Friday, August 15, 2008

Europe 2007 - A Klezmer Odyssey

In August 2007 I decided to visit Europe for the first time. Partially a 40th birthday present to myself, but also as a way to begin to introduce myself to the European Klezmer community.

It seems like my "klezmer adventures" in Europe might be of interest to others, so I decided to start this blog. An interesting aspect of the klezmer revival (and one that to my knowledge has not been written about extensively) is that it has become possible for a musician (like myself) to travel the world by simply contacting fellow klezmorim and asking to visit. Perhaps this can also be said for other genres of music (bluegrass, balkan, jazz, etc.) but in my experience the 'klezmer network" is the the most "worldly" and interconnected.

KlezFest London seemed like a great place to start. I figured that I would have fun at this week-long workshop plus I would meet a lot of European musicians involved with Klezmer. Klezfest London is a great summer workshop organized by the Jewish Music Institute (JMI). I highly recommend it!

Upon my arrival at the hotel (which was around the corner from the synagogue in which the workshop took place), I found myself eating lunch with musicians whom I have known for many years: Jeff Warschauer, Deborah Strauss, Mark Rubin, Frank London, Cookie Siegelstein, Joshua Horowitz, Lorin Sklamberg, plus a few people whom I had never met previously: Shura Lipovsky, Polina Shepherd, and others. These are all some of the nicest people you'll ever meet plus they are all outstanding (and influential) musicians.

The atmosphere was very friendly and it felt good to see some familiar faces. On the first day there was a Klezmer festival in Hyde Park featuring various faculty members (the above mentioned people plus Merlin Shephard, David Krakauer, members of The Klezmer Alliance, etc.). I was invited to play trombone which was a total blast. Especially since I had only been in the country for about 5 hours!

The workshop itself was very well organized, the food was great (much exceeding my expectations, actually) and overall I had a great time. My favorite part of attending workshops like this is in spontaneous jamming that occurs outside of class/workshop time. KlezFest differs from KlezKanada and KlezKamp in that the attendees do not stay on-site, so this created a situation in which not a lot of jamming outside of the official schedule was possible. But all in all I still had a great time.

During Klezfest, Laoise Davidson organized a concert called "Klezmer: The Next Generation" featuring up-an-coming talent. Featured on the program were Markus Mueller (vocals, ukalale) from the Global Shtetl Band, Eszter Biro (vocals) from The Budapest Klezmer Band, El Shaddei, and others. I was also asked to perform a few pieces from my Little Shop of Horas project, which blends original and traditional Jewish melodies with Latin, Caribbean, African and Middle Eastern rhythms. I assembled a "pickup group" (with about 10 minutes of rehearsal time!) made up of Frank London (trumpet), Guy Schalom (drums), Mark Kovnatsky (fiddle) and Thomas Fritze (bass).

During the workshops at KlezFest I ended up playing piano along with Ilana Cravitz (fiddle) providing accompaniment for Andreas Shmitges' dance class.

I also heard about a fund raising event at The Jazz Cafe benefiting Young Laniado, a Jewish charity which supports the Laniado hospital in Israel. Among the many groups performing was Emunah, a London-based Jewish Hip-Hop group. For many years I had been a purist in terms of preferring traditional Klezmer groups, but at this point I pretty much embrace the entire spectrum of Klezmer (i.e. from traditional to fusion), particularly when it is done well. Emunah put on a great live show and I enjoyed the message of the music. One song, for example, was a dialog about Middle Eastern peace involving two of the band's vocalists (one Jewish and the other Palestinian). I hung out with the band a bit after the show. The bandleader Darren Turze invited me to come into the recording studio later that week, but unfortunately I was already planning to leave the country in a few days. Oh well, next time....

During KlezFest I made some new friends - Charles Rappaport (fiddle) from Paris, Fausto Sierakowski (saxophone) from Rome, Nigil Cayenarama (Barcelona), etc. On the second-to-last night I mentioned to Charles that I have always wanted to visit Paris. Charles was silent for a moment and then told me that he and his mother were going on vacation for one week and that I could stay in their apartment while they were away. How could I turn down an offer like that? As it turned out, Charles ended up being in Paris for the first two days that I was there.

On the first night we went to a Jazz Jam session at Le Baser Sale club in the Latin Quarter, where I met some amazing Parisian Jazz players. In my mind I was already formulating the European version of my band Little Shop of Horas which would include Charles on fiddle plus the rhythm section from Le Baser Sale.

