a cultural heritage. Indeed, he was evoking several other reasons for musicians to start playing klezmer. Facing economic constraints often known to musicians, this music became an occasion to conquer new markets, wider audiences, even and mostly beyond Yiddish-speaking communities which perceived it as exotic and oriental. Klezmer music was also a real challenge for instrumentalists who wanted to crack the codes of the technical intricacies of a folk music. And finally, there was a pleasure, purely and simply, to gather, discover and play a music that was rich, resounding, and deeply meaningful.

Among pioneers of this revival, I should obviously begin with what is the mythical band, The Klezmorim, whose history started in 1973, when Lev Liberman found his companion, David Skuse. They rally other musicians to their cause, who shared a will to juggle with traditional and jazzy interpretation of a folk music and a carnival setting in performance. They recorded their first album, East Side Wedding, in 1977, which is considered to be the object symbolizing the act or re-birth of klezmer. Their second album, Streets of Gold, recorded in 1978, was followed by Metropolis, nominated by the Grammy Awards. After several tours in the United States, they entered the Carnegie Hall in 1983 for a concert that launched them to the New-York musical scene and confirmed their growing popularity. Klezmer music hadn’t experience such prestigious performances since Mikhl Yosef Gusikof in Vienna.2

At the far opposite of this burlesque and avant-gardist style, the album “Jewish Klezmer Music”, recorded in 1979 by Andy Statman on the clarinet and Walter Zev Feldman on the tsimbl. Until his conversion to orthodox Judaism, Andy Statman was playing saxophone and mandolin in bluegrass bands. The evolution of his identity entailed a more serious involvement and interest in Jewish music that persisted until today. Walter Feldman was specialized in the study of Jewish and Ottoman musical folklores. In the 1970s, both became students of Dave Tarras, who became the godfather of klezmer music and whom every young folklorist was turning to seek advice on the technical elements and specificities of this music. Their album was a real revolution in the history, since for the first time klezmer did not pivot on the musician anymore, but rather, the music itself.

After Statman and Zev came the Klezmer Conservatory Band, founded in 1980 by Hankus Netsky, a descendant of a Philadelphia klezmer family. In his PhD dissertation, he wrote about klezmer music being in a lethargic state, waiting for people to come and deliver her from her silence. In order to awaken the slumber, Netsky gathered fifteen musicians in Boston, among them were John Zorn and Don Byron, at this time the only Afro-American clarinetist who was playing jewish music to begin playing.

And lastly, the fourth main band of this revival was Kapelye, founded by Henry Sapoznik, artisan of the Living Traditions project and the Klezkamp festival, established in the Catskills in 1985. Trained as an ethnomusicologist, he was already working, from 1979, to find 78rpm records and called Dr. Martin Schwartz for assistance.3 After this, he began playing with Michael Alpert (second violin and voice) and Ken Maltz (clarinet), after Pete Sokolow and Woody Allen (!) refused his proposal. Their first album, “Future and Past”, is recorded in 1981. In 1983, the new Kapelye founded himself on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, a publicity that went far beyond any hope of all generations of klezmorim before then.

We can now see that for all these precursors, there have been different motivations and goals, but the same central passion for klezmer and Yiddish musical folklore. All of them found their own role and sensibility. All are holding on to the traditional repertoires, Yiddish folk and theater songs, but none hesitate to shake traditions, and to go beyond boundaries, whether they are musical or social. They all brought to this ancestral music new meanings. As Nat Hentoff, an American historian and jazz critic said when he listened to an album of the Klezmorim: “I closed my eyes and smiled at the ghosts of my clan in Minsk and Pinsk’’. But the point of the bale-kulturniks was not only to revive a folk music, but also to open the gate for an utterly new Jewish music.

Notes

  1. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Borsht Belt was elected as the preferred touristic destination by Eastern European Jews from New-York.
  2. Mikhl Yosef Gusikof (1809-1937), was a famous Polish shtroyfiddler and the main character of Irme Drucker’s last novel.
  3. Leon Schwartz (1901-1989) was a Ukrainian klezmer and classical violinist. He taught to some of the greatest klezmer revivalists, such as Alicia Svigals (The Klezmatics) and Michael Alpert (Brave Old World).

References

Slobin, M. (1984). The Neo-Klezmer Movement and Euro-American Musical Revivalism. The Journal of American Folklore, 97(383), pp.98-104.

Svigals, A. (2002). Why we do this anyway: Klezmer as Jewish Youth Subculture. In: M. Slobin, ed., American Klezmer, Its roots and offshoots, 1st ed. Berkeley: Mark Slobin, pp.211-220.

