THE KLEZMORIM > Bio > Support > Dr. Martin Schwartz 

Dr. Martin Schwartz pronounces his benediction on the instigators of the klezmer revival, David Skuse and Lev Liberman.

MARTY SCHWARTZ IS A BRILLIANT, generous, witty man who for many years helped fuel my klezmer jones. He's a professor of Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley, quite the linguist and scholar, 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 blind alleys: innumerable times a fabled stash of 78-rpm discs turned out to have been tossed in the garbage years before, or given to the grandkids as frisbees. After the famous box of 78s finally turned up at the Magnes Museum, more old discs trickled my way from various sources. But Marty Schwartz was the only collector I encountered who acquired klezmer 78s en masse, systematically, and knew what he had. Sitting on Martin's floor, listening 'til dawn to Brandwine, Kandel, the Ruminskiy Orkester... ecstasy. And the more we listened, the more Marty collected.

You have to realize that in the mid-1970s, the concept of a collection of klezmer 78s was completely unheard-of. There were no published discographies of klezmer 78s, and no cassette or LP reissues of pre-1930 klezmer instrumental music. For me and the band, Marty's collection was El Dorado.

Rare-78 collectors are obsessive fanatics who will bloodhound a single disc for years. They'll haunt flea markets and shoehorn their way into record-store basements, breathing ancient dust, shunning daylight. I've played that game myself, but Martin is the master. His fluency in Greek, Turkish, Hebrew, and Yiddish (among other tongues) makes him a wizard at deciphering 78-rpm disc labels. No easy job, given musicians' propensity for recording under pseudonyms... and recording studios' penchant for mistranslating, misspelling, or otherwise misrepresenting tunes and artists.

Martin's educated ear was particularly adept at identifying melodic variants — tracing shared musical influences of Jews, Greeks, Turks, and Armenians in locations like Saloniki, Smyrna, Istanbul. His musical detective work gave us wider stylistic options in tune interpretation.

Concurrently, he became an important figure in the revival of rembetika, the bluesy underworld music of the Greek hashish hangouts. His reissues of klezmer and rembetika 78s have been released on the Folklyric label — a subsidiary of Arhoolie, the label that first recorded The Klezmorim.

Martin faithfully attended all our Berkeley engagements. I'd like to think it was purely for the high of hearing his old records brought to life, but no doubt he was also drawn to the intense social scene that coalesced around the band. Praise from Marty was sweet indeed; we knew he wouldn't hesitate to speak forthrightly about our excesses or failings as performers.

By the early '80s he had withdrawn from the music scene to devote more time to writing and publishing in his academic field. But I'll never forget those all-night listening sessions. Dr. Martin Schwartz is one of the heroes of the klezmer revival.