Saturday, May 21
Ah, love. We get a heaping helping of it at the Getty’s “Love Story Weekend,” which continues today. Hear noted actors read short stories by noted writers — Regina King reads Charles Johnson, Alec Baldwin reads John Updike and William H. Macy reads Etgar Keret.
May 20-22. $15-$20. 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.
Sunday, May 22
Klezmer fuses with Middle Eastern rhythms in Yuval Ron and Sha-Rone Kushnir’s new performance of original music and stories, “The Legend of Baal Shem.” Sponsored by the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity and a grant by the city of West Hollywood, the free concert honors West Hollywood’s large Russian Jewish immigrant community with a focus on the Ukranian-born founder of Chasidism, the Baal Shem Tov.
4 p.m. Free. West Hollywood Park and Recreation Auditorium, 647 San Vicente Blvd. (323) 658-5824.
Monday, May 23
Richard Nanes’ classical crossover music has been performed by the London Philharmonic and at Lincoln Center, with his “Symphony No. 3, The Holocaust” world premiering at the Kiev International Music Festival. You’ve heard his music on the Bravo Network, and possibly on EWTN (the Global Catholic Network). But for those who want to own his “Symphony No. 3, The Holocaust,” the opportunity has just now arrived. It’s available on video and CD through the Web.
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Tuesday, May 24
Gary Baseman’s illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone and on the cover of the New Yorker. This month, however, you need look no further than our own fair city. “Gary Baseman: For the Love of Toby” opens this month at Billy Shire Fine Arts, featuring cartoonish depictions of the lovable cat Toby in different curious and sometimes naughty situations. Base man indeed!
Noon-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). 5790 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (323) 297-0600.
Wednesday, May 25
Sunday marked the opening of UCLA Hillel’s Dortot Center for Creativity in the Arts’ new photography exhibit, “Resistance and Rescue in Denmark,” by Judy Ellis Glickman. But for those who missed it, the show continues through June 30. The images depict the history of the rescue of Danish Jewry during the Nazi occupation.
Free. 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081.
Thursday, May 26
Jewish music mixes with Latin beats in this evening’s Skirball concert featuring Septeto Roberto Rodriguez. Rodriguez and his band perform songs from his latest album, “Baila! Gitano Baila!” and the public gains free admission to the Skirball’s exhibits, including “Einstein,” before the show.
7:30 p.m. $15-$25. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.
Friday, May 27
Chuck Goldstone has mused on everything from PC vs. Mac users to the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, and now has a new book of humorous writings out titled, “This Book Is Not a Toy!: Friendly Advice on How to Avoid Death and Other Inconveniences.” If you missed him yesterday at Dutton’s in Brentwood, he reads some of his silliness in person today at Vroman’s Pasadena.
7 p.m. Vroman’s, 695 E. Colorado Blvd. Pasadena. (626) 449-5320.
Strand’s ‘Roads’ Less Traveled
Singing Klezmer Isn’t Hard to Do
Neil Sedaka is a punctual, polite musical legend, and at 65, he still likes being a mama’s boy.
“I do. I like being protected,” Sedaka said. He grew up in a loving Sephardic/Ashkenazic home in Brooklyn, where he practiced piano for hours. It was a sheltered Coney Island Avenue universe in which, “my sister fought my battles in school,” Sedaka said. “To me, the raising of a voice was very jarring. My mother told me that everything I did was perfect.”
When it comes to catchy tunes with perfect melodies, the world often has agreed with Mama Sedaka (now 88 and living in Ft. Lauderdale). And while having Andy Warhol paint your portrait and seeing one’s songwriting skills praised in Bob Dylan’s recent autobiography are great, it is the Yiddish songs he grew up listening to that now claim Sedaka’s melodic soul.
His CD, “Brighton Beach Memories: Neil Sedaka Sings Yiddish,” cost less than $10,000 to produce, prompted a Carnegie Hall concert last summer and is now coming to the Wilshire Theatre this weekend — complete with a klezmer band. The show’s second half will be from Sedaka’s own large repertoire, with the show’s first half dedicated to Yiddish tunes such as “My Yiddishe Mamme” and “Shein vi di L’Vone” (“Pretty as the Moon”).
“I grew up on these songs. I wanted to do something that was close to my heart,” Sedaka told The Journal in telephone interview from his Park Avenue apartment. “But I have to tell you that this CD has taken a life of its own.”
Since dropping out of Juilliard in 1958, Sedaka’s 1,000 songs have included nearly 50 hummable and singable hits, including “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Calendar Girl,” “Stupid Cupid” and “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” A product of Manhattan’s 1960s Brill Building songwriting factory, his music has been sung by Frank Sinatra, Cher, Sheryl Crow, ABBA, David Cassidy, Mandy Moore and The Monkees. A hit single this year came out of “American Idol” — Clay Aiken’s rendition of “Solitaire.”