London, F. (2002). Frank London, An Insider’s view: How we traveled from obscurity to the Klezmer establishment in twenty years. In: M. Slobin, ed., American Klezmer, its roots and offshoots, 1st ed. Berkeley: Mark Slobin, pp.206-210.

Hankus, N. (2004). Klezmer: Music and Community in 20th Century Jewish Philadelphia. PhD. Wesleyan University.

Discography

The Klezmorim. (1977). East Side Wedding. [Vynil] El Cerreto, CA: Arhoolie Records. Statman, A. and Feldman, W. (1979). Jewish Klezmer Music. [CD] New-York: Shanachie.

Klezmer Conservatory Band, (1981). Yiddishe Renaissance. [CD] Jamaica Plain, MA: Vanguard.

Kapelye, (1981). Future and Past. [CD] New-York: Flying Fish.

 

 

Article 5. The musical aesthetic in the Radical Jewish Culture Movement

 

In 2010, the Museum of Jewish Art and History organized an exhibition on Radical Jewish Culture, a cultural movement that burst into life in the 1980s in New York’s East Village. For this occasion, the Museum threw a series of concerts under the watch of the Captain Dreyfus statue, holding his broken sword. Music was, in fact, a key element in an aesthetic movement that rested on an elementary trilogy: contestation, provocation and innovation. Following examples of evolution of other music; from Dixieland jazz to be-bop and tonal classical music to chromaticism; those who wanted to create a radically new Jewish music had to shape its development around concepts of punk and underground, as well as include experimentation and an anti-nostalgic claim.

At the center of this movement, several fundamental questions were raised about the very nature and future of Jewish music, about what it was beyond and aside from klezmer, liturgical and theater genres. To completely disengage from the idea of a static Jewish culture, one had to understand music on a different level, that of interacting more deeply with an audience, as well as reactions to disturbing musical pieces and the intersection of archaic ideas of beauty.

As Jews from Eastern Europe settled in the Lower East Side, the neighborhood sheltered a Yiddish space of intellectual, artistic antagonism and literary avant-garde, which blossomed from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1930s. In the 1950s and 1960s there emerged afterwards anew specie of Jewish revolutionary artists and the Beat Generation. Among them were Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and Berman. In addition to what the Radical Jewish Culture inherited, it added its own contemporary musical background by combining alternative rock, punk and new styles of jazz from the 1970s and 1980s. The Radical Jewish Culture movement expanded in parallel to another, the bale-kulturniks. This component of the reactivation of the traditional Yiddish and klezmer repertoire had another perspective, focusing on the past of Jewish music rather than its future. Their aim, to insure a revitalization of Jewish and Yiddish music, was identical to their more radical homologue. However, the two movements diverged in terms of methods and the conception of Jewish music itself.

The main actor of the Radical Jewish Culture, John Zorn, was also its father and most active patron. David Krakauer, the well-known clarinet virtuoso and former member of The Klezmatics, wrote about him: ‘’Zorn’s brilliance was to identify and comprehend this greater cultural trend (insofar as it related to the Jewish experience), give it a name, create a record label around it, and then create a huge body of amazing work that came under the banner of this movement. In that sense, he created a “home”, a structure and a frame of reference not only for his own work, but for all of us involved in doing new Jewish music at that time.” Zorn borrowed his Kabbalistic philosophy from the Gershom Sholem (1897-1982), which he quotes in his Manifesto: ‘’There is a life of tradition that does not merely consist of conservative preservation, the constant continuation of the spiritual and cultural possessions of a community. There is such a thing as a treasure hunt within tradition, which creates a living relationship to tradition and to which much of what is best in current Jewish consciousness is indebted, even where it was—and is—expressed outside the framework of orthodoxy. »

The movement started slowly, as with every movement of this kind, intrinsically underground, avant-gardist. But in a sense, Zorn and his acolytes were going with the flow of a will to shake preconceived ideas of music and to move as far as possible from everything that was popular. After a few gigs at the Knitting Factory, Zorn wanted to organize a festival in Germany to present the first movement’s main project and a composition of his: ‘Kristallnacht (which would be first recorded in 1993), that would become the first album of his Radical Jewish Culture series. The concert was, according to some witnesses, a difficult experience; gloomy atmosphere, interdiction to leave; a specific piece, Shtetl, juxtaposed klezmer themes with fragments of Hitler’s speeches. Cilly Kugelmann, then curator and director of the Berlin Museum programming, recalls that the situation was still critical after the fall of the Berlin wall: « Hostels housing refugees were burned down. The political atmosphere was explosive and very difficult to judge. »

