The Klezmer Swingers

Their debut and 14 subsequent performances at London’s South Bank all sold out. In demand at all the major music festivals in the UK they have performed at Warwick, Coventry, Brighton, Canterbury, Greenwich and headed the London Jazz Festival at the famed 100 club in 1998.

Busy also on the jazz circuit with appearances at Ronnie Scotts, Pizza on the Park Knightsbridge and top West End clubs, they have also been enjoying a series of “Forties Swing’ concerts to ‘jitterbug’ aficionados at the famed 100 Club.

They also are kept busy on the theatre circuit including performances at the Kenneth More Theatre Ilford, Millfield Theatre North London, City Varieties Leeds, Palace Theatre Westcliff and Civic Theatre, Chelmsford. and recently performed a series of successful concerts at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.

The Klezmer Swingers perform the old Jewish Music of Russia, and examine its influence on and relationship with the Swing era of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. Their journey takes them from the dens of Odessa to the speakeasies of New York. This superb show band explain with verve and humour the cultural and musical evolution of this toe-tapping music which is now undergoing an exciting revival in the UK, Eastern Europe and the States in which the Klezmer Swingers are considered to be the vanguard. Recently they have been honoured and in recognition of their work, have been included in the American Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

The Klezmer Swingers Simcha Band are regularly in demand for weddings, barmitzvahs and corporate functions performing traditional Jewish music, hot jazz and contemporary sounds for dance.

“Klezmer – Jewish Jazz to Stylish Swing”

Klezmer “Jewish” music had by 1890 developed from the folk idiom into a form of early jazz which had largely concentrated itself in the seedy Moldavanka quarter of Odessa. Here amongst the bars, cafes, dance halls and dens an earthy improvised music was played featuring a trumpet and clarinet attack, backed by a rhythm section.

Following the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905 and the upheavals encountered by the Jewish Community, many of the Klezmer musicians made their way to New York, where in a veritable explosion of creativity, Jewish music blended with the current American influences, and the legendary ‘Tin Pan Alley” was formed – home predominantly to Jewish songwriters and lyricists. It was here that the “greats” such as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen and George Gershwin plied their trade; and drew substantially on their Klezmer roots for inspiration.

It was out of this fusion of musical cultures that the amazing phenomenon of “Showbiz” burst into being after 1919; and where Jewish composers and librettists found fertile ground. By 1927 with the first film talkie “The Jazz Singer”, American Art was beginning to define itself primarily in Jewish terms; and in consort with the exciting black inspired Blues movement that travelled from New Orleans to Chicago the Jazz Age was born. The world has since never been the same.

During the years of prohibition (1919-1929) the Jewish gangster chiefs, many of whom had heralded from Odessa, were busy in their own right and set up the Dives and ‘speakeasies’ that had been a feature of life in downtown Moldavanka. A curious sociological phenomenon had occurred – Jewish Odessa had grafted itself onto New York; and with the creation of the Jewish manned “Murder Incorporated” ( a deadly organisation that carried out much of the executions in the underworld) a further fusion of art was mirrored in the outpourings of jazz and gangster films of the 1930’s. The unashamedly romantic treatment of this violent era has nevertheless endowed itself as much a mirror image of American culture as the “Western”.

The purer “old” Klezmer music had meanwhile continued in its own right which, with such exponents as Naphtali Brandwein and Dave Tarras, it was now recognised as “Yiddish” music. Great band leaders such as Abe Schwartz, Abe Ellstein and Alexander Olshanetsky acted as a further link, and out of their experimentation by 1939 with Klezmer jazz a pivotal area of advance was expressed by the giant band leaders Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman who Brought Klezmer influence into ‘Swing” by the Andrews Sisters and Barry Sisters, the two art forms had coalesced.

The credibility of Jewish influence on American Jazz, Showbiz and popular song was perhaps best described by Cole Porter who attributed his success to the fact that he wrote “Jewish music”, although not Jewish himself. The Klezmer Swingers trace this development and perform in a variety of styles taking the music into the 1940’s. They perform some originals which again has as its basis is Klezmer/Jazz ethos.