Hungary’s government awarded a state honor to Frank London, a prominent American-Jewish musician and a founder of The Klezmatics klezmer band.
London, a composer and trumpeter whose band in 2007 won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music, received the Order of Merit award last week at a reception from Reka Szemerkenyi, the Hungarian ambassador to Washington, the news agency MTI reported. His decoration is of the Knight of Cross, the lowest of six civilian classes making up the order.
A regular guest at Hungarian music festivals since the 1980s, London who is intimately familiar with Hungary’s music scene. The musician, who is in his late 50s, won the honor partly for his leading role in the Glass House Project, involving five American and three Hungarian musicians, which was launched as part of the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year in 2014.
“I was greatly inspired by Hungarian music and very impressed by the rich cultural life of Budapest, the unique musical traditions of rural Hungary and generally the complexity of Hungarian music,” London was quoted by MTI as saying.
In recent years, Hungary has come under international criticism, including by U.S. politicians, over issues connected to its commemoration of the Holocaust and efforts seen as minimizing Hungarian complicity during the Holocaust.
Orlando, God, and Iftar
Yiddish Art Trio brings a collection of influences to Klezmer outfit
Clarinetist Michael Winograd, accordionist Patrick Farrell and bassist Benjy Fox-Rosen have carved out a unique niche in the larger klezmer shtetl as the Yiddish Art Trio. It’s a concert ensemble that plays original, forward-looking compositions but also is deeply immersed in the multi-ethnic roots of klezmer.
Lest you think that puts the band out on an esoteric limb, Fox-Rosen readily assures: “We can play great dance and wedding sets, too.”
The clarinet’s liquid phrasing slides like butter across a hot grill as its timbres constrict and inflate, moving from a laugh to a sob in a heartbeat. The accordion bellows imply Old World histories as well as Latin American, Caribbean and Azerbaijan cultures. The contrabass carries a pulse rooted in Macedonia, Romania, Vienna, Transylvania and America.
It’s common at Yiddish Art Trio recitals to see a room full of people dancing in their seats — so get ready for what has become the group’s regular January appearance in Los Angeles, this time at the Skirball Cultural Center on Jan. 24.
Fox-Rosen grew up in the Pico-La Cienega neighborhood and went to Jewish schools: Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy and what is now known as Milken Community Schools. He played in the jazz band and sang in the choir, and he credits Russell Steinberg, Milken’s music teacher, for being transformative and inspiring.
“He started the music department there,” Fox-Rosen said from his in-laws’ home in Austin. “He made a chamber group out of a ragtag instrumentation and wrote a new Hayden arrangement for us each year.”
At The New School in New York City, he studied with the great jazz bassist Mark Dresser, also from SoCal. “Mark has a very scientific mind and curiosity to understand the bass,” Fox-Rosen said. “He plays at the highest possible level and he’s someone to be emulated.”
Fox-Rosen received a Fulbright grant for 2012-2013, which sent him to Moldova to study Romanian folk music and to do some ethnographic research on vocal music. Unfortunately, he said, “I got there 20 years too late. Most of the older singers had left or died off.”
He delved into native forms like doina, the Romanian improvised music that was incorporated into klezmer. “The word ‘hora’ is a Romanian word,” Fox-Rosen said.
The bassist met Farrell in Serbia in 2006 when Fox-Rosen was on tour and his future colleague was a tourist. Farrell, speaking from his New York home, said he grew up “all over the place, but mostly Ann Arbor, Mich; I was an Army kid.”
He was trained in the piano classics, and Bela Bartok was his gateway to Eastern European music. He studied with Macedonian accordionist Goran Alachki and recently with Margit Kern in Germany, adding: “They were very helpful but I’m mostly self-taught.”
For a non-Jew, Farrell’s dedication to the genre is impressive. “Klezmer and Yiddish music speak to me,” he said. “I love the improvisation and how the melodies lay over the chords.”
Fox-Rosen praised his band mate, describing him as having “incredible intuition” and “quick ears.”
“He really understands the dance and the rhythms,” Fox-Rosen said. “We both know exactly where we want the beat at all times.”
Could this be due to the bassist’s jazz background? “I think it’s in spite of that,” Farrell said. “It’s more a byproduct of his grasp of Hungarian and Romanian music.”
Winograd entered the picture when Fox-Rosen met him at KlezKamp, the yearly Catskills conflagration of traditional musicians (convened in 2014 for the 30th and final time). Winograd has an abiding love for the work of two master clarinetists: Dave Tarras (1897-1989) and Naftule Brandwein (1884-1963).
“Michael is one of the premier contemporary klezmer clarinetists,” Farrell said of Winograd. “He’s always expanding the vocabulary of ornamentation, but never excessively.”
The trio began as the Michael Winograd Trio but as ideas and collaborations ricocheted, it morphed into Yiddish Art Trio. When it’s pointed out that the name could denote stuffy art music or function as a put-on, Fox-Rosen smiles.
“It’s a little of both,” he said. “We’re trying to create serious concert music of our own compositions. We don’t play the klezmer hits, but if we do, we’ll do it in a different way.”
Farrell added: “We’ve all learned from the older players of the 1940s and ’50s who have passed. The klezmer revival is secure now, so we don’t feel the need to mix it with rock or fusion. We want to play our own music that ties in to the traditional klezmer but pushes it forward.”
The yearly winter sojourn to Los Angeles is something they look forward to. “Tex-Mex tacos in Austin are all right,” Fox-Rosen said, “but they can’t hold a candle to the traditional Oaxacan food we can get in L.A.”
Click here for more information about the Yiddish Art Trio’s Jan. 24 performance at the Skirball Cultural Center.
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Boyle Heights and City Terrace: Musical bridge to East L.A.
by Edmon J. Rodman | PUBLISHED Aug 19, 2015 | Culture
As the Los Angeles-based klezmer band Mostly Kosher began a summer afternoon concert at the Skirball Cultural Center on Aug. 9, few in the audience knew that what they were about to experience had roots in the Jewish neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and City Terrace going back more than 75 years.
As Janice Mautner Markham, the band’s violinist and self-described yenta, comically set the scene by appearing with a shmatte covering her head and a circa-1930s radio by her side, she could have been tuning in to the era of her grandparents Eugene and Celia Mautner, who bought their first home in City Terrace in 1934.
Janice Mautner Markham and her grandfather Eugene Mautner on the porch of his City Terrace home in 1967. Photo courtesy of Janice Mautner Markham
For Markham, who grew up in Woodland Hills, klezmer music was not her first inclination; as a young adult, she preferred classical music, folk and rock. But after a klezmer gig with clarinetist and future bandleader Leeav Sofer, she found a musical style that connected her to her family’s tradition.
That August day, fiddling though Yiddish theater classics such as “Donna Donna” and “Dos Keshenever Shtikele” presented Markham and her audience an opportunity to embrace the culture of musicianship passed down from her grandfather and father.
“It was a different way of life then,” she said, recalling her visits to her grandparents’ home in City Terrace. For them, Markham said, “Music was not a choice,” and without those choices, “I wouldn’t be a musician today.”
Markham’s father, Ray Mautner, who grew up in City Terrace, remembered how it was important to his father, Eugene, that his sons have lessons because he was a self-taught violinist. To help achieve this, he drove a bread truck by day for the Davis Perfection Bakery, and repaired clocks and watches by night in their two-bedroom, one-bath, 1,000-square-foot home on Mandalay Drive.
“My family loved music,” said Mautner, who, along with his brother Arthur, became a teacher specializing in music for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
His father, who had been taught to repair timepieces by Jack Feldmar, the founder of the Feldmar Watch Co., then relocated downtown on Fourth Street and Broadway (today on Pico Boulevard), eventually opened Eugene’s Jewelry and Gift Shop in 1940, in a storefront next to Barbanell’s Pharmacy on Miller Avenue. Around 11 years later, he moved to a store in his own building on City Terrace Drive and Hazard Avenue, which also housed his new tenant, a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.
“I always thought that my grandfather was extremely wealthy, richer than anybody, because most people only had one watch, and my grandfather usually had three,” Markham said. “It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized he wore those watches because he was making sure they were keeping time,” she said.
At 16, Mautner started giving piano lessons to the Jewish and Italian kids in the neighborhood, some of whom he keeps in touch with today.
“One of my students was Zev Yaroslavsky,” said Mautner, who remembers his former student “Zevy,” the just-retired Los Angeles County Supervisor, “as a little on the distracted side.”
Mautner had been taught Hebrew at the nearby Folk Schule, where Yaroslavsky’s mother, Minna, was his teacher. “I had my bar mitzvah at their synagogue, right in the heart of the plaza of City Terrace,” Mautner said.
In his teen years, during World War II, Mautner worked as a soda jerk in nearby Boyle Heights, at Louie Abramson’s Soto Drug Co., at First and Soto. “I made great malts, sundaes and banana splits,” he said.In the drug store side of the business, he sold “everything from prophylactics to hair cream,” Mautner said.
He also recalled attending events at the Menorah Center at the corner of Wabash and Alma avenues (today, the Salesian Boys and Girls Club).
Speaking of the boundaries between Boyle Heights, a community where, according to “History of the Jews of Los Angeles” by Max Vorspan and Lloyd Gartner (Huntington Library, 1970), “Yiddish was freely used” and Saturdays and Jewish holidays were marked by “festive appearances,” and City Terrace, which “was well known as a Yiddish secularists enclave,” Mautner remarked that, at times, it was “hard to say where Boyle Heights ends and City Terrace begins.” Today, he placed his old neighborhood near where CSU Los Angeles now stands.
When Mautner goes back to the neighborhood to see his old house or to attend the yearly City Terrace neighborhood picnics, he exits the 10 Freeway at Eastern Avenue. “It was an amazing neighborhood to grow up in. We had Italians, Hispanics, Jewish, a real mix,” Mautner said.
Midway through the Skirball concert, which featured such classics as “Ikh Hob Dikh Tsufil Lib” (“I Love You Too Much”), Bruce Bierman, a Yiddish dancer who had been waiting in the wings, stepped forth to teach the audience the hand and arm motions that give expression to Yiddish dance. Moving to a slow-metered dance in a Chassidic style called a Khosidl, Bierman led the audience in steps that, for him, circled back to East L.A.
Bruce Bierman teaches the audience a Yiddish dance at the Skirball Cultural Center. Photo by Edmon J. Rodman
“[For] my bubbe, Fannie Newman,” who owned a candy store off of Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights, “music was so important,” Bierman said. “My mother played piano until her last breath.” He talked of his uncle, David Newman, who studied the accordion and became a klezmer musician before becoming a court reporter, and of his father, Frank, an electrical engineer by profession, whom Bierman said is a “total Borscht Belt comedian.”