“It’s a big body of work,” Sedaka said. His high baritone voice prompted a compliment decades ago from fellow Las Vegas Hilton staple Elvis Presley. “He said to me that when he was in the Army, he would go to the jukebox and sing the ‘Sedaka songs,'” he said.
Sedaka has had a noteworthy place in American music for four decades; he became a comfortable perennial who did not let himself turn into a tortured titan like Sinatra or a forgettable one-hit wonder like The Imperials, Haircut 100 or Luscious Jackson.
One does not cringe when VH1 asks “Where Are They Now?” of Sedaka, because he usually has a hit somewhere, including at least one Billboard chart-topper each decade since 1958. Even while touring the Great Wall of China, the songwriter marveled at his Chinese guide singing one of his songs on the tour bus, the tour guide then refusing to believe Sedaka when he identified himself.
His hit-making consistency and songwriting discipline also have made him a man entirely lacking in public scandal. His work is remembered more than anything else, overshadowing even his enviable 42-year marriage to fellow New Yorker Leba Strassberg. The couple, who met in the Catskills, have two children — daughter Dara, a recording artist, and son Marc, an L.A. screenwriter — and twin granddaughters, Amanda and Charlotte.
He also finds Israeli audiences enjoying him when he sings Hebrew versions of his hits; his decidedly “charitable” last name (tzedaka means charity), he said, “has been very helpful.”
Yet, Sedaka admits that for all the pop hits he has written and heard played, hummed or sung in elevators, supermarkets and cocktail lounges, writing pop music is not bubblegum and can require as much elaborate creation as a Bach symphony.
“The hardest thing is to write a simple melody,” he said. “I do wish that I could write something a little more complicated, but it’s not me; it’s not my makeup. I’m very disciplined. It was kind of a long, long career. It never went to my head.”
His evergreen tunes (before Aiken, Elvis recorded “Solitaire”) means Sedaka has not had to work the ’50s hits revival circuit.
“I love oldies, but I never had to do those shows,” the songwriter said.
Sedaka’s choice of rock ‘n’ roll and pop over classical notes initially irked his mother, who saw her baby as the next Arthur Rubinstein. When someone suggested that young Neil, with his unique high voice, become a chazan, his mother dismissed that, too, insisting he would be a concert pianist.
But success smiled on his mother’s dashed dreams when at 19, his songwriting brought in royalties of $42,000.
“I bought her a mink stole,” Sedaka said. “That made the difference. We call it her Hadassah tallit.”
Neil Sedaka performs Saturday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m, and Sunday, Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $35-$55 with an eight-ticket limit. For more information, call (323) 468-1770 or go to
Prolific Neusner Takes on Mishnah
7 Days In Arts
Aaron Samson wrote and stars in “Not Dead Yet,” a piece inspired by his grandfather’s memoirs of his Russian past: working for Leon Trotsky, the consequent threat of execution by Russia’s communist regime and his quick escape to the United States where he began a new life. The one-man show follows the journey of a grandson, Jacob Samson, back to Russia to find his roots and the missing pieces of the story his grandfather Leo wrote down. It plays today at the Elephant Lab.Runs Saturdays, through Sept. 18. 8 p.m. $10. 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles. (323) 878-2377.
Might wanna throw some buttered popcorn into the picnic basket tonight for the Hollywood Bowl’s movie night program, “The Big Picture.” John Mauceri conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in selections from MGM/UA movie scores, as scenes from the films are projected on the Bowl’s giant screen. The James Bond series, “Rocky,” “The Pink Panther” and “West Side Story” are some of the featured films.7:30 p.m. $3-$88. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (213) 480-3232 (for tickets).
Horn in on High Holiday fun with shofar-making activities this week. The Hebrew Discovery Center holds a Shofar Factory Party on Sunday for kids ages 5 and up, while Calabasas Shul holds a shofar-making workshop at the local Albertsons today.HDC: Sept. 5, Noon. $7 (per child, include slice of pizza and refreshments). (818) 348-4432. Calabasas Shul: Sept. 6, 5-6:30 p.m. $5 (per shofar). (818) 591-7485.
The Mexican Jewish community isn’t one that gets much ofa spotlight, but for filmmaker Guita Shyfter, it made sense to focus on her ownroots and community. “Like a Bride” (“Novia Que Te Vea”) is the result. Thefilm’s uncommon subject matter is made more unique by its treatment: the storyof two women friends coming of age in 1960s Mexico City is told primarilythrough dialogue in Ladino and Spanish, with some Hebrew and Yiddish, as well.It is newly released on DVD. $17.96. www.amazon.com
Klezmer goes upbeat in the latest CD by Yiddishe Cup,”Meshugeneh Mambo.” Six parody tracks pay tribute to klezmer comedian MickeyKatz, with the rest offering up original or reworked “neo-Borscht Belt klezmercomedy” tunes, and the titles say it all: “K’nock Around the Clock,” “I Am A Manof Constant Blessings” and “Second Avenue Square Dance.” $15. www.yiddishecup.com .
