Monday, May 24, 2010

Hot Kool Klezmer

Klezmer music is unique and wonderful. It makes me want to sing, laugh, dance and cry, often all at the same time. I love klezmer!

The liner notes of my favourite klezmer CD (The Rough Guide to Klezmer) liken the music to the paintings of Marc Chagall, himself a product of the Eastern European shtetls.
It is music that is often deeply soulful, often wildly exuberant and sometimes, like Chagall's pictures, slightly surreal.
This music for celebration originates in Eastern Europe, the tradition of the Ashkenazic Jews and was transplanted to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Initially, the violin was the main instrument of klezmer, although the origins are not well known. In America, the clarinet partially usurped the position of the violin, possibly because it's soulful notes were better for recording. Still, both instruments symbolize klezmer music.

Some well-known klezmer musicians include The Klezmatics, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Klezmokum, and The Flying Bulgars. There are many more keeping the tradition alive and re-inventing/re-translating it.

Fiddler on the Roof, 1964-Broadway musical and 1971 movie, is a reasonable, if romanticized, depiction of the traditions and lives of Ashkenazic Jews in Russia. It was named after another of Chagall's paintings, The Fiddler.

Whatever its history and origins, whatever the main instrument, whomever the band playing, I love klezmer. It has life and heart.

The video features Itzhak Perlman playing klezmer with several well-known bands.


Hels said...

I am so glad you wrote about klezmer. Last week I spoke to a large middle aged group of students on The Life and Times of Marc Chagall, and we kept noticing little violinists in his paintings.

My contemporaries all arrived in Australia somewhere in the 1947-52 era, still young children who left Eastern Europe with their parents.

By the time we were getting married in the 1968-72 era, we were all too cool for Klezmer bands. I had an excellent Italian band at my wedding!

By the time we were turning 50 in the 1995-2000 era, everyone wanted Klezmer at their parties once again. We had 3 instrumentalists and a fabulous Yiddish singer, and I was back to my childhood again :)

ChrisJ said...


I think all kids are too cool for their roots at a certain age.

Klezmer isn't part of my family's tradition, and I only discovered it about a decade ago, but it's "got" me.

lifeshighway said...

ChrisJ, the klezmer is a completely new audio experience for me. Although I do recognize a little of the score styling of fiddler on the roof. Thanks for the new experience.

ChrisJ said...


It is usually a new experience - quite different.

askcherlock said...

You have such exquisite taste in the arts, Chris. You are always sharing something that we want to gobble up and digest. This was another wonderful and beautiful post.

ChrisJ said...

Thanks. I'm happy when a post pleases readers.

Ciss B said...

I was recently exposed to klezmer thanks to a special on PBS that was rerun recently. It is a fascinating music that drew me in from the first note. My first CD was one Itzhak Perlman made. Since that time I've heard some by the The Klezmatics too. They're CDs are all cool to listen too - thanks for the reminder of how complex and good this music is!

ChrisJ said...


Perlman is fantastic at Klezmer. I'll have to look for a CD.

corfubob said...

Who can wonder that music is the senior art, and this form a reason to be grateful for the culture that can produce such a rich example. Thank you,thank you,thank you Chris.

ChrisJ said...


I like that - music is the senior art. I agree, with poetry as close second.

Pearl said...

Reminds me of a few summers ago, I had a klezmer Cd and I cranked it up and rolled the windows down going thru the market. It still amuses me. Why should hiphop and 80s rock gets all the out-of-car airplay.

ChrisJ said...


Excellent idea! Maybe I'll try it this summer.

Trulyfool said...


Just catching up to this klezmer posting. It is part of my heritage, but I don't think I knew the term 'klezmer' until my 30s?

To me it was Yiddish music, the stuff that Mickey Katz played. Later, I learned that Mickey was Joel Grey's father.

My ear is attuned to sounds 'Eastern European' because of this. Anything that derives from whatever 'modal' sounds it dips into. Hungarian, Balkan, Turkish, gets to me.

It's a kind of Jewish 'blues'.

ChrisJ said...


Your comment reminded me of a CD - called "Rhythm and Jews."