Monday, February 20, 2012

Klez-X (cellent)

Saturday night we went to see Klez-X at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.  This group is special.  Each person on stage surprised me when it was their turn to step out and show what they could do.

In the first piece, the thought flashed through my mind - the opening of Rhapsody in Blue is klezmer music.  How could I have not figured that out before?  Or am I imagining this? So now I've been able to google this and I'm not the first to think this.  From Music Stack:
Many klezmer musicians, or Klezmorim, eventually immigrated to the United States, widening klezmer music's appeal in the early part of the 20th century. Early examples of klezmer musicians in the United States include David Tarras, Naftule Brandwein and Mickey Katz. These Jewish American immigrants proved immensely influential in the development of jazz music, even inspiring the introduction to George Gershwin's famous "Rhapsody in Blue." The rock era left klezmer largely forgotten. But the 1970s and onward welcomed a bit of a revival for klezmer and Jewish music. Groups like The Klezmatics, The Klezmorim and The Klezmer Conservatory Band branched out and incorporated other music styles such as cajun, jazz and even ska into traditional klezmer music.

And in The Book of Klezmer: The History, the Music, the Folklore Yale Strom quotes Mickey Katz:
Before I even played a note on the clarinet I used to go to the Yiddish theatre with my parents, which later influenced my playing and perception of what Jewish music was and what the audience wanted to hear.  I began playing the clarinet when I was eleven in grade school on an old beat-up instrument that was used during World War I.  In order to have lessons I went to an uncle’s tailor shop on Saturday afternoons and played for all his customers and earned $1.50.  I was aware of Yiddish songs as a youngster because my sister sang professionally at lodges and other Jewish organizations.  And klezmer music I knew because I played it at weddings and other Jewish events. Then in high school I formed a band and that’s when I began my legitimate career as a musician.  I was playing clarinet and sax - a lot of jazz and concert music.  In fact I was the second clarinet player in the world to play Rhapsody in Blue.

. . . I was hired because I was the only guy who could play it with all the shmears and glissandos and everything. [emphasis added]

I just have to mention all the people because they were so good.  Danny Hoffman was the violinist and composer of many of the songs played.  He currently lives in Israel and this was the first time in a while the group has played.  Danny made the violin sing.

Then we got to know Jeanette Lewicki who played accordion and sang.  She'd go through an English translation of the song before singing it and then, wow, her voice and her heart brought the Yiddish back to life.

I guess I skipped Sheldon Brown - clarinet and sax - because he's the guy who gave me the Rhapsody in Blue connection when he played.  And he also made the links to jazz obvious too.

Then, probably the biggest surprise, was when the trumpet player put down his instrument and came up to the mike.  Stephen Saxon began very casually to make a few vocal sounds.  And before I knew what was happening, his 'sounds' became an amazing scat piece that would have made Ella jealous as he scampered over the notes from low to way up high all sounding perfect to my lazy ears.  He'd take a note and slide it slightly up and down and around teasing it and the audience.  And later he performed magic on some traditional prayer music. 

The drummer, the base, and the trombonist were all fantastic.  They're all listed on the website. And all of them seemed to be so comfortable working as a group.  A wonderful concert.

Note:  the photos above were all taken after the concert - Saxon was still on stage putting things away, and the others were setting up for dancing in the lobby area after the concert. 

Go hear some samples on their website.   They're all great. 

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