Sports nuts despair not. With the close of this summer’s Olympic Games also comes the opening of “Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like?” at USC Fisher Gallery. The exhibition features photographs of women from the 1890s to today participating in sports from hunting to ping-pong to soccer. Creator Jane Gottesman has compiled images from myriad sources, including the Associated Press and various renown photographers including Ansel Adams, Robert Mapplethorpe, April Saul and Annie Leibowitz.Runs through Oct. 30. Noon-5 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). Harris Hall, 823 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 740-4561.
The Nuart goes behind the music tonight, presenting the L.A. premiere of “End of the Century,” a documentary about the seminal punk rock band, The Ramones. From their interpersonal disputes to their struggles for fame, the doc takes a hard look at the hard-living band that arguably failed to achieve the recognition they deserved until long after they’d split.11272 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 281-8223.
Short Films, Big Messages
Clarinetist Finds His Klezmer Voice
"I came to klezmer quite by accident," said virtuoso clarinetist David Krakauer.
He was a noted classical musician around 1987 when a chance encounter on a Manhattan bus changed the direction of his career.
Seated nearby was the accordionist from a klezmer band that played in front of Zabar’s, across the street from Krakauer’s 10th-floor apartment on the Upper West Side.
"The music used to waft up through my windows," he said. "Suddenly, I realized it had made an impression."
The son of a psychiatrist and a violinist, Krakauer had known little about Jewish music or culture growing up in an assimilated home in Manhattan. Yiddish was the language his grandparents had used when they did not want younger relatives to understand their conversation. At Juilliard, Krakauer assumed he would embark on a career of playing Brahms and Mahler with perhaps some jazz on the side. He did so while making a name for himself as a member of the Aspen Wind Quintet, by performing with new music groups such as Continuum and teaching at Vassar and the Manhattan School.
But Jewish music crept up on Krakauer, 42, who’ll perform his unique brand of nouveau klezmer at the Skirball Cultural Center March 21. Around 1978, he said, he attended a concert by the then-elderly clarinetist, David Tarras, who had merged klezmer and swing in the 1920s.
"He didn’t play so well anymore … but there was just something about his sound that gave me the shivers," Krakauer said. "[It] was the rhythm, the cadence, the way the sounds went up and down. It reminded me of my Belorussian grandmother’s voice, when she said things like ‘David, so nu?’"
Krakauer’s own gravely voice crackled with excitement as he recalled meeting that klezmer accordionist on the 104 bus headed uptown in the late 1980s.
"She asked me to recommend a clarinetist who could play with her band, and I think she assumed I’d name a student," he said. "Instead, the words spontaneously flew out of my mouth: ‘I’ll do it.’ It was as if I instinctively realized, ‘I know nothing about being Jewish, but I want to connect.’ I felt like klezmer could be my connection, through sounds, notes and music."
So Krakauer began studying old recordings, learning the proper ornaments and the lilting or frenetic technique required to perform traditional dances such as the doina or freylach. He played weddings and bar mitzvahs, assuming the endeavor would become a musical hobby, not a career.
But then he was invited to play with The Klezmatics, an American band spurring the exuberant klezmer revival of the 1980s. When he traveled to Germany with that group around 1989, he performed in front of thousands of dancing, cheering non-Jews. The same thing happened throughout Eastern Europe and especially in Poland, where Krakauer returned more than seven times to teach and perform. While coaching a group of young musicians in a ramshackle barn off a dirt road in Sejny, he recalled, even a dour farmer paused to tap his feet in the adjacent field.
Of the continuing non-Jewish obsession with klezmer, Krakauer said, "I think enough time has passed, since the Holocaust, for Europeans to wonder, ‘What Jewish culture have we been missing?’ We klezmorim are viewed as representatives of that part of the Eastern European soul that was destroyed in the Shoah."
But Krakauer, like The Klezmatics, wasn’t content just to perform traditional pieces in a straightforward style. In the mid-1990s, he formed his own band, Klezmer Madness!, which weds classic Jewish music with contemporary forms such as jazz, rock and hip-hop. Today, he is part of a wave of musicians who are continuing to push the klezmer envelope, according to Yale Strom, author of 2003’s "The Book of Klezmer." Such bands include the world fusion-infused Flying Bulgars and Strom’s Afro-Cuban Klazzj.
