THE KLEZMORIM > Bongo > The Show > Downside 

THE SHOW'S LONGISH DRAMATIC MODULES connected up to 35 melodies, themes, and musical cues per evening. Changes required laborious restaging and rehearsal, which made us crazy.

Through the early '80s, a stable personnel lineup gave us the resources to keep unleashing new stuff in concert... as many as three different Shows per year. But from 1983 on, our drum and trumpet slots were a revolving door. Musicians would ride the klezmer train for a year or two, then split — forcing us to spend precious rehearsal time recruiting and training new players for the next tour. By the mid-'80s most of us had wearied of updating the dramatic material. Some nights, we tamed the bear; other nights, we wore the albatross.

By 1986-88 I longed to tackle the challenge of projecting charismatic intensity without moving a muscle. Perhaps by then The Klezmorim's reputation was secure enough to let us be players pure and simple — keeping what we'd learned about holding an audience's attention and moving efficiently onstage, but discarding the shtick. During the Berlin Jazz Festival we'd had an extended run at the ultra-hip Quasimodo Club, where the tiny stage barely gave us room to stand and we played virtually nonstop from 10 PM to 2 AM for hardcore jazz fans who came night after night just to hear our improvisations. I mean, we had the chops to drop the props.

Musically the ensemble was at its peak, with damn good clarinetist  Ben Goldberg and delightfully loose percussionist  Kenny Wollesen (who later recorded with Tom Waits and John Zorn) bracketing a well-seasoned brass section. So maybe we could have just played, and it would have been all right.

Do I regret The Show? Naah. It fueled the manic energy that helped us change the face of music. When our time on Earth is done, we're gonna jam from here to eternity with the rest of the cheap-thrills showboats who defined their era: Cab Calloway, Frank Zappa, Carmen Miranda, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Sun Ra, Little Richard, Naftuli Brandwine...

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