To this occasion, Zorn and Marc Ribot co-signed a first Manifesto entitled ‘’’Was genau ist diese Radical New Jewish Culture?’’ in the program of the Munich Festival Art Projekt, in which major figures, such as Lou Reed, John Lurie, Shelley Hirsh and Sylvie Courvoisier brought their talents. The genesis of this movement was therefore attached to two paradoxes that certainly contributed to shape its singular identity. First, Jewish American-born musicians had to go back to their roots in Germany (and in Poland after that) to get an American aesthetic movement started. Second, the opening of the festival took place at the Berlin Jewish Museum, when the main point was to get rid of Judaism as an archaic culture. We could say that Noise music belonged anywhere except in a museum.

In 1995, Zorn created for his Label, Tzadik, the most emblematic collection and the first to be exclusively devoted to the production of Jewish Music. Today, the collection is rich, consisting of about a hundred and twenty albums, a highly symbolic number in Yiddish culture. Since then, the studios, and the Knitting Factory, became epicenter and bastions of this movement. Following the substantial eclecticism in the Jewish musical traditions, Zorn started to seek artists and orchestras that would see in the principles of this label, a mirror of their styles and artistic aspirations.

Among them, we can find the entire discography of the Polish Bester Quartet, formerly The Cracow Klezmer Band (2001-2013) as well as the Frank London’s Hassidic New Wave (1996-2001), the South American rhythms of Tangele in The Pulse of Yiddish Tango (2008), the traditional Sephardic melodies of La Mar Infortuna in Convivienca (2007) and the Toulouse-based Artichaut Orchestra with T for Teresa (2011), of whom the leader is a former disciple of David Krakauer. Tzadik also recorded a collection consecrated to some of the greatest twentieth century Jewish musicians such as Burt Bacharach, Serge Gainsbourg (1997) and Jacob de Bandolim (2004). To this gigantic production were added a set of eight books, called Arcane, dedicated to gather publications of essays, manifestos and scores written by the most audacious musicians, composers and theorist in the field of experimental and avant-garde music.

Finally, we can assert that the aesthetic principles of the Radical Jewish culture were expressed through design of the album covers. Some evoke Judaism in a light and traditional way (Judith, 1999; Avodas Halevi, 2005), or inspire from Yiddish-American culture (O little town of East New-York, 1995), others refer to the kabbala (Nigunim, 1998), to Jewish mysticism (Search for the Golden Dreydl, 1997) or esotericism (Metamorphoses, 2012), while still, others are deliberately shocking and provocative (Kristallnacht, 1995; Pincus and the Pig, 2004). These designs have always been enemies of kitsch, and perfectly reflected the spirit, the inner tension and duality of the music they represented. It is now clear that there was, since the beginning, at the core of this aesthetic transformation, a previously unseen conception of tradition understood as an object of transmission and musical form.

The movement was simultaneously addressing a discourse involving history, religion and philosophy. With and around Zorn, musicians gave a double proclamation. Jews and the culture of Ashkenazim were still here but shtetls, ghettos and camps were no more. The modern world made a clean break with these modes of existence. If memory is a constitutive element of innovation, it doesn’t mean that Jewish music should inevitably cast shadows of the past. Memory should reflect this modernity. In the fall of 2015, Tzadik recorded twenty new albums (almost half are the product of Zorn himself), including the last two volumes of The Book of Angels collection. The productivity of such a label has been, since its rise, unmatched and artists who contributed to build this monumental edifice have shown, under the auspices of an eccentric and brilliant architect, exemplar values: integrity, ingeniousness and generosity. May the wisdom of Tzadik illuminate us for the next hundred and twenty years to come.

 

References

Barzel, T.:

— (2003). If not Klezmer, then what? Jewish music and modalities on New York city’s downtown music scene. United States: University of Michigan.

— (2004). « Radical Jewish Culture »: composer/improvisers on New-York City’s 1990s downtown scene. MA. University of Michigan.

— (2015). New-York Noise, Radical Jewish Music and the Downtown Scene. Indiana University Press, p.302.

London, F. (2002). Frank London, An Insider’s view: How we traveled from obscurity to the Klezmer establishment in twenty years. In: M. Slobin, ed., American Klezmer, its roots and offshoots, 1st ed. Berkeley: Mark Slobin, pp.206-210.

Svigals, A. (2002). Why we do this anyway: Klezmer as Jewish Youth Subculture. In: M. Slobin, ed., American Klezmer, Its roots and offshoots, 1st ed. Berkeley: Mark Slobin, pp.211-220.

