Monday, October 20, 2008

Europe 2008 - A Klezmer Odyssey

In August of 2008 I made my second trip to Western Europe. I contacted my friends and colleagues from the 2007 trip (Europe 2007 - A Klezmer Odyssey) and built a five-week tour based on invitations to perform and visit.

My trip started in Barcelona, a truly beautiful and fascinating city. I did not play much Klezmer during the 4 days I spent there but I did have a chance to sightsee and also have some great jams with the talented Amanda Jayne (accordion, vocals, bandleader). Through Amanda I also met and played music with numerous musicians based in Barcelona. In my final hours in the city I visited Whatabout Music Studio where I was asked to be play trombone and melodica on a recording session with engineer/producer Dave Bianchi.

I then took a commuter plane to Paris. On the first day I rehearsed with the band Klezmer Kaos (Heida Bjorg, clarinet; Charles Rappaport, fiddle & mandolin; Pierre Polveche, accordion, Sylvain Plommett, bass; Laurent Lacoult, drums & percussion). Then on the next day we performed at Club L'Etage in Paris, a hip club with a great atmosphere.

Then it was off to Italy to perform with Israeli/Italian clarinetist Amit Arieli. We performed a concert in Montreale Valcellina (about one hour north of Venice) along with Dayana Gnarra (vocals), Giovanni Cifariello (guitar), Rocco Zecca (percussion). The venue was a beautiful outdoor courtyard. Unfortunately, the airline forgot to put my trombone on the plane from Paris to Venice, so we had to rent a trombone on the day of the concert! But thankfully it all worked out just fine.

I then spent a couple of days exploring Venice. I learned that it has a Jewish Quarter that dates back to 1516 (it was originally a ghetto).

Amit Arieli offered me a gig being a part of a Italian film. Director Gianmarco D'Agostino had received a commission to make a documentary about the regions of Mugella, Rufina and Val di Sieva, which are all located about 30-60 minutes north of Florence. The premise was that we (Amit Arieli, clarinet; myself, trombone; Alberto Becucci, accordion) were a Klezmer trio (called "Keshet Klezmer") on tour through these regions. Gianmarco arranged three concerts for us and brought along a 15-person movie crew. He also hired an actress named Agnese Verdelli who would be our 'road manager'. In addition to the three concerts, all of the musicians also did some acting. The locations of the three concerts were Castagno d'Andrea, Borgo San Lorenzo (Villa Pecori Giraldi), and Rufina (Villa Poggio Reale)

Here is the movie trailer:

While we were setting up for a day of filming at one of the concert locations, one of the sound engineers received a call from someone who was looking for a trombonist for a 6-month gig with an Italian traveling theatre company. For a few days I was considering accepting the gig, but eventually I passed on the opportunity simply because I had too many obligations at home. But I took this as a very positive sign that I was traveling in the right circles!

I then visited my friend Heiko Lehmann in Berlin. Heiko performs or has performed with Sukke, Budovitz, Michael Wex, and many other bands. At the time of my visit Heiko had been asked by a record company to compile a 12-CD set of the history of Klezmer in Germany and to write the liner notes (in English and German). So during my time with him he literally had piles of CDs that he was listening to in order to make his selections.

While staying in Berlin I got a call from accordionist Franka Lampe who invited me to a party/Klezmer jam session at Cafe Oberwasser in Berlin. For the past 13 years there has been a monthly Klezmer jam session at this great restaurant. Ursula, the owner, is very friendly and genuinely enjoys the music. The session itself was particularly good -- very open and friendly with a great level of musicianship. At the party/session were Franka Lampe, accordion, Manuel Miethe, soprano saxophone; Achim Rinderle (Sonic Ahmed), clarinet; Levante Patsh, tuba/mandolin, and others.

Then it was off to Bonn, Germany to perform as a special guest with the duo "Nu" (Georg Brinkmann, clarinet; Franka Lampe, accordion). I had been able to rehearse with Franka a few days earlier in Berlin, plus the three of us were able to have a quick rehearsal before the concert. Also on the program was The Global Shtetl Band from Nuremberg (Markus Mueller, vocals & bass; Bartek Stanczyk, accordion; Don Cerebro, drums). The band fuses Yiddish song with Latin and Caribbean grooves. I had met the vocalist/bandleader Markus Mueller at KlezFest London during my 2007 trip. At the concert I was also asked to perform a few pieces with The Global Shtetl Band.

Then it was off to Rome where I had been invited by Fausto Sierakowski to perform at a two-day street festival in Civitavecchia with the Klezmer brass band Erichetta Underground along with many other musical groups, jugglers, acrobats, dancers, etc. The members of the band are:

Carlo Hintermann - Drums
Gabriele Hintermann - Double Bass
Federico Pascucci - Alto Sax
Marco Pascucci - Trombone
Edoardo Petretti - Accordion
Primo Salvati - Baritone Sax
Fausto Sierakowski - Alto Sax

It is worth mentioning that the drummer from the band, Carlo Hintermann, has directed a fascinating documentary about Jewish Venice. The film is titled "Chatzer: Inside Jewish Ghetto".

