The Klezmatics, considered the world’s best-known klezmer band, will celebrate its 28th anniversary in concert at Flato Markham Theatre on Dec. 11.
Founded in 1986 in New York by original members Frank London, Paul Morissett and Lorin Sklamberg, the six-member troupe appeals to those appreciating the history, rhythms and sounds of klezmer music of east European Jewry from past centuries.
“When The Klezmantics was formed, all of us thought the band would supplement our incomes from teaching music and other occupations. I never thought that, almost 30 years later, my life mission has changed to preserve the musical legacy of our band and klezmer music,” said Sklamberg, the lead vocalist who plays the accordion, guitar, piano and violin.
“Klezmer is the unique sound of east European Jewishness. It has the power to evoke a nostalgic feeling for a time and place we never knew,” said London, the trumpet player.
Over the years, The Klezmatics have made a conscious effort to expand the boundaries of their music through collaborations and exploration of other musical genres.
“Klezmer has to be intertwined with American culture. We want to make sure that The Klezmatics are part of a living tradition, and traditions change,” said Morissett, who plays bass.
Two albums in particular have expanded the range and popularity of The Klezmatics. The 2004 CD Brother Moses Smote The Water was an exploration of gospel and jazz through a collaboration with gospel singer Joshua Nelson and jazz vocalist Kathryn Farmer.
The following year, a chance meeting with Nora Guthrie in concert led to The Klezmatics recording the lyrics of her father, folk music legend Woody Guthrie, in Wonder Wheel.
Wonder Wheel broadened the appeal of The Klezmatics by including the political leanings of Guthrie, who was influenced by the poetry of his Jewish mother-in-law. The album won the Grammy Award in 2006 for best world music album.
Songs such as On Holy Ground and Come When I Call You from the album had The Klezmatics singing in English, with the Guthrie lyrics calling for support of various social issues.
“It was so important to us to sing songs about issues we believe in, such as gay rights, recognition of Israel, peace in the Middle East and other issues,” said Sklamberg, who is openly gay and lives with his husband and children in New York.
The popularity of The Klezmatics continues to increase, and they recently performed with classical violinist Itzhak Perlman and Israeli singer Chava Alberstein, and have appeared on late-night television with David Letterman and Conan O’Brien.
The Klezmatics have recorded 10 albums and have given concerts in more than 20 countries including Israel. Other band members are alto saxophone and clarinetist Matt Darrian, vocalist and violinist Lisa Gutkin and drummer Richie Barshay.