Seth Rogovoy,
The Essential Klezmer:
A Music Lover's Guide to Jewish Roots
& Soul Music, from the Old World to
the Jazz Age to the Downtown Avant-Garde

(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000)

In his entertaining and fascinating book The Essential Klezmer, Seth Rogovoy traces klezmer music from its Old World roots to its migration to America at the end of the 19th century, where it flourished and declined, to its revival and renaissance at the end of the 20th century. Text boxes interspersed on the pages describe the instruments common to klezmer music and define common terms as well as provide extra information on the musicians and the music. Rogovoy includes a thorough and descriptive discography as well as a glossary, resources for klezmer music in other media and websites, a bibliography and a good index.

Rogovoy's discussion of the growth and development of klezmer music in Eastern Europe is presented as a linear history; it gives important context to the music in terms of the growth and development of folk music of other countries and cultures. This history fills in the gaps and gives klezmer music its rightful place in the overall picture of folk roots music. Once the music and the musicians are across the Atlantic, Rogovoy shifts to describing the music in terms of the musicians that helped its rise, largely because of early recordings. Thus the reader learns about performers such as Naftule Brandwein and David Tarras. As immigration tapered off, the interest in klezmer music dwindled, although it fused well with swing music.

In the '70s and '80s, klezmer music experienced a revival as more and more people began discovering their roots, young American Jews being no exception. Groups such as The Klezmorim, Kapelye, and The Klezmer Conservatory Band sprang up, recreating the classic sound but adding a personal style to it. By the 90s, groups such as The Klezmatics, Brave Old World, The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars began to experiment further, combining other styles of music with the classical sound of klezmer, while classical violinist Itzhak Perlman's enthusiasm brought klezmer into the mainstream with his "In the Fiddler's House" project. Musicians such as Wolf Krakowski and John Zorn have taken klezmer beyond the box, and non-klezmer musicians have begun to explore and incorporate klezmer music into their music.

The discography is magnificent. First, Rogovoy provides a list of 10 essential klezmer albums as well as "10 more for good luck." After that, he arranges the discography by band, but instead of merely listing albums, he goes into descriptive detail about the band and the music. Lists at the end include compilations, soundtracks, and bands broken out by style. The appendix includes websites for different bands as well as workshops, documentaries and films with klezmer in the soundtrack.

Not only is Rogovoy thorough and organized, but his writing is lucid and crisp, inspiring enthusiasm and interest in the reader. For Rogovoy, klezmer rocks, klezmer swings, klezmer is It, and he conveys his passion convincingly.

Whether you've just begun to listen to klezmer music or you're a klezmer connoisseur, Rogovoy's The Essential Klezmer is an invaluable resource.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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