Ending the year on a positive note....

"Some people are afraid of new ideas, but I'm afraid of old ideas. Because them old ideas are set up to make you suffer." - Jamaican singer Jesse Royal.

2014 seemed to contain more than a few well thought out discussions about how the confusing state of the so-called "music business." I'm sure many of you have been clicking on quite a few arguments about how music will be made and distributed in our newly disrupted society, most of which are based entirely on failed premises to begin with if you ask me. I've read nearly everyone of them, finding the obvious in each. As anyone who's been in a recovery program will tell you; it's pretty easy to talk about what the problem, the conversation really should be centered around what to do to make it better. 

To that point, may I direct you to my old pal Danny Barnes' model for music production and distribution. I should report that I personally released a title on his Minner Bucket label and to date it is the most return I've ever received on an investment producing music. This business model is as simple as it is effective, every deal a win-win. 

So as we reflect on the last year, please take time out to recall what is hopeful and optimistic about the future, which is in fact just a bright as you care to make it.


Texas Folklife Presents : Festival of Texas Fiddling.

Yes, not "Texas Fiddle" but "Texas Fiddling." Doesn't seem much more than semantics, but there is a real change in the wind afoot and from my perspective that's a very good thing.
I see folks other than Anglo-Texan here, do you?

The term "Texas Fiddle" has for far too long been restricted to the very narrowest band of the contemporary "contest" culture of Anglo-Texan music. To be clear here, we're talking about music played primarily to impress a judge at a contest, so as to win a cash prize. It may have started out as something quite different, but like so many American institutions, the people who started it would be hard pressed to recognize, much less enjoy, what it has become. 

In my youth, not THAT long ago, the Fiddle Contest was held at the Country Fair where there would be prizes for champion Hog Breeding, Best Apple Pie and a display of Steam Engines and Tractors. There'd be a dance band, sometimes a polka band if it was held in a Bohemian or Moravian populated county. And coincidentally, there was a Fiddle Contest; all in good fun, with age slots for everyone from the rank beginner to actual Pros.
But things changed, gradually at first but now quite completely. The "hey let's get all the neighbors together for some family fun" element has receded, replaced with atmosphere of oft-acrimonious combat, where the weak were vanquished and humiliated in public by decidedly un-neighborly out-of-towners who made a side business of snatching prize purses wherever they could. As the context changed, so too did the music. In many way it became the perfect "kudzu" of fiddling style, and testosterone boosted version of Scots-Irish traditional tunes that appealed to the listener and in many ways washed over and drowned all the many regional styles of fiddling around the whole US, much less here in Texas. It was, and is, a "white" washing of Texas culture.

But there's always been so much more to the story and it has been one of the great joys of my life to seek out and promote these other "flavors" of Texas fiddle music. This festival marks what I hope is a sea-change in how the public see "Texas" fiddling, in all it's many shades, ethnicities and communities.

(I will relate however that this festival feels really familiar. I guess maybe its because I've been actively working with, in some cases actually discovering, 80% of the participants at this event. I guess it really is true that a "prophet has no honor in his hometown;" in my 25 years in Texas hardly any of these folks got any attention at home, but I leave for good and this happens. Not sure how to feel about that, other than to be validated in my contention that these voices are worth listening to all along. Dad always said: "Pass on the credit, but take the cash!")

I first encountered border fiderelo Jose Moreno, at a Panchanga in San Benito TX while on tour with Santiago Jimenz, Jr. and Don Walser 1995. Eventually and with much prodding got Arhoolie to cut a CD with him, which lead to an invitation teaching staff of the The Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Pt. Townsend, (and there was that time at the Blackpot Festival his drummer didn't show up and was my first and last time as a conjunto drummer!!) His music is a genuine mixture of Native American "matachine" music, Orquestra Tipica and even classic border Tex-Mex. He's a fine accordionist and mandolinist as well and not to be missed.

A very proud Polish Papa

Union Organizer/Independent Radio DJ Frank Motley introduced me to Brian Marshall's community of familial music making over 20 years ago and in that time we've been up in Pt. Townsend twice and have appeared on many stages around the US including the Lincoln Center for the Arts,  Lowell Folk Festival and the American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront. We've been playing music log enough for Brian to raise up a whole second generation of Marshall Musicians, Jakub and Mika, clarinet and fiddle respectively.

Mr. Poullard
And it was through Brian I met the amazing Ed Poullard, equally deft on fiddle or one of his very sought after hand built accordions, and his Creole community as well. Ed's one of the nicest people I have ever met and his smile shines through in his fiddle playing especially.

Though he will have his "Celtic" fiddler hat pull on tight at this event Sean Orr, one of the longest collaborators I have in the music business, and I just released a CD of our collective Texas/Oklahoma traditions called "Texas Fiddle - Okie Guitar." 