Krakauer’s latest forward-thinking CD is "Live in Krakow," which he recorded last year in the city that bears his name. The energetic album features samples and beatbox by DJ Socalled; it also includes Krakauer’s original composition, "Klezmer a la Bechet," based on an imaginary 1920s meeting between black New Orleans jazz clarinetist Sidney Bechet and the Ukrainian Jewish clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. Another track, "Love Song for Lemberg/Lvov," combines a waltzy melody with atonal sounds mimicking "screams of the Jewish dead," said Krakauer, who is still prominent in classical music circles.
But even as he stretches the genre, he still wants klezmer to sound like klezmer. It has to remind Krakauer of the music he heard wafting in through his windows back in 1987: "It has to suggest my grandmother’s voice," he said.
For information about the Skirball concert, call (310) 440-4500. For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.
Etan G — A Nice Jewish Homeboy
7 Days In Arts
A bit of old Ukraine comes to the LBC today with “Night Songs From a Neighboring Village,” a collaboration between Alexis Kochan’s ensemble, Paris to Kyiv, and American klezmer group Brave Old World. The theme and title for the show are based on a poem by Ukrainian Yiddish poet Herts Rivkin. The groups present the fruits of their union today, a blending of traditional Eastern European, modern jazz, mainstream Ukrainian and Jewish Ukranian music.
8 p.m. $21-$28. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach. (562) 985-7000.
You can keep your PJs on this Yom Kippur, thanks to the Hallmark Channel. Originally meant to provide the homebound with a way to worship on the holiday, the idea was conceived by Rabbi David Baron of Temple Shalom for the Arts. Today, “Yom Kippur: Prayers of Atonement” will be broadcast in more than 47 million homes. The half-hour program only offers highlights from the Day of Atonement services, but does feature performers Jason Alexander and Theodore Bikel as well as director Arthur Hiller, talk show host Larry King and film critic Leonard Maltin. So, would God be offended by an “Avinu Malkeinu” rendered in your jammies? At 6:30 a.m., we’re thinkin’ he’ll understand. But if you’re planning to catch the later airing on Adelphia, we recommend something a little more appropriate.
Hallmark Channel: 6:30 a.m. (Sunday). Adelphia Cable Channels 10 and 20: 6 p.m. (Sunday), 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. (Monday).
Winning the award for most original promotional item this week are the folks who are getting the word out on “Garmento.” Making a good movie will probably get our attention, but if you want a sure thing, we suggest sending padded underwear in the mail. Turns out the male “falsie” plays an integral part in this film that reveals what the shmatte business is hiding in its pants. See it tonight after breaking the fast.
$6-$9. Opens Oct. 3. Laemmle’s Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills. (310) 274-6869.
Sweet Baby James comes to the Greek Theater tonight, and gets some help from L.A. native Kate Markowitz. James Taylor will perform songs from his new album, “October Road” tonight and tomorrow. Markowitz, a singer/songwriter in her own right, recently released her first solo album, “Map of the World,” on Compass Records. The 40-something singer has made a day job of backing up stars like Taylor, K.D. Lang, Shawn Colvin and Billy Joel.
7:30 p.m., Oct. 7 and 8. $45-$70. 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Griffith Park. (323) 665-1927.
On Yom Kippur, Oct. 6, 1973, the armies of Syria and Egypt, with the help of other Arab countries, launched a surprise attack on Israel. While Israel was ultimately victorious, the war was perceived as a failure because of the country’s general lack of preparedness and because Israeli intelligence wasn’t able to predict it. This month, the University of Judaism commemorates the 30th anniversary with the Yom Kippur War Exhibit — documenting it in pictures, maps and news clippings from that time.
10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday), 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Friday). Runs through the month of October. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1282.
By day, Jane Simmons helps expose the kiddies to art at the Zimmer Children’s Museum, but by night, she’d like to expose the grown-ups. Hence, her new gallery space, called appropriately, galleryjane. Currently on display are 20 Polaroid emulsion transfer prints and 126 iris prints, all images of Los Angeles, by Catherine Dudley. Make an appointment with Jane to check them out.
Runs through Oct. 31. Los Angeles. (213) 841-2213.
More Sept. 11 stragglers today, but don’t hold it against them. Beginning today, the Nuart screens “September 11,” a collection of documentary and narrative interpretations of the attacks from 11 different countries, including a piece by Israeli director Amos Gitai. The one restriction imposed on the directors was that their films be exactly 11 minutes, nine seconds and one frame, to correspond with the European date format 11’09″01. The French artistic director Alain Brigand compiled the pieces into one 135-minute movie.
$7-$9.25. 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 281-8223.
The other Mark Walberg (not Marky) hosts a new reality series on TBS beginning tonight. You may remember him from such shows as “Temptation Island,” but tonight, the name of the game is “House Rules.” Three couples with penchants for interior design but no formal training, compete to makeover three ugly homes. Viewers will vote on who rules at the end of the season and decide who gets to keep the house they’ve fixed up.
