Below excerpted from liner notes of Klezmerfest’s CD “Life of the Party”
notes by Pete Sokolow
Jordan Hirsch (trumpet) Greg Wall (clarinet) Zev Zions (accordion)
Brian Glassman (bass) Aaron Alexander (drums)
Today, it’s called klezmer music, considered a branch of the world-music tree and often mixed with jazz, rock, folk, country, and what-have-you. There was a time, however, that this type of European Jewish folk/dance music was a distinct entity unto itself, ethnically centered and totally commercial, played by musicians who only knew the one style and did it to make a living, either part-time or full-time.
KLEZMERFEST! is an interesting group in the contemporary klezmer scene: young musicians, well-trained on their instruments and capable performers in varied musical styles, who choose to interpret their music in a completely traditional way without mixing in outside influences. All of them have made at least part of their living playing at Orthodox Jewish weddings and other functions, coming to klezmer music as an alternative to the increasingly rock/pop-oriented “ortho” style.
Trumpeter Jordan Hirsch started playing in the fifth grade in his native Monsey (a shtetl in Rockland County, New York). He progressed through classical and swing ensembles, eventually studying with well-known teacher Murray Karpilovsky. Jordan’s yeshiva training, beginning in the ninth grade, led him into the Orthodox music field, where he came into contact with veteran trumpeters Marty Bass and Shelly Gordon, whose smooth stylings became a strong influence, along with swing/klezmer star Ziggy Elman.
Greg Wall (clarinet) is a graduate of the New England Conservatory, a well-known early haven of klezmer revivalists (Frank London, Hankus Netsky). In addition, he studied with saxophonist Archie Shepp and other noted ‘post-modern’ jazz figures, and studied the work of pioneer clarinet/soprano sax wizard Sidney Bechet. Greg’s eventual entry into the Orthodox music scene led him to veteran Jewish clarinetists Paul Pincus, with whom he studied, Ray Musiker and Howie Leess. Playing this music awakened something spiritual in Greg – he became a Sabbath observer, started studying scriputure and talmud, and years later went to israel and received rabbinic ordination (from two different rabbis!).
Accordionist and co-producer Zevy Zions was born into the religious world. He has two professions: musician and mohel (one who performs ritual circumcision). His musical background began as a self-taught piano player. Zevy received some basic lessons at age nine, switching to the accordion at age eleven. Again, he essentially taught himself, getting involved in the ‘ortho’ music scene and going through Cordovox (electronic accordion) and electric keyboards, playing with many bands. He returned to the accordion when he joined Greg Wall in KLEZMERFEST!. Zevy’s whole musical world changed a several years ago when he took his accordion for repairs to the internationally known teacher, Charles Nunzio, now in his nineties. Nunzio gave Zevy lessons in technique and analysis; it is a tribute to his self-discipline and seriousness that the self-taught tyro became a virtuoso in a comparatively short time. His recently recorded accordion solo CD, “Olive Blossoms”, attests to Zevy’s hard work, as does this recording.
Aaron Alexander, percussionist and co-producer of this album, is a native of Seattle, Washington, where he studied jazz drums with Jerry Granelli at Cornish Institute. He was introduced to klezmer music when he joined the best-known local band, the Mazeltones. Coming to New York to live and work paid off for Aaron when he went to work for Hasidic New Wave, and The Klezmatics, one of the leading bands of the klezmer revival, starting in 1995. A veteran NY drummer, Sam Ulano, provided Aaron with training in reading music. Major influences were Julie Epstein of the Epstein Brothers, a contemporary of Ulano, Elaine Watts, and David Licht. Aaron has become a ‘number-one call’ in this field, playing with virtually everyone, and teaching at the well-known festivals, Klez Kamp and Klez Kanada.
Brian Glassman, son of a pianist, was an electric bassist in jazz and rock venues before taking up the acoustic instrument. He studied classical bass with Lewis Paer, principal bassist with the New York City Opera, and pursued jazz studies at Rutgers University with Kenny Barron and Ted Dunbar. Brian was introduced to klezmer music by Greg Wall in the late 1980’s and in the 1990’s worked and recorded with clarinetist /mandolinist Andy Statman. His versatility keeps him in constant demand working with a wide range of greats in Jazz and Jewish music including Benny Golson, Ken Peplowski, Paquito D’Rivera, Liza Minnelli, Frank London, Adrianne Greenbaum, Neshama Carlebach, Zalmen Mlotek and Alicia Svigals.
All of the players have acknowledged the influence of the veteran first-generation American musicians, especially those who were active in the Orthodox business from the 1970’s through the 1990’s, including: clarinetists/saxophonists Paul Pincus, Rudy Tepel, Ray Musiker, Howie Leess, and Danny Rubinstein; trumpeters Marty Bass and Shelly Gordon; and the Epstein Brothers – reedmen Max and Chizik, trumpeter Willie, and drummer Julie. They have also mentioned this writer, a second-generation throwback who functioned as reedman/pianist/arranger with the Epsteins for over twenty years, played with some of the immigrants (Dave Tarras, et al) and introduced the veterans to the young revivalists. Stylistically, the members of KLEZMERFEST can be placed historically between the older performers and those revivalists who favor a folk-based 19th century European approach, as opposed to a pop-based music style.
All of the selections on this delightful recording, including two original compositions by group members, adhere to early 20th century European and American performance practice. Names such as Belf, Brandwein, Tarras, and Hoffman are familiar to those who have been following this music since the onset of the “klezmer revival” in the late 1970’s.
What is instantly apparent is the stylistic fidelity of the players, the blend between trumpet (open and muted), clarinet, accordion, and bowed bass in melodic ensemble playing, the correctness of dance tempos, the complete lack of shtick, and, above all, the inherent musicality and taste of each and every musician in each and every piece.
Make no mistake, dear listeners – this is the emese zakh (real thing). The approach may not be the most contemporary, but it is totally honest and completely true to the ideals of the music. It just doesn’t come any better.
Peter Sokolow April 2009