KITHFOLK said "Texas fiddler Sean Orr and Texas-based, Okie guitarist Mark Rubin say there's no "right" way to play Texas fiddle, but they're wrong. THIS is the right way to play Texas fiddle. Full of heart, brimming over with camaraderie, rough-hewn and rowdy, dusty as hell, and beholden to no man. There's a freedom in this music and a powerful sense of love. All the things that make Texas great." 

I'll let Howard Rains tell you himself how he came to his calling. 
Howard Rains
I will say it involved my apartment, his artwork, a really nice Tonk Bros. Guitar, a few glasses of Portuguese Absenthe and quite a bit of yelling and screaming. It did however lead to a controversy involving the New York Times and a series of delusional and public tirades by a very well known one-time Contest winning violinist. Really, its a great story. Ask him when you see him. Seriously.

These are just the guys I've been working with for many year however and there are plenty of mighty fine fiddlers to be heard there as well. Follow this link for more info.

In Yiddish we call the feeling I have about this event as "kvelling."

Please thing about coming out and seeing what all the hub bub is about!


The "Blataphone"

Or as a local instrument repair man calls them, "Fartaphones." 

New Orleans may rightly claim to the be Sousaphone Capital of the Western World but, if truth be told, it's actually the Fiberglass Sousaphone Capital of the World. They're cheaper, lighter and seemingly all stolen from a school band in Mississippi (ok, not true but true enough to be funny.) Most seem to be held together with duct tape and good intensions and I've never seen one ever even close to a hard case, much less a gig bag. The cats who play them in the street bands don their best to pump as much air through them as they can, producing, well, a great blatting roar. 

I've played them, but they're never my first choice. I was loaned a lovely older King, like the one pictured in the William Bell ad here, when I was teaching at Klez Fest UK in London. And the NCTA provided me one for my appearances with Frank London's Klezmer Brass
W/ Susan Watts @ Richmond Folk Festival
All Stars. Which was a good thing too because at the American Folk Festival in Bangor, a coastal storm came up out of nowhere during our main stage performance, making the band scatter but for reasons I'm still not sure about I just kept playing in the driving rain. I guess I subconsciously realized that wrapped in plastic, I'd be safe from a lightning strike.

I don't own one of these, but I wouldn't turn one down if you have one sitting in you garage or attic. Seriously.


Ross Daly on Modal Music and much, much more.

Rubinchik's Orkestyr (z"ll)
In 1996 I had the pleasure of taking my little Yiddish music band from Austin TX all the way to the south of France for a short tour and a series of performances at Le Nuits Atypiques de Langon. It's an amazing festival, curated not just musically but socially, and the musicians I interacted with there have informed much of what I know about music as a living culture. I had been there before, in 1993 as bassist for Santiago Jimenez, Jr., and was primed for this festivals tradition of purposeful admixture and cultural dialog. One of the featured artists in '96 was Ross Daly

I was really struck with him and his approach to music and collaboration. There was a young cellist from NYC who had been hired by Daly to come and perform with him, yet he had never met him before in person. The cellist, the very talented Rufus Cappadocia confessed to me how spooked he was to show up to a major event unrehearsed and just play with the featured act. But I saw the initial duet set between him and Daly that was frankly incredible, natural and real; some of the best music making I had ever encountered to that date. 

Daly showed up at the festival with a group of musicians from varied back rounds, including among others a Persian Zarb player who had at one time played for the Shah of Iran and then Khomeni after the revolution, and presented what was to all the world a very cohesive and musical presentation. A very deep cat, who I enjoyed hanging and conversing with quite a bit the week we were there.

I was just reminded of him today when a pal forwarded me his TED talk, in which he hits many of the notes that I personally have had a hard time expressing. I'm including this lecture as core material to my music students and recommend you take the short bit of time to check him out. Ross is kinda droll in his approach, but hang in there as he makes some observations that really ring true to my experience in music making and cultural connections.

Ross Daly on Modal Music:


From the Rubin Archives : Gil Baca Band Postcard

I had the honor of playing with Gil Baca and Vernon Drozd one time at Baca's Confectionary on the old square in downtown Fayetteville. Gil came from a long line of band leaders and the Bacova's Ceska Kapela was the first Czech-Bohemian dance band recorded in the US. Gil eventually went on to play drums for Hank Thompson among others. And sax-reed man Vernon was roundly understood to be the best "honky-tonk" player in Texas. (His son Steven is now a famous rock star bringing the Flaming Lips it's sole musical heft.)

The big octagon looking thing in the center of the picture is his dad Ray's mammoth hammered dulcimer, once the cornerstone of Czech music in Texas but now utterly disappeared in favor of the accordion in the 50's and now the pre-recorded computer track today. Vernon stands to the right of Ray, holding up the box. Kermit is on one end with his trumpet and little Gil is at the other.

