This article originally appeared in the Yiddish Forverts.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the renaissance of traditional Eastern-European Jewish music of the 1970s and 1980s would have never occurred without the work of the ethnomusicologist and musician Velvel Pasternak, who died on June 11th.
The dozens of books of Jewish music released by his Tara Publications served as the go to reference works for pioneers of the Klezmer revival movement, alongside Hasidic wedding performers and everyone in between. Although Pasternak collected Jewish music from all over the globe, including songs from Yemen, India, the Balkans and the United States, he particularly loved Hasidic niggunim. It was fitting, therefore, that the Israeli clarinetist Eliezer Rosenfeld led the mourners at Pasternak’s funeral in performing a beautiful Hasidic niggun.
In 2016 Pasternak gave a lecture in Brooklyn on Hasidic music. At the event, musicians Zisl Slepovitch, Binyomin Ginzberg and Avremi Gourarie played a sampling of songs Pasternak had collected during his career.
In the 1960s the Forward’s radio station, WEVD, broadcasted a special program on the music of the Modzitzer Hasidim, of whose music Pasternak was particularly fond. In the recording, legendary WEVD host Tzi Scooler spoke at length about the history of the Hasidic sect’s music. On the piano is none other than Velvel Pasternak himself.
Pasternak was also a colorful storyteller. Here are three clips from an interview conducted by Hankus Netsky as part of the Yiddish Book Center’s oral history archive, all of which capture Pasternak’s famed wit:
And here Pasternak speaks about the history of the Modzitz Hasidim and his role in bringing their music to a wider audience.
WATCH: The Musical Legacy Of Velvel Pasternak
Jordan Kutzik is a staff writer at the Forverts.