THE KLEZMORIM > Bio > Support > Dr. Martin Schwartz 

Dr. Martin Schwartz with the
      instigators of the klezmer revival, David Skuse and Lev Liberman.

MARTIN SCHWARTZ IS BRILLIANT, generous, witty, a linguist and scholar — Professor of Near Eastern Studies at University of California, Berkeley — and an excellent amateur singer with a fine musical ear. Meeting him changed my life.

My search for klezmer music from 1971 onward had led down many a blind alley. After the famous box of 78-rpm discs finally turned up at the Judah Magnes Museum, more dusty discs trickled in from here and there. But Marty Schwartz was the only collector who acquired klezmer 78s en masse, systematically, and knew what he had.

In 1975-76, as The Klezmorim coalesced into a band specializing in pre-1930 Yiddish instrumental music, the concept of a collection of klezmer recordings was unheard-of. For me, David Skuse, and David Julian Gray, Marty's stack of shellac platters became El Dorado. We’d sit on his floor, ecstatically listening 'til dawn to revelatory long-lost discs of Brandwine, Kandel, the Ruminskiy Orkester... and the more we learned, the more Marty collected.

Rare-78 collectors will obsessively bloodhound a single recording for years — haunting flea markets and record-store basements, breathing ancient dust, shunning daylight. Martin is the master. His fluency in Greek, Turkish, Hebrew, Yiddish, and other tongues makes him a wizard at deciphering obscure disc labels: no easy task, given recording companies' casual misrepresentations of artists and tunes.

Since the mid-1970s, Dr. Martin Schwartz’s musical detective work has illuminated our perspective on klezmer style and repertoire. Concurrently he helped spark a revival of rembetika, the bluesy underworld music of Greek hashish hangouts. Martin’s legendary ear has pinpointed melodic variants shared by Jewish, Greek, Armenian, and Turkish musicians in cosmopolitan cities like Saloniki, Smyrna, Istanbul. He has opened many ears to these connections in his scholarly writings and reissues of historic recordings.

As The Klezmorim toured across North America and Europe disseminating the klezmer meme, we knew we’d see Marty among the audience whenever we performed back home in Berkeley. His praise was sweet because we had to earn it. When we exhibited excesses or failings as interpreters of klezmer music, his frank tutelage corrected our trajectory. Ultimately, I'd like to think he enjoyed hearing his cherished 78s brought to life.

Those all-night listening sessions at Marty’s pad ignited a musical revolution. Professor Martin Schwartz deserves honor as a pioneer, mentor, gadfly, and hero of the klezmer revival.