THE KLEZMORIM > Bongo > Left Coast Origins > Eureka! 

Lev Liberman at the Renaissance Faire, Novato, California, 1974.

In 1971 I had a Eureka! moment where it all came together:

If this sounds a bit like Sherlock Holmes crying, "Aha! The fatal dose of poison was administered by a left-handed ape disguised as an Albanian unicyclist!" ...What can I tell ya? I sussed the evidence and tracked the beast.

Hypothesizing klezmer music's existence wasn't enough, however — I needed hard evidence in the form of old-time recordings. For the next several years I chased wild geese as helpful music lovers steered me completely wrong. Klezmer was absolutely off everybody's radar screen: beneath notice, remote, scary, a skeleton in the collective closet.

In 1974, while busking as a medieval/Balkan flutist at the Northern California Renaissance Faire, I attended a bacchanalian midnight after-party where Patty Farber performed her notorious Goat Dance, the single most salacious tail-twitch in the history of the world. Then Pitu Guli — a Bulgarian-themed UCLA Balkan supergroup featuring Stu Brotman, Stewart Mennin, Miamon Miller, David Shochat, and Ed Leddel — played Yiddish and Serbian tunes on sax, clarinet, trumpet, tuba, drums... and I was utterly enchanted as the music I'd been trying to wrap my brain around since 1971 seemed to emerge from the murk... a hidden treasure that, maybe, had been in my back yard the whole time.

(Trace the history of the klezmer revival and you'll find that all roads lead back, indirectly, to UCLA Ethnomusicology Department alumni in influential Southern California Balkan/Yiddish bands like Pitu Guli, The Chutzpah Orchestra, AMAN, NAMA, and Ellis Island. In addition to the marvelous musicians mentioned above, inspiration also came from UCLA ethnoids Mark Levy and Ron Holmes, as well as intermittently-bicoastal Yiddish music mavens Mark Simos and Michael Alpert.)

Finally in 1975 I rescued a boxful of rare 1920s klezmer platters from storage at the Judah Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California. Museum librarian Barbara Pomerantz helped me locate them, then convinced me to stick 'em on an ancient turntable. (They looked so fragile, I was afraid they'd fall apart like old bones.) And the second I heard the stuff — yeah, this was it. Exactly as I had imagined, but vastly better. Soon David Skuse and I started transcribing klezmer tunes from these old discs, and the rest is history...

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