Strangely, they are pictured in front of the only brick building on the square as Fayetteville features one of Texas' last remaining all wooden downtowns. This band made a big splash playing the Smithsonian Institution's American Folklife Festival, a short tour of  Czechoslovakia in 1972 and also performed at the United States Bicentennial Celebration in Washington, D.C., in 1976. 


Bad Livers "Ghost Train" Sheet Music from Sing OUT! Magazine, Jan. 1995

In hindsight, we gave mighty snarky responses to the venerable old folkie magazine. Didn't stop them from publishing our music, giving us consistently positive reviews (up until Blood and Mood which stopped everybody in its tracks,) and eventually hiring me to write not one but two major pieces for them. (The Klezkamp Mitzvah and Charlie Poole: the Man at America's Country Roots.) They did get back at us by outing Danny and myself as members of Dallas' Killbilly, which we hadn't been in for nearly 6 years by this point, but that's about the speed of light travels in folk land it seems.

The "you look good in a Bad Liver T-shirt" was our constant mantra, BTW. Shows up frequently in our interviews. We sold so many t-shirts, really crazy amounts that people today can't imagine. It was for many years our largest source of income and allowed us the creative freedom to do whatever we liked. 
On to the original article:


Interview as a Bad Liver for a Macedonian Punk rock fanzine, 1996

Bad Livers Interview for "Factory Smog is a Sign of Progress," most likely the very first emailed interview for print media I had done. There's a few laugh riots to be found. Enjoy!

(PS: the three quotes at the end of this article were lifted from my email signature.)


Excerpts from an upcoming Radio Documentary for WDR (Germany)

I'll be sharing more details as they emerge, but my pal and Other Europeans bandmate Paul Brody decided to expand our many long conversations into and actual radio program. He's well know in Germany, where he lives and works, and has even done a piece for NPR on Berlin's Avant Guard arts community. Paul visited me during my painful re-location from my once beloved Texas to a hopeful but uncertain future in my adopted home of New Orleans. ("NOLA for Life" as the transplants like to say. I'm sticking around for my funeral, if you get my drift.) 
Paul at my home in New Orleans

It was a great/lousy time to be talking to me. I had just been diagnosed with a serious mental disorder (BiPolar 2) and through intensive counseling and drug therapy had been grappling with a long series of recovered memories from my dynamic and oft confusing upbringing. If you've a friend of mine for any amount of time, I sure the diagnosis will come as little surprise as I was for the last few years as one good pal noted "a slow moving train wreck." I left quite a few casualties in my wake of wild ranging manias and depressions. And as we approach the Jewish Days of Awe, I have quite a few folks I need to atone to before I enter the new year and my new life here in Southern Louisiana. 

But at the Breslover Rebbe admonished: "if you believe something can be broken, then by definition it can be fixed." I hope the process of laying bare of every aspect of my personality, even the dark and unpleasant parts, that I encountered in the making of this little radio show for German public radio will finally allow myself a little rachmones for myself and by extension those around me.

But enough about me, here's me talking about me:


Swing, in it's Okla-Tex and NOLA forms.

Having made my musical life for so long in Texas/Oklahoma and now living in New Orleans, I'm confronted regularly with so called "jazz" music. Seems that having played Texas Swing for so long, I've been exposed to a great big chunk of the core material that makes up the standard repertoire of the Non-African American dance music "scene," here. But unlike just about every musician I encounter here, I don't have a college degree and I didn't study music formally. I don't read music, well enough that is to sight read on a gig at any rate. And no one ever taught me any of these tunes, I had to learn them on the bandstand. It's been a STEEP learning curve, I tell ya. And the keys that they play in here are mostly in Eb, Bb and Ab, which is good natural keys for trumpets and clarinets. Bet they're HELL on the tenor banjo or fiddle which play best in keys without flats, and having to re-learn all the classics in a new key has been a real challenge. A fun one, but still. I have a LOT to learn here and it's been very humbling and affirming as I make the changes to become a working New Orleans musician.
This is what a Texas Swing band looks like.

One of the aspects that I really loved about the "Texas Swing" approach was that it was founded by dance band trained folk musicians, "breakdown" fiddlers and such, who were exposed to African-America music styles who then clumsily, 
but honestly, reconfigured the music to suit themselves and their audience. Milton Brown, Cliff Bruner and Pre-War Bob Wills recordings always sparkled with this new concoction of melding the established traditions of Anglo-American dance music and the aspirational sounds of the Black "hot music" bands that they would run into. It's not for no reason Milton Browns' sides were cut in here in New Orleans. Steel man Bob Dunn was a hot jazz Trombonist before he pioneered the brand new instrument that came to dominate Texas Swing to this day. It's was "swinging," but it wasn't "Jazz." It was something all its own.

Nice hat, but he's not from Texas.
Actually a Jew from Rhode Island.