In the late 1950s, the Newmans moved out of Boyle Heights and closed the store. It was at the family gatherings at his uncle’s home in Sherman Oaks where, Bierman said, he got his “first taste and love for Yiddish klezmer culture.”
Bierman’s first steps in his return to Yiddish culture came as a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz, when he wrote his master’s thesis on a theatrical adaptation, complete with a live klezmer band, of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool,” which Bierman also produced. That, and discovering a recording by the klezmer revival band Klezmorim, helped awaken Bierman, who had grown up in WASP-ish San Juan Capistrano, to his Jewish musical roots.
After college and around five years touring with the Aman Folk Ensemble, Bierman realized that “with all the ethnic dances that we learned, ethnic costumes that we wore, we never did any Jewish dance.”
Realizing he was illiterate “in my own cultural dances” and not content with the Israeli dance that he had experienced while living in Israel for a year before he began college, in 1985, Bierman looked to Martin Buber’s “Tales of the Hasidim,” for a different approach. From these stories, he said, “I was blown away by the power of dance. Each gesture was aflame with meaning.” After a meeting with Felix Fibich, who choreographed the dance sequence for the 1937 classic Yiddish film “Der Dybbuk,” and studying with Steven Weintraub at KlezCalifornia, a Yiddish culture group in the San Francisco Bay Area, Bierman choreographed his first event — a friend’s wedding — using Yiddish dance.
In 1997, his mother, Marcella, took him to Boyle Heights to show him the neighborhood, including to the Breed Street Shul and the neighborhood of the family candy store. “It helped place the story of my family for me,” said Bierman, who occasionally returns there with his husband and co-Yiddish dancer, Gilberto Melendez. The duo even approached the Breed Street Shul, now a cultural center in mostly Latino Boyle Heights, about collaborating on projects between Latinos and Jews, Bierman said.
Back in the Sepulveda Pass, with Bierman gracefully leading the audience in Yiddish dance while Markham and the band, as well a contingent of younger players, including Markham’s two daughters, sat in on a lively rendition of “Simkhes Toyre,” it was easy to hear and see how far the beats of the old neighborhood have traveled.
Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon Rodman at email@example.com
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Growing up Jewish in Philadelphia, Uri Caine, the genre-bending jazz pianist and composer, said he was “too cool for klezmer.” Although that Eastern European musical tradition surrounded him — his childhood friend, Hankus Netsky, became a klezmer authority — Caine preferred the exciting world of jazz.
But when his University of Pennsylvania composition teacher, George Rochberg, asked him to make a piano reduction of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Caine began to see klezmer as more far-reaching than he had realized.
“Especially when I was younger, I was coming from contemporary music and jazz,” Caine said by phone from Rome, where he was recently on tour. “To me, klezmer was bar mitzvah music. I was into Edgard Varèse. I wanted to write like [Karlheinz] Stockhausen.”
Klezmer is just one part of Caine’s fascinating take on the works of Mahler, a late-Romantic Austrian-Jewish composer whose complex harmonies — and complicated relationship with his religion — lend themselves to Caine’s imaginative, improvisatory treatment.
As one of the featured artists at this year’s celebrated Ojai Music Festival, which runs June 12-15, the pianist will be performing “Mahler Re-Imagined” with the Uri Caine Ensemble on the festival’s opening night. Caine’s transformative arrangements include highlighting the klezmer music in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony’s first movement funeral march. There’s also a klezmer band in Mahler’s First Symphony.
And this year will bring a first to the 68-year-old festival: Caine hopes a cantor will join the ensemble for some of the Mahler selections, including “The Drummer Boy” from the composer’s song collection, “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (“The Boy’s Magic Horn”).
As of press time, however, Caine was still looking. “It’s not easy to find a cantor,” he said. But that contribution is an important part of “Mahler Re-Imagined” because a cantor inspired the composer. “He once heard what he thought was a great opera singer, who turned out to be a cantor,” Caine said. “They hung out, and he sang Jewish melodies, and then Mahler improvised in that style, but told the cantor, ‘I left that world.’ ”
Mahler converted to Christianity to become head of the Vienna State Opera, which Caine called a career move. “I don’t think he converted out of total enthusiasm,” he said. “He had all these contradictions in his life, including fascinating elements of Jewish music in his work. I remember watching Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral, and the cantor was singing ‘El Male Rachamim,’ the prayer you say when burying somebody. It was exactly the way Mahler’s ‘Song of the Earth’ starts.”
Thomas W. Morris, artistic director of the festival, said he had been looking for an opportunity to bring Caine to Ojai. “This is a festival of music about music, so it seemed appropriate for Uri to join us,” Morris said.
Morris said he knew Caine’s work through his recordings, and just before he retired as chief administrator of the Cleveland Orchestra in 2004, he brought Caine’s string orchestra and piano version of Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations” to that city, with Franz Welser-Möst conducting.
“It’s a tour de force, because he improvises three or four more variations than Beethoven wrote,” Morris said. “Purists were probably offended, but it’s highly virtuosic, and there was a bit of a perverse thrill to program it.”
Caine said it’s not unusual for composers to reimagine or transform a piece of music into a different idiom. “One of the challenges of playing Mahler’s music is trying to get your head around some of the unexpected harmonies,” Caine said. “It’s a way to reference different types of music, because Mahler himself quotes klezmer, Bohemian folk music, and he was influenced by all the music he conducted.”
Pianist Jeremy Denk, music director of this year’s festival, is a longtime admirer of Caine’s work. “He takes things clearly in Mahler — the Jewish heritage and folk music — and he lets that go wild,” Denk said. “It’s incredibly moving. The Mahler is about dislocation and alienation, and that music is his heritage, all balanced in with other, incongruous elements. For me, that’s the essence of Mahler and, in a weird way, the essence of the festival.”
The day after “Mahler Re-Imagined,” the Uri Caine Ensemble will perform the music of George Gershwin at the festival, including his “Rhapsody in Blue.”
“That’s a more open, jazzy evening,” Caine said. “Gershwin touches on everything: Broadway, jazz, James P. Johnson’s stride, Rachmaninoff, classical and Latin music, and klezmer.”
Caine may have snubbed “Jewish” music during his teen years, but Mahler and musicians like Netsky, Mickey Katz and Don Byron weren’t the only ones who sparked a klezmer revival in him. “I played klezmer at my wedding,” Caine said. “There was a jazz band, and those guys weren’t sure what to do, so I sat down and played ‘Havah Nagilah’ so my grandmother could dance.”
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What’s considered “Jewish art” often includes a Marc Chagall print. Maybe some abstract metal sculptures resembling a menorah or Star of David. Or a painting of Orthodox Jewish men dancing with a Torah or playing klezmer music.
This is the art that Will Deutsch grew up around, and while it may capture the religious iconography of Judaism, it doesn’t exactly feel current. It also wasn’t nearly as exciting as the comic books he loved as a child.
The artwork of Deutsch, 29, an Orange County native, is the subject this week of “Notes From the Tribe,” a show at the Gabba Gallery in Los Angeles that includes 108 of his drawings about contemporary Jewish life, including a couple meeting on JDate, a Hebrew National hot dog vendor, and a Valley girl with large Bloomingdale’s shopping bags and a red string around her wrist. There’s also a 6-foot-tall sculpture of a pastrami sandwich, an example of his whimsical humor.
The Orange County Deutsch grew up in was bereft of Jewish life in the 1980s. “It probably has more strip malls than Jewish people,” he joked. When his family decided to join a synagogue, they went to Chabad of Laguna, and made minyan in the rabbi’s garage. High Holy Days services were held by a Modern Orthodox congregation in a rented space above a bowling alley.
Drawing was an early obsession for Deutsch. “My parents pushed me to be an artist the way parents push children to be doctors,” he said. “I have been drawing and reading comic books since I can remember. It’s what I’ve been doing since I could pick up a pencil.”
His mother, Susan Deutsch, is a Conservative Jewish cantor and spiritual leader of Congregation K’hilat Horim in Mission Viejo. “When he was in second grade, he used to draw at recess,” she said. “His teacher called to tell me that he has to play with other kids. The next day, the teacher called me to say, ‘That’s not what I meant.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘He lined them up and is teaching them how to draw.’ ”
Deutsch created his own comic book characters. His father, who passed away four years ago, brought him to Comic-Con in San Diego. Deutsch showed his drawings to the professional cartoonists, who told him he had a future as an artist.
Deutsch’s imagery draws from a rich tradition of immigrant Jewish woodcut artists, also a major influence on Will Eisner’s “A Contract with God,” widely recognized as the first graphic novel. Most of the founding comic book artists and writers were Jewish, and Deutsch can cite the pantheon like a music critic listing the great composers: Maxwell Gaines, a pioneer of the comic book form; Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of Superman; Bob Kane, creator of Batman; Al Jaffee of Mad Magazine; and Stan Lee, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.
Deutsch’s drawings reflect the lack of agreement of what it means to be Jewish. The Jews in his drawings are wrapping tefillin, but they’re also doing the electric slide at a bar mitzvah and getting Hebrew tattoos on their arms. “My work is meant to function as a lens, not a pulpit,” Deutsch said. “It’s how I see things, not how they are or how they should be.”
While Deutsch describes himself as a “hardcore secularist,” he makes nods to religious life. He’s drawn a bar mitzvah boy being hoisted on a chair, a young woman entering a mikveh, a man blowing a shofar and an older woman making challah. Like a sofer, or Torah scribe, Deutsch makes his drawings on parchment using a quill. “As people of the book, I think that it’s important to have a visual representation of what it means, a snapshot, of our culture at this time,” he said.
The process of creating these images has also been a way for Deutsch to explore his own Jewish identity. He’s learned that he doesn’t have to do “Jewish things” to feel Jewish. “Even if I were eating ham while getting married in a Catholic church, I would still feel like a Jew doing it,” he said.
His artwork is meant to celebrate Judaism and stops short of offering any criticisms. “I think there’s absolutely a place for being incendiary, and I think there’s absolutely a place for being contentious,” Deutsch said. “What would our culture be without argument? I see my place in it as providing the what, and the viewer’s place as providing the why.”
For example, one drawing depicts a mechitzah, the partition separating genders in an Orthodox synagogue. “Some people could see that as sexist or backwards. I choose to represent that as a way that this culture practices and identifies,” Deutsch said. “I don’t see it as my place to lay judgment. I see it as my place to try and represent it as best I can, from the way that I see it.”
That inclusive approach has helped win him fans from the Jewish cultural establishment. He was The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ artist-in-residence, and JCC Without Walls and the Foundation for Jewish Culture both have championed his work. He’s also one of nine L.A.-based recipients of the prestigious Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists.
“People often dissect and take apart the work, finding different kinds of meaning,” Six Points Fellowship director Josh Feldman said. “You also get a kind of reverence that often doesn’t appear immediately in the work and takes a little while to sink in.”