Janeczko, J. (2009). « Beyond Klezmer » Redefining Jewish Music for the Twenty-first Century. PhD. University of California.

Moscowitz, D. (2015). Does « Radical Jewish Culture » Produce Radical Jewish Rhetoric?. Studies in American Jewish Literature, 21, pp.162-171.

 

 

Article 6. Klezmer-Loshn: The Musicians’ Secretive Jargon

 

Just as certain trades used to have their own jargon, like the French butchers with their Louchebem, many musical styles have developed a language which, although not secret, is mysterious to the uninitiated. Jazz, blues and rock had many idioms specific to them, singular expressions used only by the musicians. The Klezmorim were no exception to this rule. In his 1940 novel, « Klezmer », Irme Druker tells the story of Ezra Malyarskin, based on violinist and music teacher Petr Solomonovich Stoliarskii (1871-1944).1 In the absence of the teacher, young Ezra, son of a klezmer, teaches his fellow students the klezmer-loshn, the secret musicians’ language.

This Klezmorim jargon was created through much subterfuge: additions and deletions, inversions and contractions. Letters, syllables and words were altered and manipulated via multiple spelling, phonetic and morphological variations. The musicians also sometimes borrowed words from other languages, redefined others, and created anagrams and neologisms, producing a code that allowed them to cultivate secrecy, conceal whatever they wanted, freely talk about their relatives and about women, about money and alcohol.

              Although the Yiddish language survived the scourges of the twentieth century, the various slang did not have the same luck. Until it was standardized and philologists took an interest in it, the mame-loshn was considered to be a form of Jewish-German jargon, a transnational polymorphic alteration. The emerging Zionism in the nineteenth century insisted that Yiddish was archaic and the Jews should discard it in favor of Hebrew. At the same time Yiddish literature was growing, written by scholars and great writers, but pronunciation standards and grammar did not penetrate to the working classes, that is to say the majority of the Yiddish speakers. The klezmer-loshn therefore remained a second-level jargon, of the lowest class considering the condition of the Klezmorim, but perhaps also one of the more colorful.

Indeed, slang was generally developed out a need for discretion and secrecy and to cultivate a sense of camaraderie. It most often emerged in the most disadvantaged environments and social classes. Slang was born of social and cultural exclusion and thus became a building block of the counter-culture, in contrast to the pretentiousness of the wealthier classes. The verlan (a type of French backwards slang) certainly fell into this category, as well as mafia expressions. The Klezmorim, who were then at the bottom of the social ladder, rapidly developed such a jargon, called klezmer-shprakh or labushinske, the root of which also formed lábushnik (musician), labéshnik (musician; card player), labern (play music; cards) and Labn (to play cards). The philologist Avrom-Yitskhok Trivaks also observed that « in the Polish provinces, almost all the barbers spoke klezmer slang because it used to be that the same person would practice both professions, which were considered to be similarly disreputable (nivzedike)”. (Rothstein, 2002:24-35).

Slang and other types of jargon such as the verlan or the French butchers’ Louchebem also helped to create a sense of solidarity, unity and camaraderie and to maintain affinity in a given social or professional environment. Walter Feldman pointed out in an article that when Yermey Herscheles needed to take over the Kapelye of Gline, in Galicia, because he was the last one left, he had to perfect his knowledge of the klezmer-loshn in order to assert his authority and legitimacy (Feldman, 2003:29-58). But in the world of musicians, gangsters and thieves, in the world of the excluded and powerless, the invention and use of jargon also provided the tools of intimidation and concealment. For musicians as for gangsters, there was a specific way of speaking, attitude and vocabulary.

It was through mastering these codes that one could be recognized and recognize, and admit or repel intruders and strangers. Sharing the same economic and social instability went hand-in-hand with linguistic proximity. Thus there were common elements between the musicians’ speech and that of the ganovim-loshn (plural of ganef: thief). For example, bash means money, and matren means « look at ». Similarly, thieves’ slang was influenced by some Yiddish words. Treyf, which means non-kosher in Yiddish became Trefny to refer to stolen goods (Hankus, 2004:49).