It wasn't until WW2 and just after did the "hillbilly" guys start playing with the instrumental and arranging sophistication of not only the great Black dance bands (Ellington, Basie) but also the White City-boy bands like Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. Here and then the "Texas" sound start to fade replaced with the now California based "Western Swing," essentially "jazz" played with cowboys boots. It's not my favorite development, but listening to the best examples of it show just how far the Texas boys had strayed from "Boil Them Cabbage Down." (Tex Williams' amazing note for note rendering of Stan Kenton's "Artistry in Swing" as "Artistry in Western Swing" is as fine as an example as you will find.) This is where guys like Ray Benson and his Asleep at the Wheel start listening and take from there. Seriously. He told me so in person, "that old hokum stuff from before, it's just not cool." Which explains his personal version of the music which for good or ill has become the de facto standard of the form in it's present and entirely de-contextualized version.

How refreshing it was to find this video of just some band leaping into a fun tune, no different really from any the groups I saw growing up as a kid in Oklahoma on say, the Jude and Judy show on WKY-TV or playing the weekly square dance where my folks club "the Norman Thunderbirds" would dance. A hot NOLA standard too. 



Submitted humbly is my personal version of Texas Swing music:


Please sign up for my Email List

It's my birthday and all I really want from you is your email address.

No really, that's it. Just scroll down to bottom and plug it in. Thanks!

By Dan Piarro, Ironically a Facebook "friend"
I'm turning 48 today and very soon will be shuttering my Facebook account. It will stay up, and my Twitter and Blogger accounts will be linked to it. But I won't be looking at it and surely not responding to any of its many stimulus's, much less checking its email. Call me a 
fuddy-duddy or a moldy fig, but I've come to realize that I've grown uncomfortable with the false sense of intimacy that social media tends to create and really don't need the extra souris. As a dear friend just noted to me just today "I have to really work on keeping a very mellow scene between my ears." Me too!

I realize there's people who use Facebook as an aspect of, if not the basis of, their "business" model, But frankly I haven't seen it raise my fortunes any. The only thing I have to sell is my music presented in digital files, and even old fashioned CDs too, to a public increasingly uninterested in owning any of it, much less pay for it. And for some folks, more and more it seems, it has become the basis of their "actual" social lives. In the words of my pal Danny Barnes, who left Facebook for good himself recently, "Yikes!" It's like a lot of things: some folks have the discipline to make this tool work out for them. I just have to acknowledge I don't and that's OK.

Tell you a story:

When I was about 14 or so, right about the time my father passed away, I recall how my mother's custom was to be glued to the telephone from the moment she got home from work until late at night, chatting with all manner of girlfriends, hours at a time. Not once did it occur to her to get out of bed and go less than a mile a way to actually visit any of the people she was calling. This was a smallish college town that I biked across daily, BTW, you could walk literally anywhere. It seemed strange to me, even in a very strange household. It was about that time as well, I started noticing girls. Amazingly there was even a neighborhood girl who would actually call me at home and talk to me, sometime for hours about all manner of important 14 year old stuff. But every time I saw her at school, or even out in the neighborhood, she barely acknowledged my presence. It was hurtful and confusing that someone would share so much over a telephone line and then be so cold and distant in person. When I left my home for my own apartment at 17, a didn't get a phone line. In fact, my friends from Norman will attest, I never had a phone. 
Yeah, in WW2 it was a Naval Air Training Center. weird?

My reasoning was simple: its a small town, come visit. And it worked, my true friends found me or at least left notes saying that they'd stopped in. (This was infuriating however for the many punk rock bands who ended up crashing at my place over the years. They had to trek down to the nearest laundromat and use the old pay phone there. Ask Boche from Billions. He booked an entire tour for Das Damen there one weekend, poor guy.) 

Didn't get one until I had moved to Dallas years later and then only grudgingly. Strangely, I am an early user of smart devices (Remember the Sharp Wizard? I had the 2400 baud modem and checked my AOL account on the road,) the cell phone (Sprint customer since '96) and even webpages, where www.badlivers.com was recognized as amongst the first 500 links ever collected by Google. Hmmm. Burned out? Not sure. But even one of the inventors of the Internet thinks it eventually destroyed the Middle Class and makes us all idiots. Oh well, I digress...

In all this thought and consideration, it occurs to me that there's a great many folks who follow me in social media that would actually like to hear from me and keep up from time time, to stop in and "visit" as it were. So I established an email list with Mail Chimp and every 3 months or so I plan on composing a little note about whatever it is I am up to. That's it, I won't sell it or give it away, it's just for us, promise. And this doesn't mean I'm dropping off the face of the Earth either, I fully expect to hear from you too! Just not on a public forum anymore, I hope you understand. I have a Twitter account, a Blog that I contribute to regularly and an informative Homepage, so I should be able to find, right?