Will Deutsch’s pop-up gallery show is on view through Oct. 19 at the Gabba Gallery, 3126 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>thegabbagallery.com.
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Air Canada passengers stuck aboard a delayed flight on Wednesday were treated to an impromptu onboard klezmer concert.
The mini-concert by Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Toronto’s self-billed “only Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk-Super-Band,” was on a flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, Germany, reported CBC News. It featured six band members playing a lively tune that had some passengers clapping along, bobbing their heads and smiling. They then gave the band a rousing ovation.
“The in-flight performance was not a planned stunt. We were getting a little anxious about waiting on the tarmac, and so were the other passengers. Call it ‘lightening the mood.’ It’s the kind of thing we do all the time,” said Mark Marczyk, the group’s green-mohawked leader.
He and his 13 fellow band members were en route to Bucharest, Romania, where they played at The Silver Church club with the Romani band Taraf de Haidouks.
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A Hope-filled Look at Poland’s Jewish Renaissance
by Jonah Lowenfeld, Contributing Writer | PUBLISHED Jun 9, 2010 | Arts
An annual Jewish film festival; a week of performances by world-class klezmer acts; the construction of a $26 million Jewish museum in the country’s capital; “Tot Shabbat”: This is the stuff of Jewish communal life in many American cities.
But when all this is happening in contemporary Poland, it is cause for … what exactly?
“An Evening of Hope: Jewish Revival in Poland” was the cautiously optimistic event that attempted to answer this difficult question. An audience of 500 packed the sanctuary at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino on May 26 to hear from rabbis, cantors, high-profile Polish officials and others about Jewish life in present-day Poland. Part public diplomacy effort, part travelogue, part sermon and part commemoration, the evening was more complicated than most Jewish events.
The inspiration came last November when Andrzej Folwarczny, a former member of Poland’s Parliament, approached Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis looking for a way to advance Polish-Jewish dialogue.
Folwarczny is the founder and president of the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations, a Warsaw-based nonprofit that works to improve Polish-Jewish relations. Since its founding in 1998, the Forum has brought American Jewish leaders to visit Poland and has taken groups of non-Jewish Poles to visit Jewish communities around the United States. The Forum arranges meetings between Polish high school students and Jewish youth groups visiting Poland from the United States, Canada and Israel, and has also launched programs aimed at teaching Polish students about their country’s rich Jewish past.
Folwarczny found a willing partner in Schulweis. In his superb, carefully worded speech, Schulweis said, “I have a right to hope in the possibility of the rebirth of Jewish life in Poland.”
About rapprochement, however, Schulweis is more hesitant, especially with what he called “the disappointing data of residual anti-Semitism” in Poland today. Which is why, when Folwarczny approached him, Schulweis found himself torn. “My father’s voice came to me,” Schulweis said in a conversation following the event. “And he said, ‘What are you doing? These are Polackn. They’re all anti-Semitic.’ “
Although hope was the evening’s theme, some in the audience remained skeptical. “Jews do not have a desire to go to Poland,” said Moshe Melnick, a retired Jewish educator who was born in Poland and immigrated to the United States before World War II. Melnick had been curious enough to attend the event, but was not convinced of Poland’s transformation. “It’s the worst place in the world. It’s hell,” he said.
Folwarczny is familiar with voices like Melnick’s. On a Polish parliamentary visit to Israel in the late 1990s, Folwarczny was told that he would meet an Israeli group interested in Polish-Jewish dialogue. “I was still naïve enough to believe that many such groups existed,” Folwarczny recalled in an interview.
The group consisted of Israeli Holocaust survivors from Poland, and they did not hold back. “It was the first time I had heard such stories,” Folwarczny said. “Stories about Poles killing Jews, about Jews coming back to their towns and finding Poles living in their houses.” After an hour, Folwarczny felt “there was no chance for reconciliation.” But the meeting continued. “After four hours, there were tears in their eyes. On the one hand,” Folwarczny said of the survivors, “they hate Poland. On the other hand, they miss it and even love it.”
And, standing on the bima opposite the American, Israeli and Polish flags, the succession of speakers talked of all that there is for Jews to love about Poland today — from the thousands of non-Jews who come to Krakow every summer to listen to klezmer music, to the Purim parties in “hip Warsaw clubs,” to the growth of Jewish congregations across the country.
“Every day that I serve in Beit Warszawa, I say Shehechiyanu,” said Rabbi Burt Schuman, who heads up the synagogue that has been home to the Progressive Jewish community of Poland for more than a decade.
Most of the speakers took Schulweis’ hopeful tone but maintained an awareness of the troubling aspects of contemporary Jewish life in Poland. “Yes, there is anti-Semitism in Poland,” said Gosia Szymanska, an assistant director at the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles. Szymanska grew up in Lodz and only learned of her Jewish roots at age 12. “But nothing like what many people think. It is marginal, and whenever it rears its ugly head, the government responds to it quickly and forcefully.”
“You have anti-Semites in Poland,” Folwarczny echoed from the pulpit. “You have people who do not get it. You have people who do not care.”
Perhaps the best expression of the evening’s theme came from someone who wasn’t even in the room. “ ‘Twenty years later,’ ” said Polish Consul General Joanna Kozinska-Frybes, quoting from a recent op-ed by Polish-Jewish journalist Konstanty Gebert, “ ‘this is what we have become: a normal Jewish community, with people attending one kind of services, and certainly not the other kind, or davka, never going to pray. Not because there is no shul. Not because they are afraid. Not because they would not know what to do once they are there. Just because it is their Jewish pleasure to do it their way.’ ”
This is the Oy Mendele! episode from December 2004, when we were still on KALX. It features music historian Craig Harwood and myself walking through the sequence of a traditional Eastern European Jewish wedding, with music of then and now.
It’s worth listening to just to hear Craig say ‘groovin’
This audio is part of the collection: Ourmedia
Author: Eric Fixler and Craig Harwood Keywords: klezmer; wedding; jewish; yiddish; socalled Creative Commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
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MUSIC: ‘That Yemenite Kid’ Diwon makes a mix tape — in Yiddish
By Daniel Sieradski | PUBLISHED Oct 7, 2008 | Arts
NEW YORK (JTA) — Courtesy of Diwon, the artist formerly known as DJ Handler and otherwise known as the executive director of Modular Moods and Shemspeed.com, comes this fresh mix of pop, hip-hop, electronica and . . . Yiddish?
We spoke to “That Yemenite Kid” and asked him what’s up with this unusual release.
JTA: As an artist and producer you’ve focused on highlighting Sephardic and Yemenite Jewish music as an alternative to what some see as the Ashkenazic domination of the Jewish cultural scene. With that in mind, what’s a nice Yemenite kid like you doing in a Yiddishe place like this?
Diwon: I’m half-Yemenite. My other side is Ashkenaz. That is the side that came out here. Don’t forget, I started a klezmer punk band in college called Juez. So this really isn’t too far out for me. I think just because of the recent change of my artist name from DJ Handler to Diwon and some of the press around the music, now I’m seen as very Yemenite and the past is sort of washed over. I’m definitely more passionate about the Yemenite music I’m making because I feel that there has already been a big Yiddish and klezmer music revival.
At the same time, I don’t know of any Yiddish mixtapes that have ever been made — you know, Yiddish through the eyes of a street mixtape DJ. It was a challenge to take the source material flip it over my own beats and remixes and then throw in some of my friends who are fusing Yiddish with electronic music and what not. Plus that Andrew sisters “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” is so hot. I DJ it in clubs all the time. That in itself was almost reason enough to create this mixtape.
JTA: I notice you have some Hebrew language stuff in there as well. That’s going to make the Yiddishists angry . . .
Diwon: Ha! I don’t know. I guess some controversy is good.
There is a lot of great classic Yiddish music out there that, beyond revivals from Golem and Socalled, most young Jews today are completely unfamiliar with.
Click for streaming audio
JTA: Do you see any potential for the reinvigoration of Yiddish music as anything more than a novelty for this generation?
Diwon: I could see why people would say that Socalled is a novelty, but you could argue the music isn’t a novelty because he grew up listening to Yiddish records and this is how he makes Yiddish music — as opposed to say, an artist who put one Yiddish thing on their non-Yiddish album, as a novelty.
It’s a tough question to answer since most artists fuse different elements and genres and influences into their compositions. I don’t think that it’s novelty if an artist fuses their tradition into their music if it’s done in a sincere way and not with a smirk.
JTA: But what about for the consumer? So let’s say your doing Yemenite music isn’t a novelty, it’s an expression of your identity, but for the average music consumer, it’s a novelty. Take Matisyahu for example. Did non-Jews buy his album because he’s a great reggae artist, or because he’s an amusement?
Diwon: I think it depends on the consumer. One who isn’t that familiar with the tradition might buy it as novelty. But someone who knows the music and likes Yiddish or Yemenite music will buy it to expand their collection and for them its not necessarily a novelty purchase.
I know non-Jews who bought Matisyahu’s record because they like reggae. But then there are tons that probably bought it off the hype that was fueled by the novelty of it all. But I don’t think any of that matters. If he had put out one record and then went to making regular, non-Jewish reggae, I think it would be different. People would say “what a fake” and “what kind of marketing stunt is this?” But the fact is this is his true expression. He tours the world playing it and he is onto his third record, making it. It’s obvious that he doesn’t view it as a novelty. And the fact that he is still successful at it shows that it’s definitely more than a novelty. That and maybe the fact that he doesn’t wear a suit and a black hat anymore.
JTA: How’s the Jewish music scene holding up in light of the current economic downturn? Is your label, Modular Moods, surviving, thriving, dying?
Diwon: Well stateside we’re still alright. It’s a bit harder when I tour internationally, but no matter what I’m still going to grind and get as much good music out there as possible. If only to cheer up the people who are down due to the economy.
JTA: Well, giving away free music helps!
Diwon: Yeah, well music is basically free nowadays anyway, so why try and front? I feel like I give 75% of my music out for free and use the other 25% to fund it all and survive.
JTA: So what can we expect from Modular Moods in the coming months?
Diwon: Don’t miss the Sephardic Music Festival this Chanukah in NYC, the Shemspeed 40 Days 40 Nights Tour of college campuses in February, and a slew of new songs and albums unlike anything people have ever heard. We ain’t gonna stop now.
The City of Los Angeles and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sponsor an annual emergency preparedness fair as part of the Great Southern California ShakeOut: Are You Prepared? The fair seeks to educate Angelenos on the importance of being prepared for disasters, natural or manmade, such as earthquakes and riots. Activities will include live safety demonstrations, disaster preparedness exhibits and interactive programming for children. Sat. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free. Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Also, Sept. 20 and Sept. 27 (different locations). (213) 978-2222. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.afhu.org.
