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David Krakauer

by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2004-07-27

David Krakauer

David Krakauer

One of the world's leading Jewish musicians, David Krakauer is to the clarinet what Jimi Hendrix was to the guitar.

Over the past two decades he's worked with the likes of The Klezmatics, Socalled and Sophie Solomon as well as with his own band, David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness. Caroline Westbrook finds out more about his brilliant career.

When did you first get into klezmer and how did your interest in it begin?

Well, it began in the late 80s and the thing was that I began to play klezmer as sort of a musical hobby for myself, I was a fully active professional musician playing orchestras, doing chamber music, doing a lot of contemporary music, some experimental music, improvising, kind of a mix of stuff, and teaching.

And then I used to live in New York City right across the street from one of the big Jewish delicatessens, Zabar's, and there was a little group of musicians playing klezmer music under my window, I would hear it every day. Then I was engaged, in my head I would say, in a big search to find myself musically at that time, and I was listening to a lot of Greek and Turkish clarinet music players, and a lot of different kinds of folk music from around the world, and also hearing some klezmer music, and wanting to do more improvising and creating, and felt I wasn't doing enough of that. Then suddenly I was taking the bus in New York City, and I ran into the accordion player of this klezmer band and she said, 'We're looking for a clarinet player, do you know anybody?' and the words came out of my mouth, 'I'll do it!' And that's how it started, and I was really and truly doing it just for the love of it, just for fun, but I was just enjoying it so much – and then about eight months later The Klezmatics got a hold of me, and then it became a very very major part of my activities.

How would you say klezmer has changed over the past 20 years?

I think it's been an amazing journey, because at first say in the mid-70s people were trying to rediscover klezmer and find this culture that had been somewhat lost to our generation, and so people were trying to copy the old records, and trying to find again what had been
lost by what I would call the three-pronged interruption, which was of course the Holocaust, Stalin suppressing any Eastern European Jewish culture which was left in Europe, and the assimilation of the Disapora, which I of course was a part of, my family came over in the
late 19th Century and they were done with anything Yiddish.

And so for our generation it was really a struggle to find this culture again, and we're still involved in that and of course when I came on the scene in the late 80s and pretty quickly joined The Klezmatics just after I started playing klezmer, then suddenly The Klezmatics went to Germany, we played for a thousand dancing screaming people, and then it was gone beyond just copying the music and we were ready to create something new, which I've been passionately involved with ever since – and forming my own band Klezmer Madness in the mid-90s after several years with The Klezmatics. Then it's been just wonderful being on this project with Sophie Solomon and Socalled – the Hiphopkhasene – and now I've been increasingly collaborating with Socalled.

Between you and Frank London, are there realistically any opportunities for anyone else to play trumpet or clarinet?

Yes of course! There are plenty of people out there playing clarinet and trumpet, who are doing wonderful work.

Who do you admire in those fields?

Well, a great trumpet player is Susan Hoffman-Watts, whose mother Elaine Hoffman-Watts is an incredible klezmer drummer – her father was Joseph Hoffman, who was a very famous klezmer musician from the 1920s, so it's kind of a klezmer dynasty. And of course Britain's own Merlin Sheppard is one of the great exponents of traditional klezmer playing.

I'm sure I'm going to hurt people's feelings by forgetting people. And I'm a great fan of my former colleague in The Klezmatics, Alicia Svigals, for me she's the real queen of the klezmer violin.

What do you remember from the recording of the Krakauer Live in Krakow album?

Well, we were in Krakow for four days in a small club in Krakow, Poland, called the Indigo Club, which is one of these really amazing medieval cellars which are all over the city of Krakow. We spent four nights recording and then we went through all the live stuff and picked out the tracks we liked best. For me it's always amazing to go to Krakow, which is of course the city of my name – it's a very powerful place, very powerful for Jews, one hour from Auschwitz, so it's very important to go there and I've been going there on and off since 1992. It's a city I have a relationship with, I have a relationship with the audience there.

What do you think of the work being done by the Milken Archive, having appeared on many of their albums?

I've had the opportunity to record some wonderful concertos – the Celestial Dialogues of Ofer Ben-Amots which is a wonderful piece for clarinet and cantor soloists – and then some short pieces that were arranged by my teacher's teacher – a man named Simeon Bellison who was a very famous clarinet player in America – well he came from Russia originally and went to America – but he was passionately involved in Jewish music, he played on the soundtrack of Green Fields from 1937 – which is one of the great Jewish movies – and so I recorded a couple of these short pieces. And also there's Rocketekya (from the album Klezmer Concertos and Encores), which of course is taken from the Tekiah sound when you blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah – the word Tekiah means 'whole' – and so this Rocketekya is like a shofar on a