" Klezmer is an interpretation of art and life based not solely on Jewish folklore, but rather on a cosmopolitan divergence of musical genres" Giora Feidman 

Back |  Print  |  Bookmark

Naftule Brandwein The King Of Klezmer

Naftule, Spiel Es Noch Amol          

Naftule Brandwein

If Dave Tarras was the "Benny Goodman" of Klezmer, one can say that Naftule Brandwein was a kind of a "Charlie Parker", a genius with a wild life, the King of Klezmer.

Brandwein was quite an eccentric and imaginative fellow, sometimes while performing on stage he was wearing a neon sign showing "Naftule brandwein Orchestra" around the neck
On others occasions he appeared with a Uncle Sam costume adorned with light bulbs garland and almost electrocuted himself to death because excessive perspiration.
It was told that because some paranoia he was sometimes playing with his back facing the audience to hide his fingering tricks from his colleagues.

His odd and bizarre behaviour, his reputation of being a nasty drunk, are dwarfed by the fact that he was a musical genius. He leaved an invaluable heritage to the next generations of clarinet klezmer musicians. Each of us owes him something. Although he tried to conceal his trickery, his musical language, his style has been learning by young musicians in order to pursuit his legacy. The music tracks recorded by Brandwein sound so good that modern clarinetists play almost the exact note for note transcription of the songs.

Brandwein was born in 1884 in Przemyslami, a little town of Galicia ( present Ukraina), in a family of klezmorim, the Hassidic Dynasty of Rabbi Yehuda Hirsch Brandwein of Stratyn. His father was violinist and a badkhn, which is the wedding entertainer,the jester who was improvising poetry. Naftule was one of thirteen children, most of them were musicians. His brother Azriel, cornetist, was his first teacher and the cornet way of playing had for sure an influence on Naftule's future clarinet playing.

Like many others in those days, Naftule Brandwein emigrated (1908) to America in quest of a better life and an assured future. He belongs to the first wave of American Klezmer musicians, who came with a stout musical background from the old world.
Thanks to his talent, he became quickly a Klezmer star and manage to record numerous 78 rpm. He proclaimed himself "The King of Klezmer"!

Unlike Dave Tarras, Brandwein was unable to read music scores and that made his engagement by bandleaders and composers like Shalom Secunda, Alexander Olshanetsky or Joseph Rumshisky quite impossible. However the composer and bandleader Abe Schwartz noticed him when he was looking for a leading clarinet. But in 1923,  Brandwein left Schwartz's orchestra and became bandleader of his own orchestra. His logical successor as clarinet leader position in Abe Schwartz orchestra was Dave Tarras .

The playing of Brandwein is brilliant, spontaneous, even if the tune is well known and has been played a thousand times, it seems that Naftule just invented it.
Although a lot of players tend to over-embellish and overshadow the melody, Brandwein was a master in the art of ornamentation. He makes it sound natural, helping the melody to flow freely,like a river, sometimes tumultuous, frantic, sometimes quiet and lamenting.
His swoops, jumps up and down the octaves, trills and chirps were legendary.

The style of Dave Tarras was much more conservative and practiced, a totally different way to apprehend the profession and the repertoire.

Naftule Brandwein died in 1963 and had not the chance to be the witness of the Klezmer revival and see how his influence on the new generation of Klezmer was so predominant.
Nowadays Naftule brandwein is an unavoidable pillar of the Klezmer history and a vivid inspiration to young players all over the world.


Bookmark and Share



Giora Feidman
"We have one Torah, one shofar, one flag, and the expression of all that is the nigun, any nigun. It's not a song, it's an energy which results from an interpretation of the faith."




"Long live Giora, his clarinet and his music! He builds bridges between generations, cultures and classes, and he does it with perfect artistry!" Leonard Bernstein