Related topics

Yiddish Jazz Band Triumphs in Paris

November 21, 1985

PARIS (AP) _ A California-based band blowing out lively Eastern European Jewish folk tunes laced with ragtime, jazz and vaudeville, made their French debut with a four-day concert series before capacity crowds.

The six-man ensemble called the Klezmorim sold out Carnegie Hall twice in one day in 1983, but said their welcome at Paris’ Theatre de la Ville last week was one of the warmest ever.

″I think tonight ranks with Carnegie Hall,″ said Klezmorim trombonist Kevin Linscott after the one-hour performance. ″The people were unbelievably responsive. We really got going out there and had a lot of fun.″

The French press was exuberant in its praise for the group, which will be performing in other cities through Sunday.

″From Yiddish folk music in a jazz sauce, this is an astonishing cocktail of sounds,″ the daily Le Matin said.

″They can’t be classified,″ said Remy Kolpa-Kopoul in the daily Liberation. ″They deserve a medal.″

The Klezmer, the Yiddish word for an itinerant street musician, originated 400 years ago in the Jewish ghettos of Eastern Europe. Klezmorim eked out meager livings at weddings and religious festivals playing traditional music, improvising and concocting unique harmonies with whatever instruments were available.

With the mass influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Klezmer music found its way to America - and particularly New York’s Lower East Side - in the early 1900s.

Klezmer musicians often performed in basement clubs next door to other jazz bands and they were soon influenced by the sounds of Dixieland, Scott Joplin’s piano ragtime and the swing of the big bands.

By the 1920s, the gay, mischievous music reached its artistic and commercial peak. Then it disappeared.

Thanks to the Berkeley-based Klezmorim, founded 10 years ago by saxaphonist Lev Lieberman, Klezmer music is being revived.

″I knew the music existed, and it was just of question of time and energy tracking down the 78 rpm recordings made in the 20s,″ Lieberman, 33, said in an interview.

The Klezmorim insist they’re not a ″Jewish band″ and say their tunes are ″only peripherally related″ to the perky, toe-tapping sounds played at Jewish weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.

″We’re a jazz band,″ said drummer Ken Bergman. ″The proof: at our San Diego concert, the front rows were filled with punk rockers.″

Despite the festive atmosphere that reigns on stage, the Klezmorim take the study of Kezmer music seriously.

″We’re not just playing a collection of tunes; what’s important is that we’re an ensemble style,″ Lieberman said. ″We listen to the recordings very carefully, which is challenging because you have to unlearn what you already know. Klezmer music breaks a lot of rules when you’re listening with contemporary ears.″

The French audience, which spilled into the aisles, was noticeably delighted by the Klezmorim’s repertoire which included Cab Calloway’s ″Minnie the Moocher,″ ″Gangsters in Toyland″ - a mix of Betty Boop and Slavic dances, a Bulgarian boogie and a Yiddish Charleston.

Update hourly