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Klezmer! Jewish Music from Old World to Our World

by Henry Sapoznik

Hardcover - 350 pages (December 2000) Music Sales Corp;
ISBN: 0825671914 ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.05 x 9.53 x 6.41 Price: $29.95

Also available: Companion CD

Now available direct on our site. To order>>

“Somewhere behind Marc Chagall's flying fiddlers exists the true image of the klezmer. In contrast to Chagall's delicately muted colors are the simple monochromes popularly associated with Eastern European Jewish musicians, unschooled players whose 'soul music' moved listeners from laughter to tears, Wandering Jews of the Wandering Jews.”

Among the immigrants who came to America in search of a better life were Jewish musicians from Eastern Europe. Known as klezmorim in their hometowns, these musicians eked out a living by providing music for rituals, ceremonies, dancing, and celebrations. But on these shores, the chance for survival of their centuries-old tradition seemed grim.

The forces of assimilation led many musicians to work in classical, jazz, and pop, turning their backs on the music of their childhood. Others blended the Yiddish stylings and sounds with more contemporary music to form a new distinctly American music. Still others lay down their instruments and forgot the traditions they had cherished at home. And no one seemed to care, least of all the klezmorim's children and grandchildren, who, becoming more Americanized by the moment, adopted the music of their adopted country.

In 1976, ethnomusicology student Henry Sapoznik, the son of a cantor and Holocaust survivors, was hot on the trail of American old-time music, playing banjo tunes from Appalachia. While visiting a well-known traditional fiddler in North Carolina, Sapoznik was rendered speechless when asked, "Don't your people got none of your own music?" He decided to find out.

In his quest to trace the roots of klezmer, the traditional instrumental music of Yiddish-speaking Jews, Sapoznik unearthed antique 78s, sheet music, and newspaper clippings; found rare discs of long-forgotten radio programs; and, most important of all, rediscovered and championed the last generation of old-time klezmer musicians, bringing their musical styles to a new audience.

Klezmer! is a fascinating story of survival against all odds, of a musical legacy so potent it can still be heard, despite assimilation and near annihilation. The scratchy, distant sound of early recordings bursts forth with such power that they have formed the basis for an entirely new generation of performers, Jew and non-Jew alike, who have embraced and expanded the klezmer tradition. Through stories, pictures, and a companion CD, Klezmer! reintroduces this most vital musical form to new and old fans alike.

About the Author
Henry Sapoznik, a pioneering scholar and performer of traditional Yiddish and American music, has published widely on the history of Jewish theatrical and klezmer music. A record producer, performer and archivist, he has been a leader in the klezmer revival for two decades.


Booklist November 1999 Starred review

"Named with the Yiddish word for musician — and, since the Yiddish musical renascence, for Yiddish music — Klezmer! is his report on his journey. Sapoznik, as founder of the contemporary klezmer band Kapelye and the yearly Yiddish cultural institute KlezKamp, is a vital actor in the klezmer story. If ever there was a perfect match between author and subject, this is it. Sapoznik loves as well as knows his stuff, and he describes klezmer development with maximal affection as well as astute artistic evaluation. And thereafter he gets personal, without ever emphasizing his own importance at the expense of others involved in the current klezmer boom."

The New York Times Monday August 28, 2000

" …the ideal person to write a history of klezmer… a scholarly history spiced with sharp, amusing opinions..."

Leon Botstein, Conductor and Music Director, American Symphony Orchestra

"Weaves the colorful personal histories of klezmorim and the unlquely Yiddish music they created into a broad historical tapestry, rich in ethnic tradition and expansive in its legacy."

Peter Schickele (a.k.a. P.D.Q. Bach)

"Henry Sapoznik seems to know just about everything there is to know about one of the world's liveliest musical traditionso Klezmer! is voluminous but witty, full of memorable characters and tales."

J. Hoberman, author of Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds

"No one has done more than musician, archivist, record p~ducer, teacher, organizer Henry Sapoznik to revitalize the klezmer tradition. Now this tireless enthusiast has written the story of Jewish popuIar music, and his detailed account — at once impressively researched and engagingly personal — is a kind of literary freylekhh."

Fyvush Finkel, Emmy Award-winning Yiddish theater veteran

"Thank you for writing this wonderful book. It is a great read! I could not put it down. It touched my heart with lots of fond memories."


  • Winner of 2000 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Excellence in Music Scholarship
  • Winner of 2000 Association of Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) Award for Outstanding Acheivement in Music History

“Klezmer! Jewish Music From Old World to Our World” has been issued as companion CD by Yazoo Records (7017). The 22 tracks offer a chronological overview (1912-1997) which documents the diversity, audacity and enthusiasm which was Yiddish popular culture at its height, its decline and its current revitalization.

From the Shanachie Web site:

Klezmer: From Old World to Our World is the audio companion to the newly-published (MacMillan) book of the same name by Henry Sapoznik, which traces the chronological development of klezmer music through the 19th and 20th Centuries. Sapoznik, a klezmer historian and musician, has compiled the definitive collection of klezmer and Yiddish classics, featuring many of the centuries’ greatest performers, such as Dave Tarras, Andy Statman, Naftule Brandweine and the Klezmatics.

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