May the Schmaltz Be with You

If you have ever seen the classic Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof, then you have heard Klezmer music. Klezmer is the musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe.

It is rooted in a tradition of dance tunes and instrumental pieces for weddings and celebrations within the Jewish community.

It is heavily influenced by the folk songs typically associated with the various regions of Eastern Europe, particularly Greek and Romanian stylings. Instruments typically associated with Klezmer include: fiddle, clarinet, cimbalom, piano, trombone, trumpet, and accordion.

As Eastern European Jews came to America with the turn of the century, Klezmer came with them. Here in the melting pot, Klezmer infused with Jazz, and reached a broader audience.

This Jazzed-up American style of Klezmer enjoyed a popular revival in the 1970s. Perhaps best known for his Klesmer stylings is popular musician, Leonard Cohen. Because of Cohen’s wide appeal, his songs are perhaps the best known examples of Klezmer in modern popular music.

Much of Klezmer is known for racing rhythms and upbeat tempos, but also includes dramatic slow numbers as well. Slow or fast, Klezmer songs are often associated with specific dances. Klezmer is often viewed as “feel-good” music, since much of it is rooted in the tradition of celebrations. For those of us in rural Appalachia, due to its folk tradition roots, Klezmer will sound somewhat familiar to the ear, but the use of minor keys and subtle phrasing, keep the sound somewhat mysterious in nature. This juxtaposition of the familiar with the foreign has a special ability to delight the audience, and impart a sense of wonder.

Rose Center Council for the Arts is proud to present an evening of Klezmer with Knoxville band, Tennessee Schmaltz, as part of their ongoing Music at the Rose Concert Series. In partnership with the Morristown Task Force on Diversity, the concert will give audience members a chance to experience this unique musical genre.

Tennessee Schmaltz was founded in 1996. According to their information, “The band plays a hybrid Old-World Klezmer style peppered with strains of Appalachian string-band music, jazz, country, bluegrass, and Yiddish music-hall, all tossed in”. The band self-released an album entitled, Old Country Klezmer in 2000. In 2006, they released, Pachabel’s Cannon and Other Jewish Hits. The band has had a few different manifestations over the years, but current players include: Larry Hoffman on clarinet, Manny Herz on piano, Jeff Jennings on trombone, Leslie Gengozian on fiddle and vocals, and Rob Heller on clarinet.

This concert was originally scheduled for April’s Jewish History month events. However, due to the public health concerns, the show has been postponed. A new show date has not yet been announced, and alternative plans for live-streaming the concert are under discussion.

Rose Center’s Candy Durman says, “We are committed to supporting the artists we have contracted with as part of our series and Rose Center will find a way to go forward either with a live show or a digitally-hosted concert. We are working closely with the band and will keep folks informed of the new show date and details. We just have to be a little creative right now, and you know what—getting creative is sort of what we do”.

Until then you can check out these resources to learn more and enjoy Klezmer:

On YouTube Search:

Leonard Cohen’s song Dance Me to the End of Love

Preview the band--Tennessee Schmaltz by searching: Tennessee Schmaltz Rock to Bach 2019.