" 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 

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The klezmer revival

How klezmer rose from the ashes

Since the late 20th, klezmer popularity began to decline, for multiple reasons. The great depression hit the recording industry, the massive immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe ceased almost completely. The consequences were that there were no new musicians renewing the repertoire and much less audience craving for the sound of the old world. The established Jewish population had begun a slow but inexorable process of assimilation.

Less and less were the brides and grooms asking for traditional wedding dance music, the bread and butter of klezmer. Post-war new musical expressions much more attractive to a young audience arouse around the corner, Latin, Jazz, Be-Bop and naturally the Rock-and-Roll.

Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman were the "Kings of the Swing", Irving Berlin while speaking Yiddish wrote and composed the song "White Christmas" which is definitely the most famous and popular of all the Christmas songs and "God Bless America", the second American national anthem, the music of Georges Gershwin is yet impregnated with Jewish themes and sensibility, but he didn't compose nor play klezmer.

During the Holocaust, thousands of musicians were mercilessly slaughtered by the nazis, killing a whole generation of klezmer musicians and klezmer listeners. It was a near-total destruction of the European Jewish world.

The State of Israel founded in 1948, offered a new home for all the survivors of the Holocaust. The young State was in search of a new culture, a new national identity. The will of the Sabras (born in Israel) and the new immigrants was to cut the bonds with the past and build a new modern society.

The Yiddish language and the klezmer music were relegated to the attic of history, because there were the symbol of a dark period, a reminder of the shoah and the persecutions. A new Hebrew folk music was emerging, a new folklore was born while klezmer was in a state of lethargy waking up hither and thither only for some nostalgic Bar Mitzvahs.

In Europe, Giora feidman was the first who brought back the klezmer music tradition to a new audience of listeners, the post-war generation who didn't experience the atrocities of the war. Born in Argentina as a fourth generation of Bessarabian klezmorim, immersed as a kid in the Yiddish and Tango culture, the young Giora joined in 1955 the Israeli Philarmonic Orchestra as a clarinet and bass clarinet player. Giora's collegues were totally reluctant to klezmer and Yiddish music advocating only the rigorous academic establishment.

Very soon, he felt the urge to make a crossover from classical to klezmer, to devote his exceptional talent and skill as a classical performer to the revitalization of klezmer. While the young North-American musicians (Statman, Sapoznik, Alpert, Netsky, Rubin) were seeking a kind of historic authenticity, listening to all the repertoire recorded on 78 RPM and creating the "neo-klezmer", Giora Feidman was distilling the essence of "Jewish Soul Music", a musical language based on interpretation rather than on fidelity to the original texts.

Sung (the choice of the word sung instead of played is intentional) by Feidman, the klezmer melodies, the freylakhs, the doinas, the bulgars reached a level of unique emotion and impalpable sensibility.

His first album, "Jewish Soul Music" released in 1972 is a milestone of the klezmer revival. Giora feidman is undoubtedly a true pioneer of the klezmer rebirth and his name is synonym of popular klezmer and soul music.

In parallel, in America, young Jewish musicians found a new interest for the music of their ancestors, there was a movement, not only among the Jews, of roots discovering. Alex Haley's book and TV miniseries "Roots" played undoubtedly a role in the reawakening of interest in genealogical history among all parts of the population. The different minorities, including Jews staked their claims to their historical inheritance and culture.

Thus, the klezmer revival is the direct consequence of the search for cultural identity in a country populated by immigrants of all origins and cultural backgrounds.

In fact klezmer is only one single facet of the whole Jewish identity, including Yiddish language, religion, food..., but it is also the most universal and the most popular element. That is the reason why Klezmer is nowadays so popular in the world among Jewish and non-Jewish as well.

The klezmer rose from the ashes of the Shoah, like a revenge, to become one of the hottest music trend of world-beat and ethnic folk music.

Sometimes the process was not straightforward, Jewish musicians like Henry Sapoznik played on banjo Appalachian folk music, Andy Statman started his career as a virtuoso bluegrass mandolin player. Slowly,their Jewish sensibility emerged, they began searching into Jewish traditional music.

In 1976, the year of the United States Bicentennial, was released the first klezmer vinyl record by the "Klezmorim", a group from Berkeley, California. The members of the group (Lev Liberman, Stuart Brotman, David Julian Grey...) came from classical, jazz and folk backgrounds. Their aim was to recreate the klezmer orchestras that recorded in first decades of 20th century, clarinet or flute solo supported by a big band.

"My search for klezmer music began back in 1971 when I deduced that a single unknown genre had linked Russian and Rumanian folk music to Depression-era cartoon soundtracks,early jazz, and the compositions of Gershwin, Weil, and Prokofief" Lev Liberman

Andy Statman was another precursor who paved the way to the klezmer resurgence. Raised in a Jewish family, the sounds of Jewish music were familiar to the young boy, he learned in a Talmud Torah afternoon school were he was exposed to the hasidic nigunim. Anyhow as a gifted precocious musician he became a bluegrass virtuoso mandolinist. But like many young Jews of this time, he was eager to uncover his Jewish identity. He realized that "no one was playing klezmer any more" and that he wanted to "keep it alive".

"It dawned on me that if I'm looking for a spiritual path, I'm born Jewish, it was handed to me, so this is something I should explore" Andy Statman

Statman was very lucky to meet Dave Tarras, one of the top klezmer clarinetists of the immigration generation, who became his mentor and bequeathed him his rich repertoire and his clarinets.

Andy Statman's first album "Jewish Klezmer Music", with Zev Feldman on cymbalum, is a a true gem. It featured a small ensemble which produces music "that is both authentic and alive".

The term of klezmer revival may be inadequate because it implies a resuscitation from a dead state. In fact, klezmer never really died, it was simply in a state of dormancy, of hibernation, just awaiting better days to come into the light.

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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