When I made the painful move from Austin to NOLA, I was pleased to note that 3 sets of folks stopped by to say howdy and welcome me here all within being here just a few days. Happy to report we do accept visitors here quite frequently, so you'd be welcome to stop in.


From the Rubin Archives: Chart for a SoCalled performance, October 2010.

Found crumpled in the bottom of my tuba gig bag. One of a few "charts" written out by Josh "don't call me DJ" Dolgan for a performance at the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio TX, October 2010. I didn't have the heart to tell him I can't read music. But I think this was more a emotional guide more than a musical notation, maybe? I was asked to do a write up for the Arty Semite and it was eventually published.


The Klezkamp Mitzvah, Sing OUT! Magazine, Winter 2007, Vol. 50 Issue 4

"Reviving and Reconnecting with a Vanishing Culture"  by Mark Rubin

Learning about culture and traditions can be a tricky business in the best of circumstances. If you were interested in, say for the sake of example, traditional Irish fiddling, you could theoretically pack up, grab a flight to Ireland and head off to County Cork. There you could to sit in on any one of the innumerable music sessions that can be found at any number of local Pub, soaking in the tunes created entirely within its element. In the course of your time there, you would hear the Gaelic ballads, taste the beer and pie, see the rolling country side and meet the other people there enjoying the good times that the music created with it’s community. If you were lucky, after all the fun you might even get one of the old lads to show you a bowing trick or two. You would come home to New Mexico or Indiana or wherever you come from, probably with a deeper level of understanding of Irish music. It would most likely inform the way you play the Irish tunes and think about Irish culture. 

For the descendants of E. European Ashkenazic Jews eager for the same experience of connection to one’s traditions, there is however no “old country” to visit. If one were to return to our homelands, outside of overgrown cemeteries and a few disused synagogues, you would hardly find any indication that Jews were ever there, much less find anyone sing us a song or fiddle us a tune. To complicate matters, in the post War years American Jews very successfully assimilated into the greater American culture, shedding their language and great many of their customs in the process. If that wasn’t enough, with the creation of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948, the Hebrew language with it’s attendant “Israeli” music and dance all but effectively replaced what American Jews considered “Jewish” cultural identity, though it is a language and vernacular that our Yiddish and Russian speaking grandparents would hardly recognize. It’s within this conundrum that Living Tradition’s annual “KlezKamp” was born. 

For the last week of the year, a sleepy corner of the Catskill Mountains is transformed into a Yiddish speaking “Brigadoon” of sorts. There you’ll find the greatest practitioners of what was at one time considered a “dead” language and all the aspects of the culture that sprang from it. Originally billed at the Yiddish Folk Arts Program, it’s founder’s informal nickname “KlezKamp” has stuck and for 22 years its dedicated staff have done nearly the impossible. It has over last two decades effectively rescued, revived and nourished what is today a full blown International re-appreciation of Yiddish Music, Dance and Culture. 

It’s an unlikely story but the seeds of this Jewish Culture rebirth start in rural Appalachia. KlezKamp founder Henry Sapoznik, known to many in the old-time country revival community as “Hank,“ is noted five-string banjoist having been among the first waves of Yankees who headed to the hills of rural North Carolina in the early seventies, seeking out hill-billy music as played by the genuine articles. As a student of such notables as Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, Sapoznik had imbibed their playing styles and then in turn helped present them to an eager new audience of Folk music devotees in NYC and other urban areas. As a banjo instructor he attended various music camps that sprouted up in the wake of the Eastern “Folk Scare” and in that experience became aware of the power of the intensive immersion approach to the transmission of culture. 
Henry "Hank" Sapoznik, Founder and Director

Conversely, it was at Tommy Jarrell’s innocent prompting (“Don’t you Jews have music of your own?”) that led Sapoznik to examine his own musical heritage, and in doing so a whole new yet familiar path. The son of a famous cantor and a native Yiddish speaker, he hadn’t properly realized that growing up he was completely surrounded by a vibrant Jewish environment, rich with it’s own Yiddish “Tommy Jarrells” as it were. It eventually led his to form Kapelye, a seminal group at the forefront of the clumsily titled “klezmer” music revival, and to a job in 1982 as sound archivist at YIVO, the Yiddish Cultural foundation and archive first founded in Vilna Lithuania in 1925 and now located in New York City after WW2.

These converging streams came together into a single idea. “The model was the music camps, having taught at Jay Ungar’s Fiddle and Dance Camp at Ashokan and then attending a Balkan music camp at the same location. I asked myself: What are they doing? They were almost entirely peer-driven events populated with instructors who were not from the communities of which they were teaching, in other words outsiders teaching other outsiders. One positive thing about having that kind of teacher is that they can present a culture to students on their own terms, they can keep the experience at an arm’s length in some ways.” Many of these “outsiders” were in fact like Sapoznik, Jews themselves. At a camp dedicated to southern old time banjo and fiddle music it’s an easy bet there would be little interest in Jewish tunes. But strangely at the Balkan week, where many of the instructors were also Jewish and well versed in all the many East European folk musics, the very place where you might think East European Jewish music would be well understood even celebrated, you couldn’t find it at all. 