We live in a city where summer continues well into December and so do the pool parties, picnics and barbecues that the rest of the country bid farewell to after Labor Day. Taking advantage of our unique environs, Jewish Singles Meeting Place, for singles in their 40s and 50s, is inviting you to a Gourmet Western BBQ Party at a home in Sylmar. Be sure to R.S.V.P. before noon on the day of the event. Sat. 8 p.m. $12. Sylmar. (818) 750-0095.
SUN | SEPTEMBER 14
In addition to facing paralyzing fear, families of children with cancer have to deal with financial hardships, emotional and mental strain and the difficulty of keeping a family intact. Larger Than Life offers aid to families in Israel who are struggling through just such a crisis. Larger Than Life’s annual gala in Los Angeles ” target=”_blank”>http://www.largerthanlifela.org.
The Von der Ahe Library at Loyola Marimount University is hosting a five-part reading and discussion series. In “Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature, Identity and Imagination,” theology professor Saba Soomekh, who has written several essays about California’s Persian Jewish community, will lead the book-based discussions on the theme “Neighbors: The World Next Door.” Books discussed will include “Journey to the Millennium” by A.B. Yehoshua, “Red Cavalry” by Isaac Babel and “Mona in the Promised Land” by Jen Gish. Sun. 2 p.m. Through Dec. 7. Free. Collins Faculty Center at Loyola Marymount University, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 338-4584. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.thirtyyearsafter.org.
The man known as the “Yiddish Indiana Jones,” Yale Strom, and his band Hot Pstromi, will ensure that “Angels & Dybbuks: The First L.A. Klez Fest” is an event to remember. Strom delves into all that is Yiddish, whether it’s music, books, film, theater or photography. Strom will also offer workshops on klezmer instruments and history. Sun. Events begin at noon. $20-$80. McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 828-4497. firstname.lastname@example.org.
MON | SEPTEMBER 15
A pudgy toddler whose cheeks are delightfully doughy may be cute, but a plump preteen could turn into an obese adult with myriad health problems. Educate yourself about the dangers of pediatric obesity at the Children’s Health Forum, which is sponsored by the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Professor Ronald Nagel, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and professor Francis Mimouni, chair of the department of pediatrics, will speak. Kosher lunch will be served. Mon. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $50 (requested donation). Luxe Hotel, 11461 Sunset Blvd., Brentwood. (310) 229-0915. email@example.com.
TUE | SEPTEMBER 16
Everyone is invited to Los Angeles’ first cross-denominational public Torah study. With the High Holy Days coming up, The Journal decided to get everybody together for a “Torah Slam,” ” vspace = 8 hspace = 8 align = right>a knock-your-socks-off Torah study with five great rabbis: Elazar Muskin (Orthodox), Ed Feinstein (Conservative), Mordecai Finley (Reform/Chasidic), Haim firstname.lastname@example.org.
WED | SEPTEMBER 17
Jordan Elgrably’s resume reveals that he’s had a prolific career as a Sephardic writer and activist. Tonight he speaks about his personal journey as an American with roots in multicultural Morocco in “The Loquat Tree, or the Art of Being an Arab Jew.” His audiovisual presentation is sure to be moving, funny and insightful. Wed. 6 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Public Library, Robertson Branch, 1719 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 657-5511. ” target=”_blank”>http://levantinecenter.org.
THU | SEPTEMBER 18
Good cause. Unlimited alcohol. Cold, hard cash prizes. So, come get some chips at the fifth annual No-Limit Texas Hold-‘Em Poker Event benefiting Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles’ mentoring programs, which help children reach for their dreams. Thu. 6:30 p.m. (lessons), 7:30 p.m. (tournament). $200 (advance), $230 (door). Hollywood Park Casino, 3883 West Century Blvd., Second Floor, Inglewood. (323) 456-1159. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.gelsons.com/services/CC/index.asp.
Tikkun olam is a monumental Jewish value. Jewish teens can get involved with the Friendship Circle, an organization that supports children and young adults with special needs. The Friendship Circle Teen Volunteer Open House offers a chance to learn about the organization’s many volunteer opportunities. Thu. 8 p.m. Free. Friendship Circle, 9581 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-3252.
Golem live (‘Romania, Romania!’) at the Knitting Factory in NYC June 2007
JDub was never supposed to be just a record label, and as JDub records celebrates its fifth anniversary with a free concert on July 27 downtown at California Plaza, it is more clear than ever that the organization’s founders have greater ambitions than merely putting out good Jewish CDs.
Aaron Bisman, who co-founded the label with Jacob Harris when the duo were finishing college in New York, readily admits those ambitions.
“We believed there were legs for the idea behind the label,” Bisman says, his eyes alight with the passion of someone who after a half-decade is still excited by what he is doing. “We wanted to change attitudes about Jewish music and culture. We wanted to create something for young Jews, our contemporaries, to create spaces and music that would make them want to be there.”
And it wasn’t about making money. What sets JDub apart from other Jewish music purveyors is their not-for-profit status, which allows them to seek grants and work closely with other Jewish nonprofits. The Six Points Fellowship program, a partnership among the label, Avoda Arts and the Foundation for Jewish Culture, substantially funded by UJA-Federation of New York, is a good example.
“We wanted to bring together artists who had never done a specifically Jewish project before,” Bisman says.
The two-year fellowship program provides 12 artists with a living stipend, financial project support, professional development workshops and ongoing peer- and professional-led learning opportunities.
The vision has already begun to bear fruit. Having built a strong foundation in New York, Bisman and Harris have begun the slow, hard work of expanding their outreach to Los Angeles and other cities with a substantial Jewish presence. They have already cleared a major hurdle, receiving a “Cutting Edge” grant of $250,000 from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. In the long run, the idea is to create spaces and events for young Jews, whether affiliated or not, with the goal of making Jewish culture cool.
“They have figured out a way to allow their contemporaries to find a way to comfortably express themselves,” says Marvin Schotland, CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation. “It’s another way in a complex environment to test what will attract other people to get comfortable with their identity and to take some step beyond showing up at a concert. JDub has the capacity to get them to show up at a concert, but they’re interested in doing more than that, and they are interested in connecting with other participants in the Jewish community. We believe this initiative will have a major impact on the Jewish community in Los Angeles.”
Of course, no one is expecting an overnight transformation of Los Angeles’ diverse, diffuse Jewish community. JDub’s program is designed to build gradually, creating links between self-identified Jews in the arts communities, the Jewish communal world and audiences. And somewhere along the road, JDub also hopes to nurture new bands and performers to sign to their label.
In the very short term, the July 27 concert is a useful launching pad for JDub in Los Angeles, highlighting two of their bands — Golem, a hard-driving klezmer-punk-gypsy fusion, and Soulico, a powerful crew of Israeli DJs whose guests for this performance will include the Ethiopian-Israeli MCs of Axum and Sagol 59, the grand old man of Israeli hip-hop. In its sheer atypicality, the double-bill is typical of JDub, Bisman says.
“Both [bands] help us fill in the picture of the diversity of the world of Jewish music we’ve always been striving for,” he says. “Eastern European Jewish — and non-Jewish — folk tunes played as rock and punk, led by an amateur female ethnomusicologist, and an Israeli DJ crew building original hip-hop out of Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms.”
Not coincidentally, both groups have new CDs scheduled for release in early 2009. (Hey, we said they weren’t just a record label.)
“New York has been our base of support and our home,” Bisman says. “But our plan is to grow as a national organization, to find artists and funding outside New York City.”
Schotland is optimistic.
“For us, while the art is significant, it’s the vision they have for the utilization of the art to provide a way for young Jewish adults to identify with their Jewish identity [that] was most impressive about their proposal,” he says. “The proof of the pudding will be five years from now.”
Golem, Soulico, with Sagol 59 and Axum as guest artists, and Slivovitz and Soul will be performing free at Grand Performances (California Plaza, Waterfront Stage) on Sunday, July 27 at 7 p.m.
Shut up and read this book review
MUSIC VIDEO: Beyond the Pale in ‘The Jamaican-Jewish Wedding’
In 1909, an impoverished Jewish immigrant arrived in Hamilton, Texas, hawking 1-cent bananas from his pushcart.
Haskell Harelik had fled Russia to escape pogroms, docking not in Ellis Island but in Galveston, Texas, via a plan to route Eastern European Jews to the West. He spoke no English and was the first Jew the Hamilton residents had ever seen. But he found some friendly faces, and he stayed in that Baptist town, founding a dry goods store and raising three sons there.
The unexpected success story is the subject of “The Immigrant,” actor/writer Mark Harelik’s musical adaptation of the play he wrote to honor his grandfather (at the Colony Theatre in Burbank through May 4), and the show has traveled a journey as arduous and as rewarding as its protagonist’s.
It began after another Harelik project fell through at the Denver Center Theatre in 1985. When the artistic director asked if he had anything else that could go into rehearsal in a month, the author’s thoughts turned to his grandfather.
“He had been my hero since I was a boy,” Harelik said. “He was not a captain of industry or a soldier who had saved his platoon, but a different kind of hero — a very kind, generous person who, as the only Jew in town, brought ecumenism to an isolated rural community.
“For a Jew to be so accepted in that all-Baptist environment was inspirational,” he added. “I thought of him as one of the lamed vavniks — the Talmudic concept of 36 righteous people upon whom the fate of the world stands.”
“The Immigrant,” which initially starred Harelik as his own grandfather, was such a hit that it went on to become the most produced play in the country in 1991 and remains one of the most frequently programmed works in regional theater.
The musical, which features klezmer-meets-Copeland style songs by Sarah Knapp and Steven M. Alper, debuted in 2000 and played off-Broadway in 2004. While neither the play nor the musical has been a critical success (reviews of the Colony Theatre show have been mixed), the comedy-drama about the struggle to maintain one’s cultural identity in the melting pot has struck a chord with diverse viewers.
“Jews and non-Jews all over the country have said, ‘This is my grandfather’s story,'” Harelik recalled.
During rehearsal breaks at the Colony Theatre, cast and crew shared anecdotes about their own immigrant forebears. Musical director Dean Mora described his Mexican great-great uncle, who was the Archbishop of Los Angeles in 1890; actor Chris Guilmet, who plays Haskell, traced his roots from France to Quebec to Maine; and director Hope Alexander (nï¿½(c)e Ossipoff) recounted how her Ukrainian father fled Cossack pogroms, never to see his extended family again. Alexander said she loves the play, “because I feel it is a quintessential American story. It is about all our families; strangers in a strange land, who carved (and continue to carve!) the American dream out of hard work, hope and tears.”
