Appalachian Roots of the Klezmer Revival

Dumneazu (whom I think of as Klezmerescu) has a fascinating post about the Appalachian roots of the revival of Klezmer musical traditions in the U.S.

Like a lot of folks who play Klezmer music, I got my start playing American traditional folk music back in the 1970s. New York was a magnet for folk music, and there was a very active scene of people playing traditional Appalachian fiddle music and old-time southern music styles. One peculiarity of the New York Appalachian fiddle and bluegrass scene was that almost all of the local music enthusiasts were either Jewish or Italian…. Young New York musicians would make the pilgrimage south to North Carolina or West Virginia to learn to play at the feet of some of the old masters of traditional folk fiddling, like Tommy Jarrell of Toast, North Carolina. Tommy’s style (generally known as “Round Peak” style) became the New York City default mode for fiddling.

UPDATE: Nathanael at Rhine River sees the “Hillbilly Klezmer” pair of aces and raises the bet with a link to a current story in the Hartford Courant headlined However Unlikely, Connecticut Becomes A Center In The Ukulele’s Resurgence.

To stand in the Clinton home of Jim and Liz Beloff is to find yourself in an unofficial Ukulele Information Center.

The husband-and-wife team, both in their 50s, have carved out a rather singular niche for themselves as experts on all things to do with the plucky four-string instrument. They’re widely credited within the ukulele community (indeed, there is one) for the recent resurgence in uke activity….

Beloff figures we’re in the “third wave” of the ukulele (the first being in the early 1920s, the second in the 1950s). This new wave has produced a breed of ukuleleists, mostly from Hawaii, who defy expectations of what the ukulele can do. John King plays classical music on his uke (it sounds a lot like a harpsichord).

The current uke superstar is Jake Shimabukuro, a lightning-fast player who lists guitarists Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen as influences. In concert, he often uses guitar effects to manipulate the sound.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has brought an avant-garde sensibility to the ukulele by deconstructing old standards. Though not so big in its namesake country, the group is popular in Japan.

“Many started taking it up for the philosophy and for the iconography that the ukulele represented,” says Bill Robertson, whose recent documentary “Rock That Uke” chronicled the punk and alternative ukulele scene (yes, there is one). “Since that time, it has become the instrument for musicians to demonstrate their virtuosity.”

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Filed under Appalachia, music

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