On the next night, Fausto Sierakowski (who happened to be in Paris) arranged for a Jam session with some Parisian klezmorim - Samuel Maquin (clarinetist from Les Mentsh), Eléonore Biezunski and Ilan Moss (violinist and accordionist with Shtetl Stompers), and others . After the session (which was based in Northern Paris), Fausto and I rented some public bicycles and rode back (with our instruments on our backs) to sit in for a second night at Le Baser Sale. The next day I was able to take a guided a bike tour of Paris before departing for Italy.

I had contacted a flautist/vocalist named Enrico Fink through Klezmershack and he had responded to me extending an invitation to visit. So I hopped on a flight from Paris to Pisa, and then a bus ride and a train later I was in Florence, Italy. Enrico greeted me at the train station, loaded my things into his car and then offered to pick me up in a couple of hours after I had a chance to stroll around a bit. Enrico was preparing for a concert and had to go home to print out music for a rehearsal that evening. After exploring a few piazzas for a few hours, I reconnected with Enrico who took me directly to a rehearsal with a 14-piece big band that was preparing for a concert the next evening. The program included arrangements of Jazz, lezmer, Palestinian and Bangladesh folk songs. Since I had my trombone with me I was asked to join the group. So once again within my first 4-5 hours in the country I was playing my trombone with some great musicians!

Part of what I enjoy the most about playing music is the human interaction, particularly when it crosses cultures. Over the years I have found myself in fascinating situations and conversations with musicians from Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Senegal, Jamaica, Haiti, Egypt, Israel, etc. and this time it was with some of the finest Jazz players in and around Florence.

That night I stayed with the saxophonist Stefano Bartolini in his beautiful home (built in 1724) in Poppiano, located in the scenic Cianti region. He is a Jazz saxophonist and, as he put it, "an environmentalist". He and his wife treated me to local olives, bread, cheese, etc. This was to be just my first taste of Italian hospitality.

For the next several days I stayed with the Israeli-Italian clarinetist Amit Arieli, actually at his father's apartment in Florence. They generously provided me with a thorough foot tour of the entire city over the span of several days. Meanwhile, Enrico called and asked me if I would like to play a private party gig with a sextet that he had put together. Of course I said yes!

We drove to a beautiful country region south of Florence (sorry, I can't remember the name of the city). Very pastoral, hilly and green. Much like Vermont (USA). It turned out that the clients were actually from Boston (USA) and they had invited family and friends to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary. I play approximately 30 gigs a year in Boston, so it was a bit surreal to be on the other side of the globe playing for some Bostonians! Just to add to the serendipity of the situation, the clients started to request a few songs that were unfamiliar to the band but that I was familiar with. Hilarious! During some of the dance sets I became quite aware that Enrico (flute), Amit (clarinet) and I (trombone) have a "good sound" together.

Now it was time to move on to Germany. While at KlezFest London I had really connected with the members of Klezmer Alliance who had attended: Andreas Shmitges (mandolin, guitar, dance leader), Thomas Fritze (bass) , and Bernd Spehl (clarinet). So I thought it would be cool to visit Germany and to spend some time with them also. I ended up staying in Koln, Germany with Andreas Shmitges and his partner Anna Shugal, who is an excellent Klezmer clarinetist.

One evening, Andreas took me to hear a concert in Bonn. The group that was performing is called "Nu", featuring Georg Brinkmann (clarinet) and Franka Lampe (accordion). I enjoyed the concert immensely. I feel that Georg and Franka are playing Klezmer at a very high level. Since I play in two trios in Boston consisting of clarinet, accordion, trombone, I couldn't help wondering what it would sound like to add my instrument to their ensemble. As it turns out, I will have a chance to do just that on my upcoming 2008 Europe trip. I will write about it in the next blog.

I would have loved to have stayed longer than 3 1/2 weeks on this first trip to Europe, but I had to be back in the States for a gig in California with the contradance band Big Bandemonium. It's a seven-piece band consisting of fiddles, bass, piano, guitar, foot percussion and a horn section. We were the band-in-residence at the annual Dance-A-Way weekend in San Diego. We played in various formations throughout the weekend and taught some workshops. I was also able to visit my parents who live in Los Angeles.

All in all, my first trip to Europe was a truly wonderful experience. I was already beginning to plan my return trip for the following year. You can read about my upcoming 2008 trip in the next blog.


aaron said...

Wow! That seems like an amazing trip. What a blessing. Will the documentary be available in the states?

Brian Bender said...

The documentary by Gianmarco D'Agostino is scheduled to be released later this year. I imagine that it will be available in some form in the USA. I will try to find out. I have been asked to return to Italy in early April for a concert promoting the movie premiere.

Joyce Snyder said...

The photos & descriptions of your trip are exciting! Looks like you were able to play with so many different people and enjoy the flavors of different parts of Europe. Keep playing & spreading joy!