8 p.m. TBS Superstation.
Coming of Age on a Basketball Court
Skirball Celebrates Europe’s Best
A single album, inherited from his late father, led disc jockey Max Reinhardt to rediscover his Jewish musical roots. The recording was “Mish Mosh,” by comedian and klezmer clarinetist Mickey Katz: “He does a version of Dean Martin’s ‘That’s Amore’ as ‘That’s Morris,’ which my father, Morris, was forever playing for his Jewish friends,” Reinhardt, 52, recalled from London. “As a kid, I took in the jokes, but I couldn’t help but notice the stuff Katz played at lightning speed in the middle that had nothing to do with Dean Martin.”
As he spun the disc in ’93, Reinhardt — known for bringing world music to London’s club scene — was riveted by Katz’s wild but precise klezmer breaks. So began a journey that brings him to Los Angeles this month to perform with a Jewish world music band, Dis/Orient.
The group is among a dozen acts to appear in Zeitgeist: The Harry and Belle Krupnick International Jewish Arts Festival, which kicks off at the Skirball Cultural Center Aug. 10-28 and continues in winter 2004. Unprecedented in the United States, the festival spotlights Europeans who draw on Jewish tradition to create edgy, contemporary work. Artists include Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (see below), the jazz-infused Cracow Klezmer Band and the quirky Danish dance company, Rosenzweig.
The program — along with Los Angeles Yiddishkayt Festival — should help place Los Angeles in the forefront of a Jewish cultural Renaissance that began with the klezmer music revival of the 1970s.
Zeitgeist began in 2001 when Skirball program director Jordan Peimer set off on a series of research trips to find performers to bring back to the Skirball. In a Paris underground club, he discovered Les Yeux Noirs, a band that combines klezmer and Gypsy strains. In a theater in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, he encountered the Jewish director of the multicultural Ilkhom Theatre. In a London cafe, he met with Reinhardt, who described how Katz’s brilliant album ultimately led him to collaborate with a another kind of Jewish virtuoso, Sephardic grandmaster Maurice El Medioni.
An impressed Peimer raised approximately $1.2 million (including a $300,000 grant from the Harry and Belle Krupnick Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles) toward a festival dedicated to the cutting-edge European artists.
“Jews feel much more like ‘the other’ outside the United States, which is reflected in their work,” he said. “The attitude is, ‘I’ve got this interesting story to tell and chances are, you haven’t heard it.” Reinhardt and Dis/Orient do just that by blending El Medioni’s Algerian Rai music, Sephardic Andalusian sounds and hip-hop-infused klezmer.
“We’re showing that Jewish culture belongs not just at bar mitzvahs, but within the burgeoning roots and world music market,” he said.
Zeitgeist begins with a family festival Aug. 10. For information, call (310) 440-4500; for tickets call (323) 655-8587.
7 Days In Arts
Songs of Simcha
By day, he’s a manager- purchaser at an Orange County plywood company. But when the boards are cut and the purchase orders are filed, Steve Chattler does what any Jewish businessman might do after hours: He breaks out his drums and plays klezmer music.
As a member of the South Coast Simcha Band, 44-year-old Chattler brings those traditional Yiddish melodies to the Southland. He took an interest in the 19th century Eastern European music while playing in the orchestra at Temple Beth David in Westminster back in 1999. There, he met clarinet player Renah Wolzinger, who introduced him to this distinct Jewish-rooted music.
The upbeat, mostly instrumental tunes, that were traditionally played at weddings and bar mitzvahs dating back to the late 1800s, fascinated the drummer, whose previous experience included rock and jazz. “The old klezmer recordings basically had only a snare drum and maybe a bass drum,” Chattler says. “To try to simulate that on a drum set is like a whole new challenge.” He and Wolzinger recruited a violinist, a bass guitarist, a trumpet player and a saxophone player to form a complete klezmer band of their own.
After playing a few freebies at synagogue brunches, the group sought out paying gigs. While looking for audiences, the musicians quickly learned that they needed to expand their repertoire to make a living. “Klezmer music is where we like to stay,” Chattler admits, “but do people want to hire us for three hours of klezmer music? The answer to that is probably a flat ‘no.’ So, we usually do 45 minutes of klezmer music, a little bit of Israeli music and then some classic dance tunes.”
Because of the style’s ethnic roots, the South Coast Simcha Band has become popular in the multicultural arena. They’ve played for the Orange County chapter of the Interfaith Council, an organization that encourages unity between different cultures. While the bulk of their audience is over 50, Chattler says he often notices that younger generations appreciate klezmer music. “We played the Hebrew Academy in Westminster, and there was a good group of young people 18 to 25. They were dancing and whooping it up right along with us!” he laughs. The music does appeal to all ages on some level, Chattler says, “because most people have heard this [music] at one time or another in their lives.”
