It’s one thing to be an acknowledged master of one instrument and musical style; it’s quite another to be a master of two. For more than 40 years, Andy Statman has been a celebrated player of bluegrass mandolin and klezmer clarinet — and all combinations thereof. This year, on the heels of his critically acclaimed 2011 album, “Old Brooklyn,” Statman, now 62, was awarded the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, for music that “expands the boundaries of traditional and improvisational forms.”
After getting his start playing in Washington Square Park in the late 1960s, Statman gained acclaim as a mandolinist, collaborating with such artists as David Grisman and David Bromberg, and as a member of experimental bluegrass bands. His interest in American roots music led him to other styles, including klezmer, which he studied in the mid-1970s with legendary clarinetist Dave Tarras. Since his 1979 “Jewish Klezmer Music” Statman has been at the forefront of Jewish music, excavating traditional klezmer and combining it with Hasidic music, bluegrass, gospel, jazz and other styles to create a soulful repertoire all his own.
These days Statman continues to be in high demand as a performer and teacher of traditional music, but you can also catch him doing a weekly gig with his trio at the Charles Street Synagogue in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Clad in an Orthodox-style white shirt and black yarmulke, Statman shows that in both Jewish and American music, piping-hot virtuosity and heartfelt spirituality are no contradiction.