In the early twentieth century, at a time when klezmer-loshn was disappearing, abandoned by the younger musicians, many philologists were studying the complexities of this slang and its regional characteristics, producing half a dozen glossaries bringing together several hundred words and expressions. Among them were Samuel Weissenberg, who researched the mechanisms of syntactic manipulation, and Alfred Landau, who conducted their research in Ukraine; Noyekh Prilutski, Yehude Elzet and Trivaks in Poland; Leon Dushman in Belarus; and Mordkhay Bernshteyn in Bessarabia.2 Through this work we have managed to preserve most of the klezmer-loshn and understand the way it functions and its main lexical fields. The vocabulary’s primary role was professional. First of all were the terms for musical instruments: foyal/vorsht (clarinet), shoyfer/tshanik/hoxfer (trumpet), barok (cello), shtolper (flute), tshekal/tshikal (drums), varplye/verplye/verfli (violin), and verbl (percussion or bass); then the instrumentalists: klappzimmerer (tsimbl player) knutsher (accordionist); and then other general terms last: Leynen blat (to read music) and tablatir for sheet music.

After this, we find a vocabulary related to women and seduction, eroticism and sex. A good example of this is the evocative speech of Stempenyu, the virtuoso hero of Sholem Aleichem. This character, who had managed to extricate himself from his social condition through his music, could not escape from this linguistic practice, and took advantage of it to communicate with his cronies. This linguistic variation can be justified (or we can attempt to do so) in two ways. Firstly, this character represents the seductive musician, the inveterate womanizer, well-known to the collective imagination.

Then, the environment was essentially, if not completely, male (and misogynistic). This salacious, colorful vocabulary is the logical upshot of the klezmer-loshn. We find here the terms drizhblen (to sleep with) and fardreyen zikh, meaning to get married (but also literally to twist oneself up) and kapure, speaking of a married woman. Anatomy was also a favorite topic: krelikes referred to breasts and ripke were private parts (Strom, 2007:327-241). Less amusing is the theme of fights, brawls and other physical revelry that musicians sometimes indulged in when conflict or rivalry broke out between two kapelyes about a marriage or another performance.

Finally, although music and women were important, money remained a major concern for the klezmorim. As Oscar Wilde once said: « When bankers meet they speak of art; musicians talk about money. » The klezmer-loshn was filled with vocabulary relating to numbers, cash and haggling. In his work on the Philadelphia klezmorim, Hankus Netsky reported that according to the testimony of several musicians, band leaders used slang while negotiating fees and sharing out the evening’s take (Hankus, 2004:64-74). Their American counterparts and inexperienced musicians did not possess this common language that was essential to business. Because there is much we do not know, many questions remain unresolved. For example, we could wonder about the badkhn and their knowledge of the klezmer-loshn. In his biography, Eliakum Zunser recounted an episode in his youth when he was beaten up by the musicians with whom he had just been working. Perhaps he could have avoided this misfortune.

 

Notes

  1. Irme Druker (1906-1982), writer and literary critic born in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Klezmer, his first novel, was published in 1940. His last novel, whose hero is the famous shtroyfiddler Mikhoel-Yoysef Guzikov, was published in 1990.
  2. See: Weissenberg, S. (1913). Die « Klesmer »sprache (The Language of the Klezmorim) Mitteilungen der anthropogischen Gesellschaft in Wien’’ 43, 3-4, pp.127-142 ; Landau, A. (1913). ‘’Zur russischjüdischen Klesmersprache », in ‘’Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien”,43, pp.143-149 ; Prilutski, N. (1918). “Lashon ha Klezmorim b’Polonia”, in Reshumot, Odessa, Moriah, pp.272-291; Elzet, Y. (1918). “Melokhes un Bale-Melokhes”, in Der Vunder-Oyster fun der Yidisher Shprakh, Warsaw, pp.32-44 ; Triviaks, A..Y (1923). Di yidishe zhargonen, in ‘’Bay Undz Yidn’’, ed. M Vanvild, Warsaw, Pinkhes; Dushman, L. (1928). “Fakh-Leshones”, in Tsayshrift, 2-3, Minsk, pp.875-877; Bernshteyn, M. (1959). “A Bintl Verter Fun Klezmer-Loshn”, in Yidishe Shprakh, 19, New-York, pp. 22-25.

 

References

Rothstein, R. (2002). Klezmer-loshn, The language of Jewish Folk Musicians. In: M. Slobin, ed., American Klezmer, its roots and offshoots, 1st ed. Berkeley: Mark Slobin, pp.24-35.

Feldman, W. (2003). Remembrance of Things Past: Klezmer Musicians of Galicia, 1870-1940. Polin, Studies in Polish Jewry, 16, pp.29-58.

Strom, Y. (2002). The Book of Klezmer, The History, The Music, The folklore-from the 14th to the 21st. Chicago: Illinois Press.

Hankus, N. (2004). Klezmer: Music and Community in 20th Century Jewish Philadelphia. PhD. Wesleyan University.

 

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