Klezmatics turn Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah lyrics into songs
BCC’s cantor in previous years, Lorin Sklamberg, was interviewed by the San Francisco Gate, and BCC is mentioned in the article. Read here:
When you think of Woody Guthrie, Jewish music probably doesn’t come to mind. But the legendary Dust Bowl bard, whose mother-in-law was the noted American Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt, wrote a batch of songs about Hanukkah and the Jewish cultural life of Coney Island, where the Guthrie family lived in the 1940s.
“Mermaid Avenue that’s the street/ Where the lox and bagels meet,” go the lyrics to Guthrie’s “Mermaid’s Avenue,” one of several dozen unrecorded tunes whose melodies were never written down. Guthrie’s daughter Nora, who maintains his archives, had the lyrics. After attending a concert by the Klezmatics — at which the far-ranging Jewish roots band played a song by Nora’s grandma with fiddler Itzhak Perlman — she asked if the group might be interested in setting her father’s Hanukkah and Coney Island lyrics to music.
It was a no-brainer for the Klezmatics, whose 2006 recording of the songs they wrote to those Guthrie lyrics, “Wonder Wheel” (named for the Coney Island Ferris wheel), won the Grammy for best contemporary world music album. The band will play that music, stuff from their “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah” disc and more recent material when it makes its SFJazz debut Dec. 21, midway through the Jewish Festival of Lights. (They’re also performing Dec. 20 at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz.)
Making music with Guthrie’s lyrics “was really inspiring to us, because they were something we could really work with,” says Lorin Sklamberg, the band’s lead singer, accordionist, guitarist and pianist. He was a founding member of the celebrated contemporary ensemble, whose music is rooted in Eastern European Jewish tradition but draws on sources as varied as punk rock, jazz and Catalan protest songs.
Sklamberg, 58, on the phone from his Manhattan home. He’s a Los Angeles native who worked as a cantor for a spell at the University of Southern California’s Hillel House and at the nation’s first LGBT synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim, also in Tinseltown.