Ultimately what Sapoznik felt was missing from these music and instrument themed camps was the greater context of the culture that created this “folk” music in the first place. “It seemed a big departure from the way folk traditions are actually passed on. As much as I liked working with my peers” said Sapoznik “I wanted younger players to have the same experience I had: learning directly from senior musicians so they would get an accurate take on what this music was all about.” Additionally, at these camps there seemed to be little recognition that music, ultimately, is only one small facet of the many sided diamond of a complete culture. What Sapoznik realized early on was that to better transmit the essences of Yiddish dance and music, one so endangered in fact, you must also immerse its participants in all the many arts associated with Yiddish life; the visual arts, theatre, poetry, food, customs and literature. 

His original concept was to have a program of Yiddish cultural events that was the pay-off if you will to be attached to the end of Columbia University’s Six-Week intensive Yiddish Language program. Literally a summer camp, it was envisioned as a week-long event where the contextual framework for the speaking of Yiddish could live in a perfectly natural way. A way that was pretty much in a state overall decline, along with those who spoke it natively. “Our hope was to create this whole cultural environment, a place where the abstract of learning the language could be put into actual practice. The music was the hook, but the bridge was to the language,” said Sapoznik. 

Adrienne Cooper (z"l)
By 1984, YIVO’s then assistant director, and noted Yiddish singer, Adrienne Cooper enthusiastically supported the idea, and Sapoznik started to look for instructors. The first slate of staff included the well-known singer-author Ruth Rubin, Romanian violinist Leon Schwartz, singer-folklorist Bronya Sakina, clarinetist Max Epstein as well as the younger revivalist musicians Michael Alpert, Hankus Netsky and Lauren Brody. A one time secular Yiddish summer camp turned New Age retreat was secured and a date set for August, but ultimately fell through when the camp asked for more money at the last minute. 

Hoping not to loose the momentum, Sapoznik and new KlezKamp coordinator Becky Miller hurriedly retooled for a winter event of the same year, now scheduled for Christmas week in fact. The choice of Christmas week was a novel one, as most Jews were off doing nothing for the Holiday anyway and the resort was wide open for the week. “No other time of the year alienates or marginalizes Jews more” wryly noted Sapoznik. After a long search they located the Paramount Hotel, a faded rose of a Kosher resort in Parksville NY run by an affable man who’s last name “Gasthalter” is actually Yiddish for “Hotel keeper.” The Paramount was an unlikely assemblage of mix-and-match buildings all connected by a labyrinth maze of hallways with low ceilings. Having seen better days, a booking at the slowest week of the year was much appreciated. With its kosher kitchen, mezzuzot on every doorway, an amazing grand ballroom and a Yiddish-speaking Puerto Rican staff, the rural Paramount became the perfect setting for a cultural revival. 

The first year saw 90 registrants and a staff of 30 and the second year nearly 150. The demographic of the attendees at first closely mirrored that of the younger staff, mostly musicians, but that was to change. As the word spread of a Yiddish outpost poking its head up in the old Catskills, more and more older folks started showing up. These were sixty to eighty year olds, people who had grown up in a Yiddish culture and were now able to celebrate its re-appreciation. As few of these kampers were musicians, the curricula were expanded to include more folklore, historical context and the like. Their mere presence added considerably to the available pool of Yiddish experience and more than one young person, instructors included, were put to rights by someone who actually lived in a Yiddish context. 

In 1987 Lorin Sklamberg, singer with the Klezmatics and long time Gay rights activist, was brought on to replace the departing Miller as KlezKamp coordinator. This may have led to another notable, if unanticipated, addition to the demographic of attendees with the presence of openly Homosexual Jews. Long left out of Jewish cultural life in most other venues simply because of their sexual preference, and marginalized in leftist circles when Anti-Zionism often masks Anti-Semitism, Gay and Lesbian Jews found a friendly and open environment focused on Yiddish culture, essentially free of any of the traditional prejudices associated with it. 

