THE KLEZMORIM > Disko > Streets of Gold > Background 

IN THE STUDIO, OUR STRINGS could battle the horns to a draw; in live performance, however, our brass players tended to blast the violinists off the stage. Streets of Gold documents The Klezmorim's evolution from strings/winds to brass/percussion — recapitulating the history of klezmer bands in the 1910s and '20s, when violinists lost lead-instrument status to clarinetists or cornetists.

When we started out, a Buick-sized piano-accordion — played initially by David Skuse, later by Nada Lewis (aka Nadezhda) — provided harmonic underpinning. But as my understanding of the klezmer genre grew, I de-emphasized chordal instruments, preferring to imply tonality via the ensemble as a whole. On Streets of Gold, Nadezhda hammered out rhythm and melody with the tsambal mik she'd acquired in Rumania; Lew Hanson contributed a scaled-back, musette-like accordion sound, more as texture than as foundation. Soon after, I banished piano-accordion from our lineup; elsewhere I explain why gargantuan squeezeboxes are antithetical to a true klezmer ensemble sound.

Having come to regard the term klezmer as defining the Yiddish instrumental (not vocal) tradition, I intended Streets of Gold to be an all-instrumental album. Arhoolie honcho Chris Strachwitz lobbied, however, for a rendition of "Mayn Rue Plats" sung by violinist Miriam Dvorin. Seeking a way to make this well-known working-class ballad our own, I asked Skuse and Stu Brotman to come up with an arrangement. They admirably redeemed the song with a moody, restrained setting that showcased Miriam nicely. I still wish we hadn't taken that last dip into the Yiddish-vocal pool — others do it better — but I have to admit that the track has legs. It appeared in soundtracks and stimulated a renewed interest in "Mayn Rue Plats" all over Europe; June Tabor, for one, learned the tune from our rendition.

The final Streets of Gold session in July 1978 featured an extended network of band members old and new. Several had other gigs that day, so we raced the clock to get tunes in the can. I functioned as co-producer/traffic cop; fortunately a spirit of camaraderie prevailed, and we nailed some crucial tracks in one or two takes. At the end of the day I unilaterally went into studio overtime so that Skuse and Brotman could put together their lovely arrangement of "Taxim," based on a 78-rpm disc by Jacob Gegna. It's probably my all-time favorite recorded track by The Klezmorim: a nice contrast to the bombast, and an effective album-closer.