Some of best numbers include the Yiddish tunes “Odessa Bulgar,” “Ot Azoj,” and, of course, “Hava Nagila.” When the audience begins responding to the music, the band distributes plastic tambourines and has the crowd clap along. “It’s just an amazing thing to get over 100 people in a line dance. It beats doing the Macarena — but we’d play that song, too, if we had to!”
When he saw his family tree, Chattler felt an even deeper connection to his craft. It turns out that his great-grandfather was a singer in Poland, another country where klezmer music has strong roots. Wolzinger discovered that her grandmother was a Yiddish singer, as well. “It’s like completing a full circle,” Chattler says.
Klezmer: Backward and Forward
Strike Up the Klezmer
This is not your grandmother’s halftime show. Unless of course, Grandma grew up in a kibbutz or shtetl with a 145-piece marching band in residence.
Santa Monica High School’s Viking Marching Band and Color Guard performs at halftime during the school football team’s home games. Band members from the school, which is familiarly known as Samohi, also travel en masse to field competitions throughout Southern California.
Under the direction of Terry Sakow, past Samohi field shows have been built around tunes from Broadway shows like "Phantom of the Opera" and from the classical music repertoire. For the just-concluded 2001 season, the band stepped outside the norm to present "Shirim" (the Hebrew word for "songs"), a field show dedicated to Israeli and klezmer music.
Assistant director of bands Carl Hammer, the product of a Mormon upbringing, took charge of arranging such familiar Jewish numbers as "Zemer Atik," "Hava Nagila," and "Jerusalem of Gold" for the marching band.
Among the musicians, Matt Leonard — who happens to be Jewish — has won special acclaim for his schmaltzy solo clarinet work. But the Samohi band, which prides itself on its ethnic diversity, attracts members from a multitude of backgrounds. At the last competition of 2001, Muslim band members performed while fasting because of the onset of Ramadan.
Judges have strongly praised the Samohi show for the originality of its concept. Band members have walked off with numerous honors, including a Grand Champion Sweepstakes trophy. The reaction from Samohi students and parents has been equally positive. Doug Campbell, a Christian parent of a band member, relates, "Klezmer music is not something I’d heard before. It’s a very pleasant sound. I’m thinking of buying a recording."
Ari Rosmarin, a featured clarinetist, says the show’s high point always comes when the musicians, along with a color guard waving blue-and-white banners, arrange themselves in a Star of David formation. The star, Rosmarin says, "usually gets applause … even in Orange County." Rosmarin is hardly inclined to see the applause as a manifestation of the onlookers’ Jewish pride. "I think it’s a recognizable shape, and they appreciate that."
A Heartwarming Thanksgiving
Gershwin at CSUN
Joseph Vass, creator of the acclaimed revue, “Gershwin the Klezmer,” didn’t know what klezmer music was until he was well into his 40’s. “I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as Jewish music,” admits the founder of the Minnesota Klezmer Band, which will perform “Gershwin” at Cal State Northridge Nov. 18-19.
After all, the jazz pianist hadn’t had a whit of Jewish education while growing up the son of a refugee from the Nazis in Illinois. He couldn’t tell you what a Torah was.
Then, while attending the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 1990, he chanced to wander into a coffee house where a klezmer band was playing. “I felt I was hearing a language I’d been meant to speak,” recalls Vass, now 53, who began scouring record stores for elusive klezmer recordings and inserting Jewish themes into his jazz compositions. “Jewish music became my obsession.”
Along the way, Vass joined a synagogue, began studying Hebrew and the Talmud, and listened with new ears to the music of the Jewish American composer George Gershwin. Though Gershwin is largely perceived as a popularizer of jazz, Vass heard something else in “Porgy and Bess” and the clarinet slide of “Rhapsody in Blue.””I recognized a certain kind of rhythm; a long, flowing melody that reminded me of Jewish music,” says Vass, whose research underscored Gershwin’s Jewish roots.
In “Gershwin the Klezmer,” we learn that the composer recorded piano rolls of Yiddish songs, now lost; that he wrote a klezmer tune called “Vodka” and started work on an opera, based on “The Dybbuk,” for the Metropolitan Opera. We learn that “It Ain’t Necessarily So” draws on the rhythm of “Avinu Malkeinu” and “S’Wonderful” on the Yiddish tune, “Noach’s Teiveh,” by Abraham Goldfaden. We learn about the other Jewish American composers – Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Rodgers – who drew on cantorial and other Jewish music for inspiration.