Mark Harelik’s Jewish identity was shaped by the old and new world stories exchanged around the family dinner table when he was a boy in Hamilton. During his early childhood, he remembers attending synagogue in Waco, Texas, with his grandparents and “feeling warmed by their contact with their religion and their beliefs.” But by the time Mark was preparing for his bar mitzvah, his grandfather had moved out of town, Mark’s mother was dying of Hodgkin’s Disease and the remaining relatives found themselves “in painful isolation, with no religious or cultural raft to carry us through dark waters.” “The Legacy,” Harelik’s 1995 sequel to “The Immigrant,” draws on the crisis of faith he experienced as he prepared for his bar mitzvah.
“I stopped being a practicing Jew the minute I left for the University of Texas at Austin,” Harelik said. “The late 1960s zeitgeist was to reevaluate everything and start over, and I was very easily persuaded. Thereafter, my relationship with Judaism became embodied only by my relationship with my grandparents.”
The day he sat down to write “The Immigrant,” Harelik had learned that his grandfather, then suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, did not recognize his own name. The nonagenarian was too ill to ever see the production; he died in 1987.
“The play was all that remained of this good man’s life,” his grandson said. “But he was so humble he would have been surprised audiences were so interested in his story.”
In fact, hundreds of productions have been staged across the United States; Harelik created the musical version because he felt the genre would serve the folksy characters and make his grandfather’s saga even more universal.
He said he hopes to write a third play to create a “Hamilton” trilogy: “It will describe the passing of the last Jews from town,” he said. “And once again there will be this all-Baptist community, where for two generations a Jewish family thrived. It’s a trend that is happening all across the landscape. Whereas a century ago there were Jews throughout the West, there are now vast Jewish cemeteries in towns with no Jews.”
For now, Harelik’s parents still live in Hamilton, and the actor-writer likes to visit with his 2-year-old son, named (what else?) Haskell Harelik.
“A century after my grandfather first set foot in town, people tell me how much they enjoy knowing two Haskell Hareliks, one on each end of life,” he said.
Obama tackles the ‘pastor’ question in meeting with Philadelphia Jews
There’s no shame in the Shondes’ melodious yelling
At the risk of sounding like Walter Cronkite, what kind of a year has it been in Jewish music?
It’s been a very good year, though you wouldn’t know it from this annual compilation of five-star records — there are only eight this year, the fewest in the decade I’ve been doing this. Long-time stalwarts like Joel Rubin and Budowitz released new records, another wave of Israeli jazz musicians has been getting lots of work and Jewish musicians are bending that hyphen that separates genres into a pretzel. Finally, even if it was a year with only eight five-star albums, it was also a year in which there were a lot of 4 1&’8260;2-star efforts, and that is good news.
As Cronkite would say, “That’s the way it was in 2007.” Have a good 2008!
Balkan Beat Box: “Nu-Med” (JDub). Say what you will about post-modernism in other areas of endeavor, but in music, it has been a delicious wake-up call, a practical example of the (admittedly few) benefits of globalization. And Balkan Beat Box, with their second album, are the poster boys.
This set is a glorious mash-up of bhangra, Bedouin and Balkan brass; swirling reeds; and skirling turntable scratches. In short, it’s world hip-hop with a strong Middle-Eastern flavor, danceable in the extreme and endlessly inventive.
Budowitz: “Live” (Golden Horn). A decade or so ago, the klezmer revival pushed the pendulum from the New World to the Old Country, and an increasing number of bands began to explore music driven by violin and cymbal, rather than brass and reeds. Budowitz was one of the spearheads of that new approach.
This all-instrumental, double-CD live set, recorded in Switzerland in late November 2005, is a superbly played introduction to that sound for those who are not yet familiar with it. The bulk of the 33 selections are traditional tunes arranged by band members, with seven originals that blend in quite nicely.
If you didn’t look at the track listings, you wouldn’t know which songs were written in the 21st century and which were handed down through generations. Budowitz draws its repertoire from across the map of Jewish Eastern and Central Europe, and there isn’t a stale tune in the bunch. This is a set worth a seven-year wait.
Anat Cohen and the Anzic Orchestra: “Noir” (Anzic). Released simultaneously with “Poetica,” this set features Cohen, mainly on sax, dipping into a repertoire that deftly combines standards with her beloved Brazilian jazz — how about a medley of “Samba de Orfeu” and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”?
The big band behind her features some very familiar New York City names — Ted Nash; Cohen’s brother, Avishai; Ali Jackson Jr.; and Erik Friedlander, among them — and the charts by Oded Lev-Ari remind me of the delicious blend of funk and elegance that distinguishes Gil Evans or Bob Brookmeyer.
Although it is her session, Cohen is very generous with solo time, and there are telling contributions from many of the players. But the centerpiece is Cohen, stomping hard on tenor (“No Moon at All” and a combustible “Cry Me a River”), making creative use of the clarinet’s lower register (“La Comparsa”) and generally swinging hard throughout. Don’t look now, folks, but this is the calling card of a major new jazz voice.
Peter Himmelman: “The Pigeons Couldn’t Sleep” (Himmasongs). Himmelman is back with another set filled with brawny rockers, ranging from the funkified 12-bar blues of the title tune to the lacerating guitar-driven lurch of “A Dog Can Drink Stagnant Water.”
As usual, his lyrics are somewhat cryptic but unmistakably carry a heavy charge of spiritual self-evaluation. Certainly, there can’t be a more appropriate line for the Days of Awe than, “There comes a time to mend your way, and that time is now.”
Most of the songs are terse and punchy, with sudden, unexpected flashes of a lyricism Himmelman keeps concealed most of the time. You have to love a guy who can use a word like “exhalations” in a lyric, then follow it with a coruscating guitar solo.
The CD comes with a DVD of an hourlong documentary about Himmelman, “Rock God,” which displays his rather unexpected humor, frequently self-deprecating and always charming.
The Joel Rubin Ensemble: “Midnight Prayer” (Traditional Crossroads). Like the Budowitz set, this is Old World-style klezmer, albeit with Rubin’s clarinet providing the main voice and the presence of trumpeter Ferenc Kovacs adding a little more heft. The set was recorded in four days at the Operetta House in Budapest, and several of the band members are Hungarian, but the tunes are drawn from the historical treasure trove of Soviet-era field work by Moshe Beregovski and his predecessors in the An-Ski Expeditions.
The set has a delightfully jaunty feel to its klezmer numbers, starting with the up-tempo section of the opening track, “Khabno,” while the other musical source of the recording, Chasidic nigunim, provides a soul-wrenching counterpoint. Rubin is in fine form throughout but particularly electrifying on the nigunim and, most of all, on the title tune, where he weeps with the best of them.
I particularly like Claudio Jacomucci’s lithe accordion lines and interplay between cymbalom master Kalman Balogh and the violinists, Sandor Budai and David Chernyavsky. I realize that Rubin is busier than ever with his teaching, writing and producing duties, but I hope we don’t have to wait 10 years for another recording of his own masterful playing.
Metropolitan Klezmer: “Traveling Show” (Rhythm Media). There used to be two complaints about live rock albums. Either the band just played their greatest hits exactly as they had on record — who needs a live recording that’s nothing but a reprise of the studio, only with the mistakes intact? Or they indulged their arty sides with long, dull solos.
Old-line klezmer wasn’t as much of an improviser’s art as, say, jazz, but contemporary new klez is much more so. And that means that a live set like this new one from the Metros is welcome.
Israeli TV commercial for HDTV
For listening, for giving — klezmer and its cousins
After two consecutive years of a mailbox clogged with new Chanukah music, this year seems to have produced a drought of latkes-candles-and-dreidel epics. No matter. There are plenty of terrific CDs around that will make good gifts for those who do the December festivities thing, or you could buy them for yourself (you selfish thing).
There is a phrase we use in my house to denote any music that makes you move your lower limbs almost involuntarily. We call this “wiggle music,” and the following selection features some very potent examples of the genre. If a winter dance is on your agenda, you could do a lot worse than to throw a couple of these in your CD player and hit shuffle. Or better yet: “wiggle.”
There used to be two complaints about live rock albums. Either the band played their greatest hits exactly as they had on record (Who needs a live recording that’s nothing but a reprise of the studio, only with the mistakes intact?) or they indulged their arty sides with long, dull solos. Old-line klezmer wasn’t as much of an improviser’s art as, say, jazz, but contemporary New Klez is much more so. And that means a live set like this new one from the Metros is welcome. The band swings hard, everyone has ample solo room and plenty to say. There’s even a track from Eve Sicular’s other band, Isle of Klezbos. In short, this is what a live set should be: great fun.
This dazzling new recording is a distinct change of pace from what I usually hear (I get to listen to a lot of new Yiddish music, which can be a positive or a negative depending on the recording). The songs are all originals, composed by Polina Shepherd and sung by Shepherd and a quartet that includes her and husband Merlin Shepherd (who also contributes memorably on reeds and guitar), Yana Ovrutskaya and Evgenya Slavina. This is elegant chamber music that dances nimbly from postmodern a cappella to jazz to art song without missing a beat. A beautiful, frequently moving CD. You can’t dance to it, but you can listen for hours without losing interest.
Blue Fringe, “The Whole World Lit Up”
(Craig ‘n’ Co.)
These guys have developed an ardent cult following, and it’s not hard to see why. With their hook-filled soft rock featuring inflections of The Beatles, The Eagles and The Byrds, Blue Fringe has found a plausible vehicle for their religious feelings, and their music is both thoughtful and danceable. Not my favorite genre, personally, but they do it well. I prefer the rockers, especially when the lead guitarists — to borrow a phase from boxing — let their hands go. Nevertheless, a satisfying set from a rising band.
Gail Javitt, “Like a Braided Candle, Songs for Havdalah” (self-distributed)
A nice idea for a record, compiling songs relating to Havdalah, and the result is a pleasant if unexceptional recording. Javitt has a sweet Debby Friedman-like voice; I wish she would use the lower part of her range more because it’s quite expressive, while the top is a bit thin. The material is a solid mix of the familiar (“A Gute Voch,” “Birhot Havdalah”) and the somewhat more unusual. I’m particularly fond of the Sephardic “Hamavdil” that opens the set.
Fourth album from this excellent Massachusetts-based quintet sees them proceeding without vocalist Rhoda Bernard. The result is a more instrumental-oriented set, but like their previous CDs this opens with a butt-shaking number, “Undzer Nigundl,” powered by a strong rock beat from drummer Keith Levreault. After that it settles into a more traditional groove, but the results are very satisfying.
A wildly swinging set from this excellent Gypsy-cum-klezmer-cum-Balkan-brass-band aggregation. I saw Romashka live in a superheated little bar about a year ago and I was curious whether any recording could capture their insane level of intensity. From the rocketing opening of “Mariana,” the first cut on their new set, through some smoldering, smoky vocals by Inna Barmash to a pounding “Moldovan Batuta,” this is as full of energy and thrills as any studio set can be. Particular kudos to Ron Caswell, whose tuba provides a bouncing dance floor for both this CD and the Slavic Soul Party set reviewed elsewhere in this column.