Then I went back to Berlin for a couple of days, mainly to attend the monthly Klezmer jam session at Cafe Oberwasser. The jam session that I mentioned earlier was a birthday party for the owner. Once again, this was a wonderful session!

I then traveled back to Paris. Marthe DesRosiers had asked me to be the featured artist for her monthly Klezzics concert series at l'Olympic Cafe. I was really happy to be asked to present my own music. I formed a band consisting of myself plus three Parisian musicians: Charles Rappaport (fiddle) and Pierre Polevache (accordion) who both play with Klezmer Kaos; and Samuel Maquin (clarinet) who plays in the duo Les Mentsh. They were all very generous with their time and agreed to rehearse twice before the concert. The concert itself was well attended and turned into a klezmer jam session afterwards.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that the night before the Klezzics concert Charles and I attended a concert by The Shtetl Stompers (Eleonore Biezunski, fiddle; Ilan Moss, accordion; Stephen Harrison, contrabass). We were asked to sit in on a few numbers.

Then it was off to Holland (The Netherlands). Concert promoter Ad Peeters had asked me to be the guest artist at a concert at the Speeldos Theater in Baarn, NL along with the two Dutch bands Di Gojim and Di Fidl Kapelye. The name of the yearly festival is Klezmer Festival Baarn. He also asked me to give a masterclass to the teen Klezmer group Spiel, Klezmer Spiel. I was also asked to give a short solo piano performance before the concert. During the concert I performed several pieces with Di Gojim and Di Fidl Kapelye plus I was able to perform a few of my compositions with members from both bands. I also want to mention that Baarn is a beautiful, rural village and happens to be the birthplace of the great artist M.C. Escher.

Here are some video clips and photos from the concert:

After the Baarn concert I traveled to Amsterdam (only about 20 minutes away) and stayed for a few days. During my time in Amsterdam I was able to meet saxophonist Job Chahes from The Amsterdam Klezmer Band and also drummer Roberto Haliffi from Klezmokum. I found Amsterdam to be a beautiful city with a great music scene. I didn't play much Klezmer there, but I did find myself on stage with a Latin Jazz band at the famous jazz club Cafe Alto.

I then went back to Rome for a few days, mainly to sightsee, but I also ended up performing in a piazza (plaza) with the band Erichetta Underground.

Then it was back to Italy, where I continued to work on Gianmarco D'Agostino's film with Amit Arielli, Alberto Becucci and the rest of the crew. This time we filmed at a beautiful 100-acre communal farm called Cooperativa Il Forteto, formed in 1977. They make their own cheese and wine which is sold throughout Europe and the USA. We performed one more concert in Rufina, which was well attended and filmed for the movie. Then later that evening, Alberto (accordion) arranged for the trio to perform at a hip bookstore/cafe/concert space called Le Cafe in Florence. So I had two gigs on my last day in Europe!

I should mention that at various points in the trip I also performed other styles of music with various bands: Jazz with pianist Karsten Kramer in Freiberg, Germany; Latin Jazz with Conjunto Amsterdam at Cafe Alto in Amsterdam, plus a recording session in Barcelona with engineer/producer Dave Bianchi. Plus I was able to hear some great concerts: Drikusman (World Beat band based in Amsterdam), The Hazi Brothers (Heiko Lehmann's indie singer/songwriter band based in Berlin), several wonderful jazz groups at the Cafe Alto in Amsterdam, etc. I also took day trips to southern France (Toulouse, Carcasson, Mt. Serat), Northern Italy (Sienna, Pisa and Venice), rode a bicycle all over Amsterdam and also Berlin, and generally had a grand old time!

I should also mention that almost every musician I met who is involved with Jewish music in Europe told me about the Yiddish Summer Weimar program. Unfortunately, I have a teaching commitment in the USA each year during the month of July which makes it impossible for me to attend Weimar, as well as the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow. But for those reading this blog who are interested in European Klezmer, both events come highly recommended.

On my return trip home I felt a great sense of satisfaction from my journey. I was able to see many beautiful regions in Europe, hang out with great people, and make music along the way. I also think that is fascinating that it is possible for a person like as myself to literally travel the world by tapping into the "Klezmer Network". I am already looking forward to my 2009 trip!

* As a footnote I would like to add that two of the groups whom I met and performed on the 2008 Europe trip will be in the USA to perform in 2009. Amit Arielli (clarinetist from Italy) will be in New York and Boston during the month of May. Members of the The Global Shtetl Band (Klezmer/Latin fusion band from Nuremberg) have reformed as Yiddish Mambo and will be in New York during the month of March. I have helped to arrange concerts for each band at the National Yiddish Bookcenter (Amherst, MA) and will be playing trombone at both concerts.

Here are the dates at the Yiddish Bookcenter:
March 15 (2pm) - Yiddish Mambo (with special guest Georg Brinkmann from NU)
May 10 (2pm) - Amit Arieli (with Cory Pesaturo, accordion and Grant Smith (from the Klezmer Conservatory Band), drums

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.