The revue also includes Vass’ tune, “Bulka’s Song,” that commemorates the day he learned he lost family in the Shoah. The 13-year-old pianist was practicing in the basement when his father showed him a photograph of the Holocaust memorial in his Hungarian hometown. Inscribed upon it were the names of his martyred relatives. “That was how I learned I was named for my grandfather, who died in Auschwitz,” says Vass, who feels he’s continuing the tradition of klezmorim interrupted by the Shoah.
“Gershwin the Klezmer” aims to show their continuing contribution to the musical zeitgeist: “It’s really about the Jewish soul of American music,” Vass says.
See “7 Days in the Arts,” for ticket information.
People of the Book Festival
Catching Up With Klezmer
Consider these points on the compass – Italy, Australia, the Netherlands, the Balkans, Baltimore, Boston, New York and Toronto. What do they have in common? They are all represented by klezmer recordings this month. (They also include four-fifths of the American League East – doesn’t anyone play klezmer in Tampa?) If ever there was any doubt that Jewish music is a universal language, these records put it to rest.
Budowitz: “Wedding Without a Bride” (Buda Musique)
The brilliant European band recreates the experience of an old-world wedding, complete with badkhones. As with their first CD and the Khevrisa set (below), the sound is not what you are expecting. The traditional East European klezmer sound is driven by tsimbl and violin, with brass and clarinet taking a distant back seat. A magnificent piece of historical reconstruction that is also a pleasure to listen and to dance to. Rating: * * * * *
Charm City Klezmer: “Charm City Klezmer” (self-produced)
Great fun from “Balmer,” a terrific party record. Bouncy Jewish music with the requisite mix of swing and peppy East European dance tunes. I can’t wait for these guys to come north again, because I suspect they’re even more fun live. (Available from www.CharmCityKlezmer.com) Rating: * * * *
Cooper, Adrienne and Zalmen Mlotek: “Ghetto Tango” (Traditional Crossroads)
A magnificent but relentlessly disturbing record. Cooper and Mlotek are two of the best that contemporary Yiddish music has to offer, and this collection of songs from the ghettos of the Nazi era is brilliantly performed. As might be expected, every song here is corrosive; even the lullabies carry a powerful accusatory charge. A great record but certainly not a comfortable one. Rating: * * * *
Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band: “Tsirkus” (Traditional Crossroads)
Their most variegated set to date, ranging from chamber jazz to Kurt Weill-inflected lieder. A concept album in the best sense, perhaps not as much fun as some of their other sets, but intellectually stimulating. Rating: * * * * *
Full Metal Klezmer: “Full Metal Klezmer” (Cane Andaluso)
Dark, brooding music from an Italian quartet (alto sax, bass, guitar, drums). Imagine Sonny Sharrock teamed with Jackie McLean playing with the Paradox Trio. A lot more metal than klezmer, but as electric avant-garde jazz it has its moments, especially on the driving, Middle-easternish “Desert.” (To order, e-mail email@example.com.) Rating: * * * * *
Khevrisa: “European Klezmer Music” (Smithsonian Folkways)
In the same vein as Budowitz and Alicia Svigals’s solo album “Fidln,” this is an attempt to recreate the sound of 19th century Jewish music. Violin and hammered dulcimer predominate, and the result is musically astute and historically accurate and informed by a certain passion, but it feels a little like someone’s dissertation. An important record, but not a fun one. Rating: * * * * *
Klezmer Conservatory Band: “Dance Me to the End of Love” (Rounder)
The usual fine craftsmanship from KCB; you’ve got to love anyone who can turn out such consistently listenable, danceable, singable music, played with such a high level of musicianship. Except for the title cut (Leonard Cohen is sardonic; Judy Bresler is a wonderful singer, but sardonic she ain’t), this is splendid stuff. Closer to the roots than some of the their more recent recordings, a must-buy record. Rating: * * * * *
London, Frank, Lorin Sklamberg and Uri Caine: “Nigunim” (Tzadik)
A masterpiece. Three heavyweights combine forces for a set of Hasidic tunes performed with extraordinary power. Impeccable playing, and Sklamberg’s reedy tenor works perfectly here. If you are serious about Jewish music, you should have this record. Rating: * * * * *
Metropolitan Klezmer, featuring Isle of Klezbos: “Mosaic Persuasion” (Rhythm Music)
It sure didn’t take long for these guys to emerge as one of the best traditional klezmer bands around. Their first CD served notice that they were a force to be reckoned with, and there’s no sophomore jinx. A tighter, more unified sound than ever, with leader Eve Sicular booting things along from her drum kit. A band that can handle any tempo and a wide range of moods with equal mastery. Rating: * * * * *
“The Rough Guide to Klezmer” (Rough Guide)
This CD cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called a historical introduction to klezmer nor, despite the title, does that appear to have been the intention of Simon Broughton, who selected the music and wrote the generally informative notes What this intelligently programmed set offers instead is a sampler of the wide range of the styles that the New Klezmer encompasses, from the traditionalist (Budowitz, Alicia Svigals) to avant-jazz-klezmer (the Klezmatics, Naftule’s Dream). Someone looking for an entree into this beguiling music could do a lot worse than this set; the serious klezmer fan, however, will find it pleasant but superfluous. Rating: * * * *
Shawn’s Kugel: “Most Precious of Days” (Popover Productions)
Shawn Weaver continues to explore the jazz-klezmer connection in this excellent follow-up to his band’s eponymous first set. A wide range of influences at play here, from Russian folk (“Dancing with the Little Ones Medley”) to Middle Eastern, but the primary sounds are jazz-inflected, from the big-band swing of “Az Ikh Vel Zogn” to the World Saxophone Quartet stylings of “Scokne.” A great party album. Rating: * * * * *
New York-based writer George Robinson is the author of “Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals” (Pocket Books, $27.95).
