Celebrate Brooklyn, Prospect Park, July 15
“What’s to celebrate?” would be the logical question for a Texas boy like me, and why would a confirmed southerner be involved? Frank London would be the answer to all that and to be the low end of his house band of his ambitious “Yiddish Carnival” show the hook that gets me up there. His local tuba man can't make the gig and thus he must import one. The idea is to come in for a full day of rehearsals on the 13th, play the big gig the 15th, stick around a day or two to rehearse with Andy Statman and then jet away to a Klezmer Brass All Stars gig in far off rural Slovakia. The gig is a something of a complete blur, four hours in running time with 10 separate set ups. I'll be on all but 3 of the acts, so it's a long day for me.
I don’t screw up Adrianne Cooper’s 6/8 Afro-Cuban arrangement of an old Yiddish ballad too awful bad. I dug in deep to Cantor Jackie Mendelsonn’s khazones. Jackie had a heart attack not too long ago and it seems to have both have mellowed his bluster a bit and deepened his already deep, deep groove. I was sorry he only had 2 numbers. Wolf Krakowski *, along with his fine guitar slinger Jim Armenti, put in a solid set with me on the electric bass this time. (Thanks to Klezmatic's guitarist Boo Reiners.) I got to rock out a bit and even threw down some of my best one-drop as well, working hand in glove with drummer Roberto Rodriguez, who by the way I would like to work with more often. (I can't believe I just said that about a drummer.)
Got to see Art Bailey’s new band, working in a more Romanian-Jewish bag, which I enjoyed greatly even if Art was still pale from a long bout with bronchitis.
After the daunting experience of rehearsal, I bowed out of the Fyvush Finkel set letting Jim Guttman, the far better sight-reader and a man better acquainted with Yiddish pit orchestra playing take the chair. (At the rehearsal, I get hopelessly lost in the chart of Fyvush's signature tune "Ihk Bin a Border by Mein Wife" and simply played down the tune from memory. After the rehearsal, Ian Finkel, Fyvush's son and musical director who really requires his own essay in so many ways, turns to me with his xylophone mallets menacingly close to my chest and says pointedly "I know what you are doing. And it's not going to work. You have to play what I wrote, OK?")
Both Jim and drummer Rodriguez have to read from these ridiculously long, old school theater charts that allows no room for page turning, or really even looking away from the notes for even a moment. Not a strong point for an Okie bred folk bassist. Robert was pissed that he hadn't thought of finding a sub and was thus presented with this sight:
The Finkel boys are in fine form and even when Fyvsh strays from the arrangement, Ian’s firm direction keeps the wheels on and the audience is unaware anything is amiss. Did I mention he's a virtuoso level xylophonist? No really, he is.
I get to sit out sets by the Klezmatics and my old pals the Klez Dispensers, but then it’s back on stage with a tuba this time for longer sets with Joanne Boarts, the Klezmer Brass All Stars and then the grand finale featuring a northern Brazilian drum ensemble, Maracatu NY. “A happening if ever there was one,” as Pete Socolow would say.
Here's a review of the event in the AARP on line magazine. Here's some Flikr pics I found online as well.
Not but 10 minutes after the final note and the threatened rain appears, scattering the crowd back to their homes. These Yankees do not linger around much I’ve come to find. They not big on moseying as well. If you get any socialization, the “hang” as we musicians call it, you’ll get it on the gig or the rehearsal. In my lifestyle, the gig is simply the part of the day that we musicians happen to be onstage; a day filled with hang, drinking, eating and basically talking shit and stuff. These folks up here seem to be all business, in and out and away to someplace else, all in the time it takes a bumpkin like me to pack up my gear. It was an odd tribe that settled here I guess, though I'll reckon they get more done in their day. I'll wager I may have a better time at it all myself.
Though I must say Mr. London is the exception to this rule. Noting the 4 hours of after gig jamming, ping pong playing and drinking that occurred at his pad after his set with a ethno-Jazz ensemble down the street at Mo Pitkins. There is a reason I think we get along so well, and this idea of musical relationships that flow over the obvious commercial motivations and leak over into the expression of every day lifestyle is one I can readily relate to. To my mind, we in the arts are never compensated enough for the REAL work that goes into our craft, so you better be having a good time while you are toiling. Otherwise, you might as well consign yourself to grinding out an increasingly meaningless existence tied to a cubicle somewhere. There you will find the financial and social security that that sort of labor engenders, but possibly devoid of the life experiences that give one a story worth telling. A conundrum at best, especially given the fact that I will return to Texas quite a bit shy of my mortgage payment, much less the electric bill. Sigh..
No matter, the next day find me rehearsing the with amazing Andy Statman. I wish to go on record here and state that I want this gig. Bad.
In Andy's music I have the first chance to fully express the totality of my musical experiences up to this point. To put not too fine a point on it, he is simply the best Jewish clarinetist working today and the finest Bluegrass mandolinist I have ever heard. Period. Heap on that wonderful original material, a genius level drummer-percussionist (Larry Eagle) and a really great cat to hang out with and you have the total package. And to put it as modestly as I can, I am simply the right man for this gig.
The fact that Andy is roundly ignored in the "klezmer" scene is your best example for why those folks are for the most part are completely and utterly full of horse shit. In many ways Andy's personal return of the music of his youth, he was a star pupil of Dave Tarras after all, was responsible for the whole "revival" scene years ago. (What were you doing in 1977 when Andy released his "Klezmer Music" LP on Shanachie with Zev, now Doud, he's a Muslim these days, Feldman?) No one on the "scene" can begin to touch his yikhes and I guess he's cut out of the spot light simply out of the obvious embarrassment.
I would think that Andy's inability to suffer poor musicianship presented as "folk"style and the whole cloth, made up "fakelore" of 99% of Klezmer theory (both staggeringly rampant in upper echelons the so-called Klezmer community) has placed him firmly on the outside. And guess what? Like he gives a damn. In other words, my kind of people.
So I wait for Andy to arrive at the little schul in the West Village where he plays regularly. Larry is running late, so Andy pulls back some tables in the basement, sets up his axes and then dives into an original number. He leaps into his music with the sort of two fisted, take no prisoners confidence that I have yet encountered amongst the Yankees. It was the sort of approch I was introduced to originally as a kid playing bluegrass back in Oklahoma, that I honed on the stages of honky tonks across Texas and that same hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck kind of sound that I find in New Orleans and Serbian Gypsy brass bands and in Romanian Tarafs today. In other words, I am home.
My first show with the Andy Statman band is at the Lincoln Center in NYC, the evening of August 19th. (I turn 41 the day before, quite a Birthday gift.) We play again the following night, with special guest Ricky Skaggs, at Congregation Derech Amuno. Hopefully the first of many more to come.
* It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Wolf’s mother just a few day later.