Here’s a promising debut from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Chana Rothman. She offers a heady mix of liturgically based hard folk-rock and reggae-inflected and hip-hop informed rockers, all originals. She reminds me of a young Basya Schechter without the Middle Eastern influences, and her best writing (“Ana,” “Gates of Justice”) is quite good. Her rapping isn’t quite there yet — too many eccentric rhythmic choices that disrupt her flow — but I’m definitely looking forward to watching her evolve.
This is a wildly swinging amalgam of Balkan brass band, Gypsy and klezmer elements, with as many swerves and twists as a mountain road. The fusion of disparate elements is seamless, not a surprise if you consider how much these various traditions share. As the band’s name suggests, this is great party music, so grab a bottle of Slivovitz and a friend and dance.
These days, the world is constantly getting smaller, and musical styles don’t respect national or traditional boundaries. Matisyahu, for example, has made a name for himself by fusing Eastern European Chasidic strains with Jamaican reggae.
At the Skirball recently, Chango Spasiuk performed songs that combine his Ukrainian heritage with his Argentine upbringing. Practitioners of world music are constantly exploring ways to fuse disparate musical strains in new and interesting ways.
Given all that, it should not be a surprise that there is a new group that combines klezmer with salsa. Odessa/Havana — “The Explosive Jewish/Cuban Musical Mash-Up” — a musical project that brings together these two musical traditions in a jazz context will perform at the Skirball Cultural Center at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29.
During a telephone interview, David Buchbinder — the Jewish jazz trumpeter who founded the group and who composes (or co-composes) much of its music — said that he first felt the close ties between Jewish and Latin music many years ago.
“Even in my early days of playing klezmer,” Buchbinder said, “I heard the connections and noted that they shared modes and scales, similar melodic approaches, a strong rhythmic drive and deep spiritual underpinnings”
Twenty years ago, Buchbinder was in a recording studio, laying down tracks for a klezmer CD.
“I was working a chorus into one of the pieces,” Buchbinder said, “when a merengue tune came out,” referring to the exuberant merengue music and dance from the Dominican Republic.
He included that merengue-style in the finished product. “This made perfect musical sense, and it remained in the back of my mind.”
In 2006, Buchbinder was nominated for a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) and was asked to put together a musical group for radio concerts. He invited pianist Hilario Duran — a fellow Juno nominee, originally from Cuba — to join him.
“The musical idea in getting together with Hilario,” Buchbinder said, “was not necessarily to fuse klezmer and Cuban but rather to create and play jazz that has both influences in it.” And, indeed, their music, as heard on the promotional CD, is rich and complex, embodying elements that Jewish and Cuban music have in common: from foot-tapping, celebratory joy to moments of profound dirge-like sadness.
“The musical associations [between Jewish and Cuban music] are many-faceted, multilayered and rich indeed,” Buchbinder said, “rooted in their common ancestry on the Iberian peninsula and sharing Arabic, Roma — Gypsy — Sephardic and North African forebears…. After the expulsion of the Jews [from Iberia] … a minority went to Eastern Europe, so that stream flowed into Yiddish culture.”
Buchbinder’s first Canadian concerts with Duran, who also lives in Toronto, were sold out, and people were turned away, which is unusual for a new musical project.
“I think what happened,” he said, “is that people found the idea fascinating. I also think that Jews have been mightily attracted to Cuban music for many years. The Miami association, the whole mambo craze in the 1950s, was fueled by the American Jewish community.”
Buchbinder and Duran have composed music specially for Odessa/Havana. “People who attend the concert,” Buchbinder said, “can expect high-energy, unique music that is rich, dramatic, intense, challenging but ultimately very accessible.”
Buchbinder gives part of the credit for bringing different streams and traditions together to Toronto, which, he said, “Is truly a multicultural city…. It’s an incredibly diverse atmosphere, a rich mix of different cultures. And a mix between cultures.
“Toronto is moving … to what I call post-multiculturalism…. At first, the attitude was that one should celebrate one’s own culture, which meant looking backward toward the culture that people came out of. But then it changed, and now people are dedicated to creating new, unique art that combines different streams in new ways.”
Buchbinder practices cross-cultural fusion not just in his musical life but in his private life, as well. He’s married to Roula Said, a dancer-musician-actress.
How did he meet his wife?
“I met Roula in the large, floating group of musicians and performers that are part of the Toronto scene…. We knew people in common and met at a party about eight years ago. We liked each other and took it from there. She’s of Palestinian-Christian background. We have a daughter who’s 4 1/2. Some people can’t imagine how we did it, but we’ve aligned in life.”
Buchbinder and Said have also aligned in their art.
“We’ve worked together on several projects,” he said. “‘Feast of the East,’ which brought together different musical groups from the Middle East. And we did a series of concerts: ‘Imagine the Sound of Peace.'”
Both personally and professionally, Buchbinder is the master of fusion.
Odessa/Havana will perform on Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500
The many sides of Bob Dylan
A Musical Odyssey, Comic Con at the Shrine, Two’s Company, Man Ray
Pack a suitcase with excitement and wonder because tonight you will be embarking on “A Musical Odyssey.” Your journey begins in the South Bay and takes you first to hear the symphonic sounds of Jewish klezmer and choral music performed by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Your next musical port of call will include mystical melodies from Spain, Persia, Yemen and Israel performed by the talented and ubiquitous Yuval Ron Ensemble. Featuring vocals by Tehila Lauder and dance by Melanie Kareem, the Ensemble will whisk you away to the Holy Land with their “‘West Bank Story’ Suite,” a compilation of music from the Academy Award-winning short film. Proceeds from this auditory odyssey will benefit the religious school at Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay.
8-10 p.m. $50, $75. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. (310) 377-3510. ” target=”_blank”>http://jewishjournal.com/geekheeb/.
The golden age of screwball comedy in Hollywood began with a handful of Jews in the 1930s — Billy Wilder, Ben Hecht and Sidney Buchman are just a few names synonymous with slapstick. Jon Edelman is bringing back the farcical, the ridiculous and the fast-talking with his wacky post-modern “Screwballs.” Set in a tiny desert inn, the play has a classic screwball plot involving a divorced couple who can’t seem to let go and end up swapping bodies. The result is, as you can imagine, disastrous and hilarious and screwy.
Thu.-Sun., through Dec. 15. $20. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055.
In the 1950s, a few years after Yiddish culture in Europe had been decimated, there was a bustling metropolis in the Western Hemisphere that still had a thriving Yiddish culture.
This city had a number of schools in which classes were taught in Yiddish; there was an active theatrical scene, a couple of daily newspapers, books, literary magazines, songs and musicals — all in Yiddish. There were Yiddish comedians, as well as cafes where Yiddish-speakers gathered to chat and drink tea with a bissel (little) lemon. And there were vacation resorts, a few hours’ drive from the city, where Yiddish was regularly heard.
New York? Montreal? Actually, Buenos Aires.
Did you know, for example, that Pesach Burstein and his wife, Lillian Lux, arguably the most prominent couple in Yiddish theater, first toured Argentina in 1938, lived in Buenos Aires in the 1950s and regularly performed there in Yiddish, along with their children?
That vibrant Argentine-Yiddish culture — which existed through much of the 20th century — will be celebrated and remembered on Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT). Co-presented by Yiddishkayt Los Angeles, there will be two performances of “Una Noche Idishe: An Argentine Yiddish Experience” at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m., the late-night second show well-suited for Argentines, who — if they were living in South America — would be starting to eat dinner at that time.
Music will be provided by Klezmer Juice, an ensemble featuring the heartbreakingly soulful clarinet stylings of Gustavo Bulgach, an Argentine Jew who’s lived in Los Angeles for the last 15 years. (If you saw “The Wedding Crashers” — remember a Jewish wedding early in the movie? — then you saw Klezmer Juice in action.)
Una Noche Idishe will also feature
Film: Germans react to Wehrmacht atrocities
MUSIC VIDEO: Klezmer — Denmark’s Channe Nussbaum ‘Where Can I Go?’
All in all, 2006 was a very good year for Jewish music. Fourteen CDs won the five-star plaudit, which is certainly a hopeful sign and a pointed rejoinder to those naysayers who have been proclaiming the death of (choose one): 1) klezmer; 2) new Jewish music; 3) old Jewish music.
On the downside, however, four of those albums were the products of deceased composers/artists. But still, the Kiddush cup is better than 70 percent full.
Here are my top 10 Jewish records of the year in alphabetical order:
Morton Feldman: “String Quartet (1979)” (Naxos). From a performer’s standpoint, it would be hard to imagine a quartet piece more physically demanding than this one, which is nearly 80 minutes long, meant to be played very slowly and features some truly mind-blowing shifts in dynamics.
Feldman was one of the most creative and rigorous of Webern-influenced serialists, and his work rewards — no, demands — close attention. If you can give yourself over to this piece of music completely, you will be richly rewarded, but it is almost as tough a test for a listener as it is for a performer. This recording by the Group for Contemporary Music is masterful.
German Goldenshteyn: “A Living Tradition” (Living Traditions). This is not merely a very fine album of traditional klezmer, it is also a historical document of 20th century Jewish culture of incalculable value. Goldenshteyn, who died earlier this year at 71, was a bridge between the Jewish musicians of pre- and post-revolutionary Russia and the young musicians of the American klezmer renaissance.
He was a walking encyclopedia of klezmer tunes, carrying in his head more than 800 songs, almost none of them known here. Fortunately, he imparted them to those younger musicians, and they are being published posthumously.
Equally fortunate, he was recorded in December 2005 at KlezKamp so that we have an auditory record of his playing to go along with the notated one. He was a superb clarinetist, with a bedrock sense of time and a deep, throaty tone.
The band that backs him is excellent, and the sound is remarkably good, given that this session was rather off the cuff. A must for anyone who cares seriously about klezmer. Available from www.livingtraditions.org.
The Klezmatics: “Wonder Wheel” (JMG). This CD continues the Klezmatics’ collaborations with the Woody Guthrie Archives, which is looking like a very fruitful pairing. Drawing a wide range of moods and tones from the archives collection of previously unset lyrics, the band gets to show off its considerable range, from a funky faux-Latin “Mermaid Avenue” to a lovely Calpyso-ish lullaby, “Headdy Down,” to a weirdly Asiatic/alt.country “Pass Away” to a klezmer “Goin’ Away to Sea.”
One of the surprises of the set is how profoundly spiritual some of the Guthrie lyrics are; one expects the good-natured progressivism of something like “Come When I Call You” and “Heaven,” but the deeply felt religious feeling of “Holy Ground” is unexpected and moving.
