To folks with an Eastern European background and a knowledge of Yiddish, the word "klezmer" literally means "musician." To folks who are clueless about Eastern Europe, Jewry, or Yiddish but claim a little knowledge of music, the word "klezmer" means the dynamic clarinet-led and violin-embellished style of song that itinerant Jews performed while on their travels in the Nineteenth Century. It was a sound that eventually forged its way through vaudeville, influenced popular song and Broadway musicals, and has been enjoying a worldwide revival since the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Proponents include musicians such as Andy Statman and Don Byron and bands like the Klezmatics, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, Brave Old World, and the Joel Rubin Klezmer Band, to name a few.
The Dora Teitelboim Center for Yiddish Culture -- Miami's repository for preserving and promoting all things Yiddish including books, art, and music -- wants to bring Jewish locals closer to their musical roots and introduce non-Jews unfamiliar with the sometimes frenetic, sometimes poignant style to something new with KlezFest. The multiday event kicked off yesterday with a lecture by Hankus Netsky, founder of the acclaimed Klezmer Conservatory Band from the New England Conservatory of Music, tracing klezmer through the ages. It continues tonight (Thursday) with a concert by Netsky's group in conjunction with the University of Miami's musical extravaganza Festival Miami.
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While klezmer revival bands sometimes seem a strictly out-of-Florida phenomenon, the music has made itself heard in our parts as well. They might not get a lot of press, but a number of groups flourish down here. The legendary Epstein brothers lived among us in retirement. And local champions of the style such as the Klezmiamians and the Klezmer Company Kvintet will have their own moment in the spotlight on Saturday, October 18, during a show dubbed Celebration of South Florida Klezmer. One particular highlight will be a guest appearance by famed Yiddish theater and vaudeville star Charlotte Cooper, who was known for her work on the stages of New York City and Miami Beach. Surprisingly enough, the Beach, home to nonstop nightlife and a sea of silicone, was from the 1950s on a stronghold of Yiddish culture, boasting a plethora of Yiddish entertainment in theaters/vaudeville houses, hotels, and even on the street along Ocean Drive. By the late 1980s, the Old World vibe gave in to the new. Now other forms of entertainment rule.
The Klezmer Kraziness program featuring the Klezmer Conservatory Band takes place at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, October 16, at Gusman Concert Hall, 1314 Miller Dr, Coral Gables. Tickets range from $10 to $20. Call 305-284-4940 for details. The Celebration of South Florida Klezmer concert takes place at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, October 18, at University of Miami's Miller Center, 5202 University Dr, Coral Gables. Tickets cost $10 and $12. Call 305-774-9244.