As was actually discussed at a KlezKamp lecture one year, the term “klezmer” as it turns out is actually a clumsy one, and not a all accurate. As it turns out, even though it’s Hebrew roots are in the words “Kley” and “Zemir,” meaning literally “vessel of song,” in it’s actual Yiddish context the term would more accurately describe a very poor musician. “Really a bum, you know the kind of guy who can scratch out a tune or two on a fiddle but can’t really play. No real musician would allow himself to be called that,” advised legendary clarinetist Dave Tarras. “I’d pop you one on the nose,” added veteran clarinetist Joe Borrock. The term had been used to describe the re-introduction of a mix of Yiddish music, folk song and theatre music sometime in the 70’s. By then however, the name had been applied to the more appropriately described Yiddish-American music for too long to reel back from the public consciousness. Just one of the many things you pick up from the lectures presented. 
Sidney Beckerman and student, 1996

While the music staff has always been high visibility, it was the contextual staff - folklorists, language instructors and folk artists – which gave the program its solid superstructure, The prime directive that teachers of Yiddish should be native speakers themselves has meant that their lucky students have learned the language not from someone who simply studied it in college, but by someone from that world whose regional dialect is still intact adding immeasurably to the student’s learning experience. In the early 90’s these folklorists developed a "Junior Folklorist" program wherein children in the KlezKids program were sent out to interview and document the senior members of the KlezKamp community. Traditional handcrafts (paper cutting, calligraphy, textiles, ect,) and even culinary skills are passed on by senior members of the community or through KlezKamp Staff apprenticeships were with those great Masters.

There is no greater example of the greater mission of KlezKamp than in it’s “KlezKids” program. Originally set up for the children of adult participants, it celebrated the milestone last year with as large an enrollment as did the whole event in it’s first year. Sapoznik explains, “We took the outmoded, socialist ‘kindershule’ model which celebrated Yiddish culture but which took no note of traditional folk literacy and reintroduced the old time music, song and other elements of the historic culture and created age appropriate kid programming. This not only served the short term function of allowing their parents to take advantage of the full KK programs, but also positioned Yiddish culture to be cool and hip to these kids and, miracle of miracles, set up out own “farm” system from where these kids grew up to be teachers and musicians themselves, not only at KlezKamp but in their home communities.” 
"Ooomchiks," future proud Yidn

It’s been an outstanding success on many levels. “We replaced the eye-rolling ennui of most kids to the culture and values of their parents and hot housed a generation of eager, motivated and culturally equipped young people for whom Yiddish culture is not seen as a burden but a valued birthright,” notes Sapoznik. 

Over the years the musical staff of Klezkamp has acted in a double capacity in first providing a lecture demonstration setting for older master musicians to teach and be appreciated but also to create a workshop environment for younger generation players to foster their creativity. Nearly all the of ‘leading lights’ of modern “klezmer” music got their start there, and almost all began simply as students. Sucessful bands have formed, performing careers started and lifelong musical relationships have cemented in the hallways and classrooms of the Paramount. However true to it’s founding principals the KlezKamp world, like on the bandstand at a dance, is musical mertiocracy first and foremost where there is often little distinction between the teacher and the student. Much like that session in County Cork, the music is for once now created within its natural habitat. It provides a depth of experience and understanding that cannot be replaced in a classroom setting. Thus many gifted young musicians find themselves carted up on the bandstand for the evening dances, playing right along side the greats. And there have been many greats. Clarinetists Max Epstein, Sid Beckerman, Ray Musiker and German Goldenshteyn. Sax giants Howie Lees and Paul Pincus. Drummer Elaine Hoffman and.Pianist/arranger/raconteur Pete Socolow. Many of whom had until they came onto staff, thought their usefulness over and their contributions largely ignored. 

A unique hurdle for the KlezKamp staff to contend with is the “500 pound Gorilla” of Yiddish Cultural context; it’s unavoidable attachment to the Jewish religion. Observant or not, Yiddish culture has always been intertwined with Jewish religious custom and practice. “You can’t have a Jewish event that some Jews can’t go to.” Says Sapoznik. Thus for instance, the meals served are Kosher and there’s no work (or playing of instruments) on the Sabbath in large public spaces. To the non-Jew, and many assimilated Jews as it turns out, it comes as quite a shock when depending on the calendar, the whole event comes to a complete halt to from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday night. But because it is replaced with equally compelling, and culturally compelling programming, even the most music-centric camper has plenty learning available to soak up. 
Tanzmeister Steven Weintraub

You certainly don’t have to be Jewish to attend, but as the old joke goes, it certainly helps. Music and dance fans of all back rounds have made the trek to the Catskills and come away just as affected. “The people who have the biggest paradigm shift are non Jews who are experiencing Jewish culture in possibly a new way. They actually appreciate the fact that it’s Kosher, not “Kosher-style,” its actually as close as they will get,” notes Sapoznik. European klezmer enthusiasts have probably made the most impact by means of diversity over the years. With not just a little bit of irony, a great many of the Europeans who regularly attend KlezKamp are from places where the original culture in fact never existed or, like Germany, where this very culture was all but destroyed. At this year’sKamp you will find classes taught a very fine Jewish clarinetist, well versed in Yiddish performance styles, who just happens be from Germany who just happens to be named “Christian.” Irony hides around every corner. 