David Krakauer and Socalled w/Klezmer Madness!: “Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me” (Label Bleu). This is by far the most interesting synthesis of hip-hop and klezmer attempted to date. It helps that Krakauer and Socalled are on the same page; that Socalled’s beats give a deliciously herky-jerky underpinning to Krakauer’s natural affinity for eccentric rhythms, and that the band is one of the best in this music. If you come for Krakauer’s clarinet playing, you won’t be disappointed. He’s in fine form here.
For the most part, the hip-hop elements won’t put off the true believer, although the bizarre, dirge-like “Rumania, Rumania” may prove hard for some to swallow. But it is precisely in the synthesis, the mix of phat beats and klezmer, the use of sampling and cut-and-mix, that this CD represents a significant step forward.
Ljova: “Vjola: World on Four Strings” (Kapustnik). After hearing this extraordinary album, you’ll never tell another viola joke again. Ljova, a Russian émigré now living in New York, is a superb player and composer, and this set, mostly of originals, ranges in emotion and colors across the globe.
Multitracked alongside accordionist Michael Bregman, Ljova is a virtuosic violist who can make the instrument do just about anything, and the set runs gracefully from the poignant to the jolly. This brilliant debut is available from www.kapustnik.com.
Jeremiah Lockwood: “American Primitive” (Vee-Ron). Lockwood got his start playing straight-ahead acoustic blues, and this fascinating recording draws on that part of his background. But “American Primitive” is anything but straight-ahead.
Imagine Captain Beefheart “unplugged,” and you have some idea of what this set sounds like. Dark and brooding variations on delta blues and the darker currents of bluegrass, filled with jangling guitar riffs and strangulated vocals. Not to all tastes, but a brilliant calling card from Lockwood.
Frank London: “Hazanos” (Tzadik). Since I acquired this, a week hasn’t passed in which I haven’t listened to it at least a couple of times. That is, to say the least, not usual for me, but it tells you how much I love this record.
Working with a brilliant rhythm section (David Chevan on bass, Anthony Coleman on keyboards, Gerald Cleaver on drums), several other superb musicians and several brilliant voices — most notably cantors Jack Mendelson and Simon Spiro — London has crafted the single-most compelling fusion of jazz and Jewish traditional liturgical music that I have heard to date. This is simply one of the best records I have heard in 10 years. Go buy it right now. Period.
Roy Nathanson: “Sotto Voce” (AUM Fidelity). From the start, this is clearly a very different Nathanson album, with human beatbox Napoleon Maddox supplying the rhythms and Nathanson coming up with a lot of the words. The result is a very satisfying, frequently funny and always witty jazz excursion, anchored by Nathanson’s superlative sax playing and fellow Jazz Passenger Curtis Fowlkes offering his usual trombone ingenuity.
The album runs the gamut from a vaguely satirical but surprisingly deeply felt “Sunrise Sunset” to a funk combustible “Sunny.” And all five band members contribute nicely judged vocals.
Of all the Jewish holidays, none is so firmly rooted in the home and so joyously celebrated with song as Passover. This simple fact would lead you to expect an avalanche of Passover records, but this year the avalanche is more like a mild rain of pebbles, at least in the quantity department. The quality is pretty high, but don’t count on finding much for your own seder table. These records should come with the warning: “Trained singing professionals; do not try this at home.”
The two most unusual and interesting of the four new CDs both use hip-hop as a touchstone. Samples, cut-ups, rapping, multiple overdubbing with hard beats — the usual package — used artfully by Craig Taubman on “The Passover Lounge” (Craig + Co.) and Josh Dolgin, better known as SoCalled, on “The SoCalled Seder: A Hip-Hop Haggadah” (JDub).
Taubman’s outing is more musically conservative, generally staying close to the familiar holiday tunes and drawing on a trippy vibe that nicely complements his breezy tenor singing. Co-producer Luke Tozour provides some tasty beats and samples and a lot of friendly ambient sound. (Hey, guys, my seder never sounds this mellow — where is all the screaming and yelling?) It’s a nice little package that turns the Four Questions into juicy, dreamy funk and the recounting of the plagues into something like “old-skool horror” rap. If Taubman has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, the humor is affectionate and endearing.
SoCalled, unsurprisingly, is after something tougher, with more street cred and a straight-razor edge. Taking samples from old how-to-do-a-seder records and slicing and dicing them into a bubbling stew of breakbeat sounds, scratching from P.Love, klezmer instrumentals from Elaine and Susan Hoffman Watts, high-powered sax funk from Paul Shapiro, and a startling rap from Killah Priest on the plagues, he has created a Pesach for downtown hipsters. I love it but I’m pretty sure my zayde would not. As the old joke goes, if he were alive, this would kill him. Be forewarned.
If you are seeking a more traditional Passover recording, you might be more comfortable with “The Spirit of Passover: Voices of the Conservative Movement” (Cantors Assembly/United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism), a sampler that was actually released last year but which didn’t turn up on my desk until a few weeks ago. The current issue of Judaism is devoted to a long discussion of the current state and possible future of the Conservative movement, but if you want a truly vivid portrait of the many directions in which its adherents are pulling, this CD is the thing.
The record opens with a burst of Hollywood Strings-style kitsch that suddenly turns into a veritable explosion of “Ki Lo Na’eh/Had Gadya” sung by the Three Jewish Tenors. Meir Finkelstein, Alberto Mizrahi and David Propis sound like the musical equivalent of human cannonballs on this gleeful tribute to Moyshe Oysher, but it’s not a great idea to open a record at this energy level, because anything that follows is bound to be a letdown.
And much of what follows is a new-agey, Celine Dionish ode to Rebbe Nachman written by Jeff Klepper and sung by Eva Robbins, although nothing is quite so dire as “The Empty Chair.” Things couldn’t get worse than that and, fortunately, they don’t. Indeed, there are some real high points: a lithe “Dayeinu” performed by the Syracuse Children’s Chorus, a supremely simple but powerful “Hodu Ladonai” from Sam Weiss, a haunting “Livbavtini” in which a multitracked Ramon Tasat duets with himself and an audacious “Prayer for Dew: Tal” in which Moshe Schulhof sings with a recording of the legendary Yossele Rosenblatt. If you look up “chutzpahdik” in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a photo of Schulhof, but to his everlasting credit, he holds his own with the man most consider the single greatest hazzan of all time. (Available from www.TheSpiritSeries.com.)
The final entry in this year’s Pesach sweepstakes is a somber one, Max Helfman’s “Di Naye Hagode” (Milken Archive/Naxos). Helfman’s oratorio is not, strictly speaking, a Passover commemoration in the strict sense of the word. Rather, it is a 1948 piece he wrote in memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began on Passover in 1943. Using the seder as a structural armature on which to mount “di naye hagode,” that is, “the new telling,” Helfman wrote a frequently powerful, occasionally bombastic piece for choir, narrator and orchestra. This recording features particularly forceful contributions from the Choral Society of Southern California, the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale and narrator Theodore Bikel, who never succumbs to the temptation to “emote,” wisely allowing Itzik Fefer’s stark, bleak text to do the hard work. The CD also features an effective rendition of Helfman’s “Hag Habikkurim” and a surprisingly mournful “The Holy Ark.” The result is one of the best releases in the Milken Archive series to date.
George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.
An old elevator shaft sided on three sides with brick and topped by a skylight becomes the backdrop and running theme through photographer Mark Seliger’s latest book of Platinum Photographs, “In My Stairwell.” Welcomed into the stairwell are noted personalities of varied walks, from singer Willie Nelson to skateboarder Tony Hawke to actress Susan Sarandon. Selections from the book are on display at Fahey/Klein Gallery.
Through March 4. 148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250.
Sunday, February 12
A week without klezmer? Not in this town. Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust jumps on the accordion bandwagon with a concert today by “Miamon Miller’s Bucovina Klezmer.” A reception follows.
You’ve read the arguments; you’ve seen the movie. Today delve into “The Meaning of ‘Munich'” with a panel of speakers representing pro and con, brought together by the Republican Jewish Coalition and Pepperdine University. The group includes University of Judaism professor Michael Berenbaum, Pepperdine professor Robert Kaufman, Emmy Award-winner and UCLA instructor Kathleen Wright and Allan Mayer, political and media adviser to Steven Spielberg.
Dateless Valentines find their go-to event in tonight’s “Go Where the Love Is” courtesy of Uncabaret. Comedy queens Beth Lapides, Julia Sweeney, Hyla Matthews and Laura Kightlinger keep the funny coming, while you sit back and just deal with the drinks.
8 p.m. $15 (plus drinks). M-Bar, 1253 N. Vine, Los Angeles. (323) 993-3305.
Wednesday, February 15
You might know him as Larry David’s dad, but Shelley Berman’s also been called the Father of the Modern Monologue. He delivers his lesson in “Comedy and Its Reflections in History” this evening at 24th Street Theatre, with a Q and A to follow.
8 p.m. $25. 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. (213) 745-6516.
Thursday, February 16
Joel Stein has something to say tonight. The sometimes-controversial L.A. Times columnist, Time magazine writer and on-camera commentator for VH-1’s “I Love the 80s” offers up his signature brand of satirical social commentary in an event very originally titled, “A Conversation With Joel Stein,” sponsored by the folks at The Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership Division.
Canada’s folk/roots/world music ensemble Beyond the Pale goes beyond pure klezmer by uniquely blending it with Balkan, Gypsy, Romanian, bluegrass, jazz, reggae and funk inspirations. They make their Los Angeles stop on their California/Southwest Tour tonight at Genghis Cohen.
10:30 p.m. $10. 740 N. Fairfax, West Hollywood. (310) 578-5591.
Two winters ago, in one of its traditional Victorian teas, A Noise Within (ANW), the classical repertory theater company in Glendale, staged a series of holiday readings from actors as varied as Ed Asner and Fred Savage. One of ANW’s own troupe members, Len Lesser, in his inimitable New York accent, read a Chanukah story about a boy in the Bronx who, if memory permits, floats in the Big Apple firmament, going on a magical Chagallesque voyage through the city night.
Even if all of the other stories were about Christmas, this one Jewish tale stood out, if only because it was so unique, so rare, in a Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s climate in which Jews and other non-Christians are bombarded with Christian iconography, animated TV specials, carols and merchandise.
If it’s OK for storekeepers to say “Merry Christmas,” as Kinky Friedman contends, then it is also OK for theatergoers to get a taste of Jewish entertainment in the midst of all the “Christmas Carol” and “Nutcracker” productions.
Guggenheim Entertainment and the National Jewish Theatre Festival have adapted Tchaikovsky’s ballet into a Chanukah-themed musical, “The Meshuga Nutcracker!” Shannon Guggenheim, one of the creators of the show, disputes the misconception by some that “if it’s a Chanukah show, it must hate Christmas”; this show’s edgiest moment comes in a good-natured opening song with a couplet about “Santa having the last laugh, this holiday lasts a month and a half.”
