Klez as klez can
Original Klezmatics clarinetist Margot Leverett is at the forefront of a klezmer revival, bringing the expressive, passionate Jewish music of the early 20th century to fun-loving audiences in the 21st.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Growing up, Margot Leverett certainly had no idea that she would one day be a leader of a klezmer revival. For one thing, the Indiana school band repertoire was not exactly flush with early-20th-century Jewish music. Through college, the non-Jewish Midwestern clarinetist studied classical music. When she came to New York, she ventured into rock and avant-garde jazz. But klezmer, this she never imagined.
One day in the mid-1980s she was in the studio for a jazz recording when Frank London and Alicia Svigals asked if she'd like to join the new band they were forming, the Klezmatics. Knowing next to nothing about the music, she said sure. At first, who knew about this klezmer?
|MARGOT LEVERETT AND THE KLEZMER MOUNTAIN BOYS|
|Margot Leverett (clarinet, saxophone)|
Marty Confurius (bass)
Art Bailey (accordion)
Joe Selly (guitar)
Kenny Kosek (fiddle)
Barry Mitterhoff (mandolin, guitar).
Related links: Official site | The Klezmer Mountain Boys
| AUDIO |
|Bulgar Medley || RA|
|Lustige Hasidim || RA|
|Oy Tate S'iz Gut || RA|
| © 2000 Margot Leverett. Used by permission.|| |
"Our first couple of gigs we got retired people in their lawn chairs," she recalls. "For them, it was nostalgia music."
The group if only because its Plasmatics-inspired name promised crazy fun as much as musical anthropology began to catch the attention of a younger, hipper audience, but Leverett recalls the cozy community that was growing around the music at that time. "For quite a while there, there were only a few people playing this kind of music, and we all knew each other," she says. Musicians were still digging into the roots of the music, studying, practicing, and eagerly swapping decades-old recordings.
For her, learning the music meant delving into an idiom with a feeling of freedom and joy but some very specific rules. It was music that brought together all of the sounds that Jews were hearing in Europe and America, so it could often incorporate the sounds of European dance music and Dixieland jazz, but it drew heavily from Jewish tradition cantorial singing and the minor modes of Middle Eastern music.
Musicologists analyzing the earliest recordings discovered a set of definite patterns,
which they've called "ornaments," and that's what Leverett had to learn. Klezmer
clarinetists dressed up their playing with a repertoire of trills, bends, roller-coaster
dips and laugh-like staccatos
that contributed to their music's distinctive sound. It's a sound that, although the
structure of klezmer is different, reminds Leverett of the passion of the blues. Like
good blues guitar, Leverett's clarinet mimics the human voice and seems to tell a story.|
Today, Leverett (who has now converted to Judaism) has her own group playing regularly in New York, and klezmer is hot stuff. The club Tonic in the once-Jewish Lower East Side even has a weekly klezmer Sunday brunch, at which Leverett's band plays regularly. The audience is not just Jewish old-timers but also everyone from trendy young clubgoers to Japanese tourists. And she has a wonderful all-instrumental CD, "The Art of Klezmer Clarinet," which embodies that blues-like storytelling quality, as if the clarinet is talking to the listener directly in Yiddish, maybe. "That CD that I made," she says, "I really feel like it tells you who I was when I made it."
|JANUARY 22, 2001|
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