This pressure cooker environment, coupled with the claustrophobic confines of the resort setting, has led many participants to what some call a “Klez Kamp Moment.” That moment when all the wheels of the Kamp activities events have been spinning for a few days, and all the dots have been connected, to where the depth of the culture that is being presented finally sinks in. It can create a deeply personal and moving experience for some. An experience made even more bittersweet when you realize how much of that life as disappeared through attrition, anilhilation and assimilation. Much like a “Yiddish Marine Corps,” a successful kamper comes stripped away of his preconceived notions and then is thoughtfully rebuilt ground up seeing themselves as a member of a greater, living world of Yiddish expression. 

Sherry Mayrent, Founding Director of the Mayrent Institute
The “mother ship” of KlezKamp was lost in 1999 when the Paramount Hotel burnt to the ground in an electrical fire. When the owners announced they were not rebuilding, the staff was left with a dilemma. Thanks to the intercession of a veteran KlezKamper, in a bold move the entire event was relocated to Cherry Hill NJ, a traditionally Jewish suburb of Philadelphia. This period also marked the world premiere of Sapoznik’s “Yiddish Radio Project” which went on to air nationwide on NPR, representing the widest audience to ever experience Yiddish language and culture in the United States. A well-received stage version, featuring a stage band made up of both master musicians and their students, toured nationally afterwards. 2001 saw the arrival of Sherry Mayrent as the new Executive Director, as Lorin Sklamberg stepped down to tour his increasingly popular Klezmatics. But like the loss of the "Old World" in favor of the new, many verteran Klezkampers bemoaned the decamping from the Catskills in favor of an industrial strength hotel in a Pennsylvania strip mall. In 2003, the event returned to their ancestral homeland of the old Yiddish Resorts and now resides at the old "Granite" Resort, now known as the Hudson Valley Resort Center in Kerhonsken NY.

Living Traditions, the parent organization of KlezKamp has recently started a record label dedicated to preserving some of the musical moments that have occurred at Kamp over the years. The most recent release may be it’s most important one yet, a collection of the repertoire of Moldavian clarinetist German Goldensteyn. German’s playing brings to a new generation of students the sounds and songs of the Moldavian-Russian Jewish experience. Orphaned by the Nazi’s, and a veteran Red Army Bandsman, German’s music notebooks contained literally hundreds of Jewish tunes heretofore unknown to American audiences. Long time kamper-turned-instructor Alex Kontorovich, a Jewish Russian émigré and clarinetist himself, served as German’s translator and “second” for several years on staff, carefully studying his style and techniques. With Kontorovich as producer and converting an unused bedroom into a makeshift studio, German and members of the KlezKamp staff recorded a scant 20 tunes from his repertoire during lunch and dinner breaks. German Goldenshteyn’s debut recording “A Living Tradition” was released commercially only a few months later. Tragically German died of a heart attack while on a fishing trip only a few days before a European concert tour. He was only 71. Kontorovich is currently overseeing the publishing of a collection German’s music books to insure his rich legacy will be disemminated. His is but one example of just how ephemeral culture can be. Without the living breathing tradition bearers in our midst and available for comment and context, the work of KlezKamp becomes all the more essential. 
The first Klezkamp release

In recent years the growing acknowledgement of interest in things “klezmer,” a situation KlezKamp can rightly be credited with, it has spurred quite a few imitators. If as the poet says, imitation is an expression of flattery, KlezKamp is a very flattered event indeed. Today you will find similarly fashioned events all over the US and the globe from, Canada to England and even points east. (In one notorious example, KlezKamp sing along songbooks were handed out at a copy-cat “Kamp” with only the Living Traditions letterhead clumsily whited out.) With its 22nd anniversary this December, KlezKamp now has come to a place of some sardonic irony. It has actually become so successful, so transparent in its stated goals of reviving and nurturing a living breathing Yiddish culture, than in fact it is now pretty much taken for granted. Taken for granted in many cases even those whose professional musical careers were born and informed there. By remaining true to it’s stated mission: fostering a holistic “ground up” approach to cultural presentation and preservation, and then purposely eschewing a “star personality” policy in their staff hiring, KlezKamp has in some ways made itself passé within it’s own community. 

The “Village,” or “shetl” more properly, that KlezKamp has created continues every year to feed and support what has now become an international re-appreciation of the totality of Yiddish Cultural Arts. After so many years of so successfully creating culturally literate “graduates,” a typical participant is more often not surrounded in class by people who will one day in fact have learned the lessons taught there, expand upon them and then return to give back to a new generation of campers. With the precious few living masters of Yiddish life leaving us every day, German Goldenshteyn our most recent example, the depth of experience that KlezKamp offers becomes all the more poignant and important. “We can only hope that through this process, we have enabled selfless translators of the continuity. If we done our job well then we’ll have that continuance for future generations,” says Sapoznik. 

The final Catskills KlezKamp will be at the Hudson Valley Resort, Kerhonkson NY, December 23-29, 2014 

Visit http://www.klezkamp.org for details.