Although Tchaikovsky composed the music, many of the big, splashy numbers owe more to Andrew Lloyd Webber than the 19th century romantic giant. It’s not the music alone that’s changed; the story has, too. Now, instead of the songs being about sugar plum fairies, rat kings and nutcrackers, they are about menorahs, dreidels and Judah Maccabee. More broadly, Guggenheim says, “it’s about finding the soul in our lives.”
“The Meshuga Nutcracker!” features eight principal characters, symbolizing the eight days of Chanukah, who must wait for the “director” to show up, so that they can light the menorah. While the “director” sounds like Elijah or Godot, Guggenheim says that the character and plot device derive from the movie “Waiting for Guffman,” not the Torah or Samuel Beckett.
Dancing and singing in front of a giant dreidel, the performers, inhabitants of a mythical shtetl, wear garb almost as colorful as that of the Technicolor Joseph, and the stage floor in its multihued mosaic resembles a Wolfgang Puck eatery.
This is kid-friendly theater, which is not surprising since Guggenheim, along with her husband, Scott, and brother-in-law, Stephen, conceptualized the show around the time her 3-year-old daughter was born.
“Where are we going to take a child?” she used to ask herself, given the historic lack of Jewish holiday theater.
Coming to Los Angeles for the first time after two years of exclusive dates in the Bay Area, the show has yet to penetrate “the public-school sector,” although that is the next step, says Guggenheim, who views her role as being that of an educator. If she succeeds, “The Meshuga Scrooge” may be next.
“The Meshuga Nutcracker!” opens Thursday, Dec. 22, at the Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Plays Through Jan. 1. 7:30 p.m. (Tues.-Thurs., Sat.); 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. (Sun.). $18-$36. The Jewish Journal sponsors the Sunday, Dec. 25, 1 p.m. show. For tickets, call (877) 456-4849.
Tchaikovsky has always transcended religion and ethnicity, so it’s not surprising that Zinovy Goro, a Ukrainian Jew, studied clarinet and composition at the State Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Kiev. Goro, along with Miamon Miller, who plays violin and mandolin, form a klezmer orchestra in Theater 40’s premiere of “Simcha,” another Jewish-themed play being staged during the holidays. From an elevated platform, they perform their admixture of plaintive yet heartening Jewish folk tunes before the actors arrive onstage, during intermission, and at pivotal narrative points.
Subtitled “An Evening of Jewish folklore,” “Simcha,” like “Meshuga Nutcracker,” is set in the shtetl, that fabled, liminal land in the Pale that captured the imagination of artists like Sholom Aleichem and Chagall. Indeed, “Simcha,” an original production written by Ross Pavis and Howard Teichman, bears the influence of both of these Russian-Jewish luminaries.
With a setup so classic that it has been used by everyone from Chaucer to Eugene O’Neill to William Inge, the play begins when a drifter named Simcha, part troubadour, part hobo, pleads his way into an inn. Though he has no groshen to pay for bread, he convinces the denizens of the inn that he can recompense them with a story. Make that three stories.
Despite his tatterdemalion rags and scruffy stubble, Simcha carries the promise of dream to these miserable inn dwellers, and is soon distributing copies of a script to each of them — the young boy and girl, in the bloom of love; the old man and woman, ignored by all; the termagant who runs the inn, and the meek owner who submits to her will.
They may seem like stock characters, but, as portrayed by Theater 40’s fine cast, they have the timelessness of archetypes. Maybe, it’s because all of these actors have great faces, in the way that John Garfield and Edward G. Robinson had great faces, etched with character and depth. None of the actors would be considered conventionally attractive; even the ravishing young girl, played by Karla Menjivar, possesses more of the exoticism of an Old World Jewess than the glamour of a runway model. But their faces tell of their suffering and longing for a new life.
Twirling about the stage like a dreidel, while the klezmer musicians play, Simcha looks upward as if picturing the magical skyscape of Chagall. And he weaves tales not unlike those of Aleichem, rife with matchmakers and Kabbalistic potions.
Teichman, a heavyset, bearded man who resembles Jon Lovitz, shines in the title part, narrating and directing the characters in the play within the play, a role that must come easily for him, given that he is also credited as director of the play itself. When each tale ends and he is asked questions about the story’s characters, he issues the caveat that he is “just a storyteller, not a philosopher.”
If there is any criticism of the play, it is its length. Holiday entertainment needs to be light, and this production would have been more effective as a one-act.
“Simcha” plays 8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.); 2 p.m. (Sun.), thru Dec. 18, at the Reuben Cordova Theater, Beverly Hills High School, 241 Moreno Drive, (310) 364-0535.
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.
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.
Musician Eric Stein felt disillusioned with rock ‘n’ roll. He spent years slogging away in a band without “making it,” so he started looking for something else.
He considered being a history professor, but then, a new instrument and an old style of music changed his mind.
The instrument was a mandolin and the music klezmer.
“There was level of musical sophistication that goes with the kind of music you can play on the mandolin, and my intention was to start a new acoustic-fusion thing, with an emphasis on string and wind instruments,” said Stein, who went on to form Beyond the Pale, a klezmer-fusion band.
“I had been brought up as a secular Jew, and I didn’t know much about Jewish music except that it was dorky,” said Stein on the phone from Toronto, where his band is based. “But when klezmer got hot a few years ago, I found that the music really spoke to me on a cultural level. All the time, I was trying to play other people’s music, but this is the music of my family and my history.”
Stein’s approach to klezmer — seeing it as part of his heritage, but wanting to put an innovative, modern stamp on it, is typical of today’s klezmer revival. More and more musicians are attracted to the music, but want to move it beyond its European folk roots.
Hence, bands like Beyond the Pale fuse klezmer with reggae, jazz, ska and bluegrass music. As a result, klezmer keeps one foot in its shtetl past and another in the post-modern present.
“That’s why we called the band Beyond the Pale, because the expression means something that is unexpected and beyond the bounds,” Stein said. “[The name] refers to the Jewish roots of the band, but it also refers to the idea that we want to get outside of the rules — to pay homage to the traditions, but at the same time express ourselves.”
“Consensus” is the name of Beyond the Pale’s new CD, but while the title implies harmonic accord, even compromise, the tunes on the CD do not. Although not disharmonious, the tunes startle the listener with their complex boldness.
In “Whassat,” for instance, the 10th song on the CD, a clarinet melody starts off plaintive and wailing, only to be overlaid by a thumping base beat that builds into a rhythmic crescendo that is less “Tevye” and more jazz club.
In “Skalavaye,” Beyond the Pale gives a modern, ska-tinged rendition of a 1940s Yiddish classic, with contemporary nods to Yiddish humor. “Halevai (I only wish that) I was a keg of beer,” warbles vocalist Josh Dolgin. “So you could quench your thirst with me, my dear'”
For Stein, the CD, a live recording of a Toronto concert, epitomizes the new direction of klezmer.
“Historically, klezmer music was just about extinct by the mid-60s, for all sorts of different reasons, such as demographics and the Holocaust,” Stein said. “So for the first 15 to 20 years of the klezmer revival, [which started in the 1970s], the overriding influence was about ‘Let’s rescue what was forgotten and bring it back.’ But in the 1990s, we have the second generation of the klezmer revival, and that is when things really started to evolve. [The musicians] were marrying klezmer to jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, funk and reggae.”
Klezmer was not only becoming musically assimilated, but moving beyond the confines of the Jewish community. Stein is the only member of his five-piece band who is Jewish, and the band’s audiences have also changed.
No longer do klezmer bands attract only the bubbes and zaydes who remember the music from the old days. Now, in many venues, klezmer audiences can be primarily non-Jewish.
“People from within the Jewish community are embracing it, and using it as a way to express their own cultural heritage, but it is also having a life outside of the Jewish community altogether,” said Martin Van de Ven, Beyond the Pale’s clarinetist. “It has become [a style of music] with its own direction and way of doing things. More and more musicians are getting involved with it….”
“It is really evolving beyond just a Jewish form of music,” he said.
Beyond the Pale will perform June 1 at 9:30 p.m. at Tangier Restaurant, 2138 Hillcrest Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 666-8666. For more information on the band, visit
Chinese restaurants and movie theaters notwithstanding, lonely Jews on Christmas have a new place at which to convene. The Skirball Cultural Center is open and mostly free to the public today. See the “Time/Space, Gravity and Light,” “Celestial Nights,” and “Visions and Values…” exhibitions, watch a screening of “Back to the Future” at and take part in a drop-in art workshops free of charge. The “Einstein” exhibit is not free.
Noon-5 p.m. Movie screening at 1:30 p.m. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.
It’s a family kind of weekend. Spend today at the Getty’s “Close to Home: An American Album” exhibit, which celebrates the family photograph. Some 200 black-and-white and color images taken from 1930 through the mid-1960s, by amateur photographers, as well as by professionals like Thomas Eakins and Alfred Steiglitz, are included in the show. From birthday parties to family vacations to pictures of people with their prized possessions, these pictures strike a familiar chord as we consider our own family portraits.
Another klezmer CD? Why not, especially when it’s as good as “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”? The instrumental CD by Klezmer Juice offers new takes on traditional melodies like “Zemer Atik” and “Donna Donna.” The group also recently caught the attention of New Line Cinema, which cast them as on-camera performers in the upcoming film “The Wedding Crashers,” starring Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Christopher Walken. Their version of “Hava Nagila” will be featured on the soundtrack.
Film director Pierre Sauvage comes to the New JCC at Milken this evening for a discussion following the screening of his 1989 film, “Weapons of the Spirit.” The last in the JCC’s “Between Worlds” series featuring Holocaust-related films, this movie tells the story of an entire French village of Righteous Gentiles who saved the lives of some 5,000 Jews.
7-9 p.m. Free. 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3300.
Put idle hands to work today with producer Ellen R. Margulies’ new DVD, “The Art of Knitting.” According to the producers, this is the first DVD of its kind, despite the huge knitting trend that has swept the country. You’ll learn everything from knitting and purling to color theory and how to start your own knitting circle in this first of four volumes.
Fahey/Klein Gallery offers the public the rare opportunity to see privately owned works by renowned artists like Diane Arbus, David Hockney, Man Ray and Robert Mapplethorpe in its latest exhibition, aptly titled, “Photographs From Private Collections.” Catch them before they retreat behind closed doors again on Jan. 29.
148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250.
Say “Sholom” to 2004 with the Santa Monica Playhouse’s one-night, two-show reprise of “Author! Author! An Evening With Sholom Aleichem.” Backstage West has hailed the musical comedy, based on the Yiddish author’s letters and stories. Included in the price of admission to both shows this evening are buffet supper, champagne, favors, hats, New Year’s surprises and an after-party with the cast.
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
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.