Weekly Reader The Past and Present of Yiddish Music

April 3, 2022

Western Massachusetts, where the Yiddish Book Center is located, has plenty of attractions: bucolic college towns, rolling hills, and plenty of outdoor space. Winter, however, is not one of them. But after a season of deep freeze, spring is finally here. And while we’re firm believers in living in the moment, we can’t help but look forward to all of the spring and summer days ahead. Foremost among the coming attractions is Yidstock, our annual festival of new Yiddish music. Since the Line-up for this year’s Yidstock was just announced—that’s July 7–10, so mark your calendars—we’re getting in the mood by taking a look at the past and present of Yiddish music. So go ahead and put on your favorite klezmer album while you enjoy the warmer weather and delve a bit deeper into the story of this fabulous genre. And consider reserving your ticket to Yidstock.

Ezra Glinter

But is it Klezmer?

Cubist depiction of band instruments.

When it comes to the newest and most cutting-edge Jewish music, Yidstock artistic director Seth Rogovoy often faces the same question: “Is that really klezmer?” In this piece for Pakn Treger Rogovoy argues that yes, music by bands like Naftule’s Dream or Golem is, in fact, klezmer. Not only is it klezmer, but it is traditional klezmer, because klezmer has always spoken in the idiom of its time. And right now, the fusion of hip-hop, funk, and jazz is our musical currency.

Read the article by Seth Rogovoy

Old Words, New Music

Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell performing on a stage with his name in the background in lights.

Yiddish vocalist Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell and pianist/accordionist Dmitri Gaskin explore diverse idioms and styles to create their signature contemporary and idiosyncratic compositions set to the works of some of the greatest Yiddish poets. In a lively conversation with The Shmooze podcast, they talk about what drew them to Yiddish music and how both Yiddish literature and music inspire and inform their unique and amazing work.

Listen to an interview with Russell and Gaskin

Eleanor Reissa

Eleanor Reissa singing before a microphone.

The queen of Yiddish cabaret, Eleanor Reissa, is a Brooklyn-born native Yiddish speaker whose work in theater as a director, actor, writer, and choreographer garnered her a Tony Award nomination and propelled her into the front ranks of Yiddish theater and music. In this interview with The Shmooze podcast, she gives us a behind-the-scenes look into her art-filled life and work.

Listen to an interview with Eleanor Reissa

A Night in the Garden of Eden

Black and white photo of a jamming klezmer band.

Making the past live in the present is at the heart of any musical revival, and A Jumpin’ Night in the Garden of Eden shows three generations of musicians involved in the process. The movie traces the efforts of two groups of musicians, Kapelye and the Klezmer Conservatory Band, as they rediscover klezmer music and make it their own. Since the film was first released, the young musical explorers profiled here have become klezmer’s elder statesmen. A generation later, the question remains: Why do young musicians continue to find this music so seductive?

Listen to a lecture by director Michal Goldman