Seeking a Home
Music From Home
On a warm spring evening this month, the boisterous strains of Eastern European music wafted out the window of a large, Spanish-style home in Santa Monica. Inside the high-ceilinged living room, an unexpected sight greeted a visitor: Jewish and Romani (a k a Gypsy) musicians diligently rehearsing side by side.
A Jewish bass player vigorously bowed beside a Romani accordionist playing so fervently that sweat poured from his brow. A Yiddish consultant belted out the Romani anthem in the mama-loshn while a Rom sang the response in his language. In the middle of it all, klezmer maestro and attorney Barry Fisher supervised like a proud parent, jangling a tambourine in one hand as he ticked off the musical numbers on a clipboard.
The rehearsal was in preparation for an upcoming “YK2” concert, “Hot Wedding Music,” which will feature the pieces that Romani and klezmer musicians played for centuries at nuptials across the old country. Before the Holocaust, both sets of musicians traveled the backroads of Eastern Europe, collaborating and competing and performing at each others’ weddings and special events. Some of the tunes have been lost to Jews but are still a vital part of the Romani tradition.
If anyone could bring together 17 top L.A. Jewish and Romani musicians, it is Barry Fisher. His first exposure to the Rom took place in the 1960’s, when he chanced upon a Rom encampment while hitchhiking through a remote part of Macedonia with his melodica. Fisher, who co-founded L.A.’s Ellis Island Band during the klezmer revival of the 1970s, continued his association with the Rom by playing at Gypsy events throughout the Southland. As an attorney, he has been an advocate for their Holocaust reparations and for their right to practice the ancient craft of fortune-telling, which culminated in a landmark case Fisher argued and won before the California Supreme Court.
The upcoming “Wedding Music” concert, he says, merges his interest in things Jewish andRomani. “It’s an exploration of the culture of two peoples who have traditionally been vilified and romanticized,” he adds.
Another native Angeleno, musician Michael Alpert, will return to Los Angeles for concerts of the “YK2” festival. At 46, the violinist and vocalist for Brave Old World is considered one of the pioneering virtuosi of the klezmer revival.
The son of a Lithuanian immigrant father, Alpert grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home in West L.A. He fell in love with Yiddish music through the songs of the workers and the partisans he learned at the school, run by Yiddishist-communists, that he attended from the age of 6. The only child of older parents, he felt a keen desire to help preserve their precious, waning Yiddish culture before it was gone.
His efforts included the co-founding of a band, the Chutzpah Jewish Orchestra, in the 1970s. Brave Old World came about in 1989 to turn klezmer into a Jewish art music for the concert stage. At “YK2,” the klezmer supergroup will perform pieces from its most recent CD, “Blood Oranges,” which serves as a trip to “Yiddishland,” a place that no longer exists in Eastern Europe but is alive in the souls of contemporary Jewish musicians. The album seeks to answer the question, oft posed by Brave Old World members, ‘Where would klezmer be today if not for the Holocaust?’ ”
In another “YK2” concert, Alpert and Brave Old World will share the stage with the Canadian-Ukrainian group Paris to Kyiv, whose forebears came from the same shtetls as many Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. The concert, titled “Night Songs from a Neighboring Village,” is “very moving to me,” Alpert says. “It’s an encounter between Jews and Ukrainians after 50 years and [the] historical wedge between us.”
“Hot Wedding Music” takes place Tues., May 16, 8 p.m., at the Skirball Cultural Center, (310) 440-4666. Brave Old World performs Thurs., May 18, 8 p.m., at Cal State Northridge, (818) 677-2488, and Sat., May 20, 8 p.m., with Paris to Kyiv at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater, (323) 461-3673. An artists’ talk at 7 p.m. will precede the concert. – Naomi Pfefferman, Entertainment Editor
Coming Full Circle