Klezmer Maven Seth Rogovoy

Speaks at Beth El


By Susie Davidson

Advocate Correspondent


BELMONT - Truly an improbably successful story of historical revival and perennial entertainment, klezmer music has, in the past couple-three decades, united the old and the new in a veritable explosion of regenerative, constantly emerging product and practitioner.

Seth Rogovoy, at the helm of the movement, who authored the 2000 Algonquin book “The Essential Klezmer: A Music Lover's Guide to Jewish Roots and Soul Music, from the Old World to the Jazz Age to the Downtown Avant-Garde,” will, in the final installment of a three-part series, bring his klezmertise to Belmont’s Temple Beth El (2 Concord Ave., Belmont) this Saturday, June 1, from 2-3 p.m. And locals figure in the story.

“With references to recordings, interviews with key figures of the revival, and video clips,” says Beth El spokesperson Dr. Jeanne Rose Century, “Seth Rogovoy will show how the work of revival bands, including Boston's own Klezmer Conservatory Band in the 1970s and 1980s, saved traditional Yiddish wedding music from extinction, setting the stage for the full-fledged klezmer renaissance we are now enjoying with creative bands like the Klezmatics, Brave Old World and Boston's own Naftule's Dream and Klezperanto.

“He will also show how klezmer has begun to fuel the creative improvisations of leading avant-garde jazz musicians like John Zorn and Anthony Coleman, echoing immigrant-era klezmer's influence on jazz and swing, which was recounted in the second class last month.”

The format has included lecture, samples of music, film clips, and questions and answers. This segment will specifically recount the miraculous revival.

“I fell in love with the sound of klezmer as soon as I heard it,” says Rogovoy, who grew up in Islip, NY and attended Sinai Reform Temple in Bay Shore, “and it became an obsession. The music was instantly familiar, intellectually exciting, and emotionally comforting. It also featured some of the best playing I’d heard, and I’ve heard lots of music,” he says.

Rogovoy, who has written regularly about popular music and jazz for publications such as the Boston Phoenix, Newsday, the Berkshire Eagle, Sing Out!, The Forward, Moment and others, lives with his wife and their two children in Great Barrington, Mass., where they are members of the Reconstructionist Congregation Ahavath Sholom. He also hosts a bimonthly, traditional-egalitarian minyan at his home, and moderates "Essential Torah," a Jewish-learning Internet discussion group.

In his book, The Essential Klezmer, he traces klezmer music from its Old World roots to its American incarnation, which stemmed from the end of the 19th century. He includes text boxes which describe klezmer instruments, common terms and information on notable musicians. The highly comprehensive book includes an annotated discography and glossary, klezmer resources, bibliography and index.

For a clue to Rogovoy’s thoroughness, he lists 10 essential klezmer albums and includes "10 more for good luck." The discography is arranged by band, with descriptive detail about each’s music. His summaries include compilations, soundtracks, and bands, grouped by style. In the appendix, bands’ websites are compiled as well as workshops, documentaries and films which include klezmer in their soundtracks. It’s quite a coompendium.

Reviewers agree. “Invaluable,” said the New York Times. “Indispensable” echoed The Jewish Week.

Rogovoy has taught classes and groups about klezmer at Williams College, the National Havurah Committee's Summer Institute, the Workmen's Circle Lodge, and at Makor, New York's leading Jewish cultural center. "As fulfilling as writing the book was,” he recalls “- and it was both fulfilling and thrilling - I really enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for the music with people first-hand, in my talks and classes."