In the rich and colorful Yiddish language there are expressions that vividly convey virtually any emotion or action. One such phrase is farshafn a sakh freyd un fargenign, which means to give much joy and pleasure. Farshafn a sakh freyd un fargenign perfectly encapsulates the happiness that the Klezmatics have delivered to the passionate millions who have discovered their music since the band’s formation more than 35 years ago. In that time, the Klezmatics have raised the bar for Eastern European Jewish music, made aesthetically, politically and musically interesting recordings, inspired future generations, created a large body of work that is enduring, and helped to change the face of contemporary Yiddish culture. Not bad for a bunch of Americans who each came to klezmer music almost by accident!
Since their emergence, the Klezmatics, often called a “Jewish roots band,” have led a popular revival of this ages-old, nearly forgotten art form that, in its first incarnations, flourished at Jewish weddings and other joyous occasions. They have performed in more than 20 countries and released 11 albums to date—most recently the album Apikorsim (Heretics), produced by Danny Blume (who helped the band win a Grammy in 2006) and the first of the band’s albums to feature only the 6 members. They have also recently served as the subject of a feature-length documentary film, The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground.
During their third-of-a-century existence they have collaborated with such brilliant artists as violinist Itzhak Perlman, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner and Israeli vocal icon Chava Alberstein. They’ve also worked with everyone from folk singers Theodore Bikel and Arlo Guthrie to poet Allen Ginsberg, the Master Musicians of Jajouka, New York downtown scene fixtures John Zorn and Marc Ribot, and pop singer Neil Sedaka.
The Klezmatics have appeared on TV programs as diverse as Late Night with David Letterman and Sex and the City, and have also guested on numerous radio programs, including the BBC’s John Peel Show and NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. They’ve recorded two Yiddish dance standards with klezmer clarinet legend Ray Musiker for the album Klezmer Music: A Marriage of Heaven and Earth, Klezmaticized the Jamaican ska rhythm for a cover of the classic “Do the Ska (KlezSkaLypso)” on the Skatalites tribute CD Freedom Sounds and written music for the Pilobolus Dance Theatre’s Davenen (which premiered at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center). Their music was also incorporated into a new work by choreographer Twyla Tharp in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Martha Graham’s birth. Regardless of what they undertake, their creations bear the unmistakable stamp of the Klezmatics.
Today, with three original members—Lorin Sklamberg (lead vocals, accordion, guitar, piano), Frank London (trumpet, keyboards, vocals) and Paul Morrissett (bass, tsimbl, vocals)—still on board, alongside longtime members Matt Darriau (kaval, clarinet, saxophone, vocals) and Lisa Gutkin (violin, vocals), the Klezmatics are without a doubt the most successful proponents of klezmer music in the world.