The Klezmatics are coming to town for a concert at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Thursday, Dec. 5.
Since the band’s formation more than 25 years ago, the Klezmatics have led a renaissance of the Eastern European Jewish music known as klezmer. They have performed in more than 20 countries and were the subject of the film “The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground,” which played at the 2011 Tucson International Jewish Film Festival.
“We don’t get to Tucson enough,” co-founder and lead vocalist Lorin Sklamberg told the AJP in a phone interview. He also plays accordion, guitar and piano.
The Klezmatics’ Tucson concert will feature old favorites, he says, including some of the previously unknown Woody Guthrie lyrics the band set to music for their genre-bending, Grammy Award-winning 2006 album, “Wonder Wheel” and a follow-up album, “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah.”
They will also play music from a new video project they are working on with media artist Péter Forgács, “Letters to Afar,” based on home movies recorded by American Jewish immigrants who visited their hometowns in Poland in the 1920s and ’30s. The movies are now in the collection of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, where Sklamberg is the sound archivist. YIVO commissioned the project with the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. A section will be debuted live in New York on Nov. 19, when YIVO presents the Klezmatics with a Lifetime Achievement Award, but the video component isn’t part of the Klezmatics’ concert tour.
The members of the Klezmatics came to Yiddish music through a variety of routes. Sklamberg moved from his hometown of Los Angeles to New York, he says, “because I wanted to be someplace with an older Jewish history and a more deeply rooted Jewish cultural identity.” Although he didn’t come specifically seeking to play klezmer, it was a logical continuation of his musical trajectory, which included forays into early music (medieval, Renaissance and baroque), opera, American folk and pop, Balkan and Eastern European music. But he’d been involved with Jewish music since he was 15, when he formed a band with three Hebrew school classmates.
“Other people in the band definitely had more surprising arrivals at playing Yiddish music,” he says. Klezmatics co-founder Frank London, who plays trumpet and keyboards, comes from a background of jazz and various kinds of world music. Longtime member Matt Darriau came from the jazz world too, but also played Balkan music, which was part of the ethnic music and folk dance explosion of the ’60s and ’70s, says Sklamberg. In the Klezmatics, Darriau plays kaval (a type of flute popular in the Balkans), clarinet and saxophone.
Many people in the folk and alternative music scenes of the ’60s and ’70s were Jewish, notes Sklamberg, but “it wasn’t until the late ’70s that people of my generation and a little bit older started asking, ‘Where’s my music?’ And that’s sort of how the klezmer revival came to be.”
The Klezmatics concert, co-presented by Temple Emanu-El, will begin at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, visit www.foxtucson.com or call 547-3040.