New Orleans—a good time town, with all night parties, African-European hybrid food, and dance music of numberless variety: street parades, jazz, gospel, R&B, Klezmer…
Klezmer? Klezmer (klez’mer) Jewish folk music that contains elements of Gypsy, Central European, Turkish, Greek and other folk musics. Stereotyped “bar mitzvah music”, it fell out of fashion from the 1940’s until the 1970’s when a revival of Yiddish music featured recreations of the music heard on scratchy 78’s. The style soon expanded to include fusions with other styles— different rock and jazz sounds, bluegrass, even surf music and avant interpretations.
The New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars (NOKAS) have carried on with their own interpretation of the klezmer tradition since 1991. New Orleans, where arcane cultural borrowing is normal, seems to be a natural home for a music that has always blended diverse styles. Yet, “when we first started playing this music, people had no idea what it was (many still don’t),” explains Arthur Kastler, the band’s original bass player, “They would stand there with their jaws open…. But right away, they danced.” Dance is fundamental both to New Orleans music and to klezmer. “At a celebration, you just want to go bananas and dance,” NOKAS accordionist Glenn Hartman states, “That’s where this music comes from, that celebratory energy.” And this band conjures up that energy, keeping the sound of klezmer while enjoying a noticeable New Orleans influence: funk, spontaneity, and collective improvisation. “It’s not just playing over a carnival rhythm, although we might do that now and then,” explains guitarist Jonathan Freilich, “It’s the freedom to do what we need to make the music more exciting. Sometimes that means using elements from different music. We are all veterans of many types of music.” Each member of the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars leads their own groups and work
with many other New Orleans artists.
The band began in 1991 when Arthur Kastler and Jonathan Freilich met while both playing with renowned trumpeter Kermit Ruffin (before starting The Barbeque Swingers). The two then formed a trio with clarinetist Ben Schenck around their interest in learning klezmer. Glenn Hartman, who was a student at Tulane University and Ben Ellman, now a member of Galactic, were invited to join their weekly klezmer jam sessions at Kaldi’s Coffee House. The All-star’s sound was defined when the original drummer quit. Jonathan and Glenn were playing in a funk band with Neville Brothers drummer “Mean” Willie Green and jokingly asked him to come to a gig. He ended up joining them for a weekly gig at Café Brasil where they developed their signature sound of frenetic Yiddish melodies over heavy New Orleans-style drumming.
NOKAS current line up consists of original members; Jonathan Freilich on guitar, and
Glenn Hartman on accordion. Saxophonist Robert Wagner replaced Ben Schenck on clarinet in 1993 followed by Dave Sobel (drums) and Dave Rebeck (violin/viola) in 1998. Their newest member,Nobu Ozaki (bass), joined in 2003. NOKAS greatest achievement has been their ability to cross over between radically different performing venues, and audiences. They have won over audiences at major jazz, folk, bluegrass, and rock festivals and have played in clubs of equally wide range. Concerts at performing arts venues have attracted families and people of all ages where the sit down performance is almost always augmented by dancing in the aisles. A typical tour for NOKAS may include performances at Jewish weddings (they reign supreme in leading the energetic abandon that ensues after the traditional breaking of the glass), Performing Arts venues, Jewish Community Centers, jazz clubs, punk rock clubs, universities, and daytime programs at schools and retirement communities. The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars have created a sound and place in the klezmer revival, as well as in the general musical sphere that is truly their own.
Live On Stage
Well I'm quite stumped here - shockingly there is not one video of these guys on YouTube and can't find anything up for download either. So really the only thing that I can suggest to you is to go pick up one of their albums - which you can do here.
For more info head to their official website, which is pretty sparse. Here's hoping for a Sunday morning set, I'll bring the bagels and cream cheese.
Sunday, April 22, 2007