Photo courtesy of Andy Statman
Although they’ve had a number of earlier releases, “Where we come from… Where we’re going,” a challenging CD that is almost equal parts avant-garde jazz and klezmer music, was my introduction to Klezmokum, an Amsterdam-based band (Mokum is the old Jewish name for Amsterdam) led by Burton Greene, a pianist with a long history and discography dating back to the early 1960s. One of the other band members, clarinetist Perry Robinson, has been a significant musician on the free jazz scene for about as long as Greene.
I never learned to speak Yiddish. As a child in the 1950s and ‘60s, it was the language of my grandparents, the language that my parents only spoke when they didn’t want me or my brothers to understand what they were talking about (and I don’t think they spoke it when my childhood friend Michael Wex was in the house). And yet, there is something about Yiddish theater and song (and, of course, Yiddish theater songs) that makes me feel very connected to my Jewish heritage.
I’ve always had a deep appreciation for bluegrass. A form of Southern mountain music in overdrive, bluegrass coalesced in the late 1940s when Kentucky mandolinist and singer Bill Monroe, who had previously played old-time country and Appalachian music in a duo with his brother Charlie, formed a band called the Blue Grass Boys. The band really took off and defined its sound — and the sound of bluegrass as a genre — when Monroe recruited guitarist and singer Lester Flatt and innovative banjo player Earl Scruggs.