Netsky notes

By JON GARELICK  |  February 25, 2010

DID THEY HAVE AFRICAN-AMERICANS AT THAT POINT? They did. It must have been an old Boston Brahmin thing back then, in the '20s. So the school is very heavily identified now with the revival of klezmer because the whole New York scene is graduates of NEC.

I TALKED TO THE KLEZMATICS' FRANK LONDON AND THE BOSTON JEWISH MUSIC FESTIVAL'S JOEY BARON ABOUT WHAT IDENTIFIES SOMETHING AS JEWISH MUSIC AND JOEY WAS SORT OF GIVING THE BROADEST POSSIBLE DEFINITION. Yep (laughs).

HE SAID ANYTHING WITH JEWISH EXPERIENCE AND VALUES. I think it's a generational thing almost. Joey's a little younger. He came up in that time when Jewish identity became something . . . . I don't know, there's a certain kind of pride there. It's a Jewish pride. But for me it's a cultural pride. I'm specifically interested in Eastern European Jewish music because it's my culture and the Jewish establishment basically tried to kill it. I mean, Hitler tried to kill it too and I don't know who did a better job.

For me it's a culture where tradition is radical. It was completely off the map for so long and so it had to be reclaimed. But there's a whole other thing, and I think Joey represents that: saying that Jewish identity is a really broad identity. And he's into all of it. He's got this mixture of punkish groups and Israeli groups and Hasidic groups [in the Boston Jewish Music Festival]. . . . . It's an interesting revival because it has people who are looking at the Jewish community as people who have to wake up to the excitement of the reach of that community. I think that's kind of where Joey is at. It's like a consciousness-raising effort almost.

And for me, it's a part of the American heritage. And so it's music that ought to be out there in the mix. That's not unique, obviously. If you look at the African-American roots movement or black liberation in the '60s it was sort of similar. You had people who were looking at it as a way of reinvigorating African-American identity. But then you had people who said, "African-American identity is American identity."

FRANK, IN A ROUNDABOUT WAY, CAME TO THE SAME CONCLUSION WHEN I WAS TALKING TO HIM. HE SAID THAT IN A LOT OF WAYS THE KLEZMATICS A VERY TRADITIONAL KLEZMER BAND. ONLY IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS OR SO HAVE THEY OPENED UP THAT CONCEPTION A BIT. BUT HE SAID THAT WHEN YOU COME RIGHT DOWN TO IT, "WE'RE AN AMERICAN KLEZMER BAND." That's a great description. I actually just wrote their current publicity package and I would totally describe them that way. They're a band that takes stock in its Jewish cultural roots, takes them seriously, investigates them, and then says, "Who are we now?" How do we express those roots now? We [the KCBs] do the same thing to an extent, but the Klezmatics are more about contemporary identity, we're much more of a reparatory group. I have other groups that I play in that are more kind of: "Okay, so who am I?" I have this Klezmer and Beyond group that's much more personal in a sense.

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