16 December 2011

OMG, Klezmer!!!

Some of you out there may just have been wondering, "Where's the Klezmer?" in this blog entitled Adventures in Klezmer. 

Well, here's a big ol' bunch o' klezmer coming at you.

I've had 2 klezmer infused nights in a row, actually.

The first came as a surprise. I had been looking for something to do on my second night in Paris, particularly considering that I would be staying up all night because of the very early flight I had to catch in the morning.  While I was in the Jewish quarter with my friend Melanie, she brought my attention to a poster advertising a klezmer concert that night!  And so, while she had other plans, I decided that it was as good a place as any to go!

It was at Les 3 Arts that the "International Odessa Klezmer Orchestra" were playing.  They are led by American expatriate Ronald Grun, a bassoonist and clarinetist who has been living in Paris for 20 years.  Grun, a Jewish musician, told me his story is no different to anyone else's.  He heard klezmer growing up, but wanted nothing to do with that "old-fashioned" music.  Now, however, he's playing klezmer and bringing it to Paris.

Clarinetist Ronald Grun and the International Odessa Klezmer Orchestra

As I later found out, it was the band's first concert (with 2 more coming up in the next few weeks).  It is definitely an enthusiastic group of musicians, playing on that night with tuba, accordion, 2 banjos, cajon (percussion) and flute.  However, while enthusiastic, it sounded as if the band was more at home playing Balkan music (which seeped into the arrangements of the songs as the night wore on) than klezmer.  When playing the Balkan rhythms, the band was very tight and rhythmically energetic, but never seemed to be able to get the accompaniment in the klezmer style quite right.

Other individual players also seemed to stumble stylistically in the klezmer tunes, but it made little difference to the audience who were most appreciative, with several members getting up and dancing towards the end of the set.

In the end, I'd say that Grun's band is certainly trying (with Grun's guidance) to play klezmer in an earnest and exciting fashion.  Grun really has had no contact with the overall klezmer international scene, and Paris seems to be a scene where most players are really striking out on their own.

I was able to find what I felt was lacking in the Paris concert the next night in Berlin at the Klezmer Stammtisch.*  I went with Franka Lampe (my accordionist friend from Yiddish Summer Weimar last year), and we found Stas Rayko, a Ukrainian violinist who now lives in Berlin there with a flute player friend of his.  They were playing together when we arrived, and others were listening, with full tables of people aside from the Stammtisch.  Franka and I joined in, as did Susanne (a violinist) and a guitarist on occasion.  Here, I found that klezmer feeling that was missing in Paris.

The musicians here understood the klezmer style at a very deep level (particularly Stas, who is a master klezmer musician, playing with The Other Europeans).  It's a feeling that I only get rarely as a performer and while I struggled to remember tunes (since I haven't been playing so much lately), and fumbled with other familiar tunes in weird keys (silly string players), the feeling of playing klezmer with real klezmer musicians kept me awake** until the end of the music, well after 1am.  It's hard to describe this feeling to non-musicians, but it's like putting on a comfortable old shoe as opposed to one that doesn't quite fit right.  You're always trying to make that strange shoe fit, and devoting that much more of your brain power to your feet and away from your other activities.  With that comfy old shoe, you slip it on and away you go!  That's pretty much how I feel when I play klezmer with musicians who really "get it."  And they got it.

So .... Klezmer!  Woohoo!


* A "Stammtisch" is a table reserved for regular guests.  Thus it's a "usual table."  In this case, there's a regular (monthly, I believe) table reserved at the restaurant (who's name I don't know), and according to Franka, the owner loves klezmer so much that if a guest doesn't want to sit and listen to it, they are asked to leave. 

** I hadn't slept the night before.  My flight out of Paris was at 6:45am, and in order to make sure that I was at the airport on time, I needed to take the 4:35am bus (to avoid paying 40 Euros for a taxi) to the airport.  That meant that I needed to leave at 4am from Jonathan's house.  I'm glad I left myself lots of time at Gare de Lyons (where the bus stopped), because finding the actual bus stop was very tricky!

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