THE RISE OF JEWISH DANCE MUSIC

BY BRAM BESSOFF
AJT CONTRIBUTOR

Seems klezmer is making a comeback, at least here in the south. Last season, Atlanta Jewish Music Festival featured first generation Klezmer at their two week festival with the Shtetl People this past March. Since then, I had the distinct pleasure of playing with a personal Athens hero of mine, none other than Dan Horowitz, the original bassist for Five Eight and now co-founder of Klezmer Local 42, at Shabbat in the ATL held at Park Bench in Buckhead on July 18th. We rocked a couple hundred unsynagogued 20 somethings to a brief Shabbat service followed by a full set of originals and covers led by front woman and past AJMF featured artist Hannah Zale.

Those of you who have been around town for a while should know of Five Eight. I remember sharing shows with them as far back as 1995. The band had a hit on their hands, from their self-titled eighth studio release, with the song “Square Peg” in 2004 that garnered national air play and dates with REM across the country. Five Eight is nothing even close to klezmer. Their sound is more of an alternative pop punk and I must say that this is one of my favorite records of all time, easily in my top ten. The record was produced by another blast from Atlanta’s indie past, bassist of Josh Joplin Group Geoff Melkonian, who left Rock ‘n’ Roll to find success in the bread baking business with Breadwinners.

Klezmer Local 42 came about in 2009, after Dan and guitarist/evolutionary biologist Daniel Promislow had enough after years of frequent discussions about their love of klezmer, and finally decided to do something about it. With the aid of multi-instrumentalist/ singer Noel Blackmon, who often talked about world music with Promislow while they were members of the Athens Celtic band Short Road Home, the duo got together with Horowitz to play klezmer.

Seems klezmer provides the signature sound to Judaism, possibly most well-known in the form of Hava Nagilah. As Klezmer Local 42 knows, no other music embodies the Jewish culture and that of our ancestors better than that classic clarinet and accordion driven sound of Klezmer. These guys make it sound cool and relevant in an age where EDM (Electronic Dance Music) is all the rage – klezmer is very danceable.

Klezmer Local 42 is a large piece AJT band rounded out by drummer Joe Ellison, violinist Adam Poulin, Bud Freeman on clarinet, and latest additions percussionist Eddie Glikin and saxophonist Rabbi Eric Linder.

Originally named Lokshen Kugel, which didn’t last long because no one could pronounce the name, the band quickly realized that they were far too twisted to just play traditional klezmer.

“We couldn’t refrain from incorporating other influences into our music including classic rock, swing, hip-hop, pop radio hits, tangos, and sea shanties. We sing in Yiddish, Hebrew, English, French, and Pirate-Talk. We also have a penchant for playing movie theme songs,” says Horowitz.

Klezmer Local 42 has enjoyed a strong regional following, playing Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, festivals and clubs, and plans to start touring nationally and internationally. Who knows, perhaps you will be seeing them at AJMF6.

For all you true klezmer lovers and players, there is an even bigger klezmer event coming around the corner. JewJamSouth, a four-day celebration of Jewish choral and klezmer music, is taking place on August 10-13, 2014 at Ramah Darom’s campus in the beautiful North Georgia mountains. The event is designed for passionate Jewish choral singers, klezmer instrumentalists, and Hebrew and Yiddish singers and their families. Whether you are an experienced practitioner or a newcomer, this four-day festival will offer a feast of musical inspiration, ideas and fun.

JewJamSouth is open to people of all levels and backgrounds, and no previous experience is needed. Beginners are welcome, and throughout the four days, you’ll have a chance to participate in a hands-on ensemble program and study, and to perform and be mentored by world-renowned faculty.

Ramah Darom’s mission is to offer exceptional experiences in Jewish living and learning to youths, adults, families and communities, and to provide another strong local proponent that music is a great way to provide cultural and educational experiences for all.

The program director is Hazzan David Tilman, an Adjunct Associate Professor at the H.L. Miller Cantorial School of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the choral director at Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania and an award-winning, world traveling conductor with accolades such as the first Moshe Nathanson Award in conducting and the Samual Rosenbaum Award for lifelong achievement from the Cantor’s Assembly.

Hazzan Tilman is accompanied by co-directors Jeff Warschauer (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Deborah Strauss (violin, accordion, vocals, dance) who, for over 25 years, have been at the forefront of the international klezmer and in the moment Yiddish music scene. They were both long-time members of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, one of the premiere groups of the klezmer revival, and have performed with legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman on film and in concert. They are renowned worldwide for their depth of experience and knowledge, and for their innovative performances, residencies and workshops.

During the retreat, participants will have the opportunity to learn from one another, network and enjoy the comradery of fellow Jewish musicians and new friends from throughout the Southeast and beyond. The retreat culminates with a one-of-a-kind joint choral/klezmer gala performance that will be open to the whole community. The event promises to send everyone home with new friends and skills.

So get your klezmer on and jump on the JDM band wagon while others rock out to Dub Step, Trap and House, us Jews can rest safe knowing our signature sound is still going strong.

Editor’s note: To get involved, visit www. ramahdarom.org/ programs/jewjamsouth, or contact Bennie Cohen at (404) 477-1037. To listen to Klezmer Local 42 visit www.klezmerlocal42. com/music.

Bram Bessoff is a drummer and musician. When not onstage, Bram is a performance coach and music industry entrepreneur helping artists get the most out of their live shows and chart on Billboard. He sits on the board of directors as VP for The Atlanta Jewish Music Festival. Follow Bram’s experiences on, off and backstage @bram_rocks. Interact with him at #InItForTheMoment to share thoughts, comments and ideas about this column.