Klezmer, the Yiddish word for a folk instrumental musician, has come to mean a person, a style, and a scene. This musical subculture came to the United States with the late-nineteenth-century Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Although it had declined in popularity by the middle of the twentieth century, this lively music is now enjoying recognition among music fans of all stripes. Today, klezmer flourishes in the United States and abroad in the world music and accompany Jewish celebrations. The outstanding essays collected in this volume investigate American klezmer: its roots, its evolution, and its spirited revitalization.
The contributors to American Klezmer include every kind of authority on the subject--from academics to leading musicians--and they offer a wide range of perspectives on the musical, social, and cultural history of klezmer in American life. The first half of this volume concentrates on the early history of klezmer, using folkloric sources, records of early musicians unions, and interviews with the last of the immigrant musicians. The second part of the collection examines the klezmer "revival" that began in the 1970s. Several of these essays were written by the leaders of this movement, or draw on interviews with them, and give firsthand accounts of how klezmer is transmitted and how its practitioners maintain a balance between preservation and innovation.
Introduction, Mark Slobin
Part One: Roots
1. American Klezmer
A Brief History
The Language of Jewish Folk Musicians
Robert A. Rothstein
3. Di rusishe progresiv muzikal yunon no. 1 fun amerike
The First Klezmer Union in America
James B. Loeffler
4. The Klezmer in Jewish Philadelphia, 1915–70
5. "All My Life a Musician"
Ben Bazyler: A European Klezmer in America
The Transformation of a Klezmer Dance Genre
Walter Z. Feldman
Part Two: Offshoots
7. Sounds of Sensibility
8. Klezkamp and the Rise of Yiddish Cultural Literacy
9. Newish, Not Jewish
Reshaping Klezmer Musical Traditions
10. An Insider’s View
How We Traveled from Obscurity to the Klezmer Establishment in Twenty Years
11. Why We Do This Anyway
Klezmer as Youth Subculture
Mark Slobin is Professor of Music at Wesleyan University and author of several books on Jewish and Central European music, including Tenement Songs: Popular Music of the Jewish Immigrants (1992) and Exploring the Klezmer World (2000).
"Those who still maintain that the subject of klezmer music and klezmorim is too slight to merit serious scholarly inquiry should take a good look at this fine collection of essays. This book debunks certain misconceptions about klezmer. One is the long-held belief that practitioners of klezmer were quaint but musical illiterates. The other is that this is an effort to take a musical art form off the shelf to be preserved as a museum piece with little contemporary life of its own. I am also delighted by those sections that deal with the Yiddish verbal expression of the klezmer idiom. Klezmer is not just an avenue of maintaining cultural roots without the necessity of learning a language, as portions of this this book so well illustrate."—Theodore Bikel, recording artist and actor