May 14, 2014 - Tulsa Klezmer Band Opens for Ungerman's Sunday Show



                        TULSA KLEZMER BAND SET TO OPEN THE SHOW                                                                


            If the recording of a live disc is always an event, then Rebecca Ungerman's Sunday Jazz Depot concert is going to be doubly special.

            “Even before the two live recordings, patrons will have another treat: one of Tulsa's longest-lived bands plans to open the evening with a full set – of klezmer music, led by Dr. Hurewitz,“notes  Jason McIntosh, Jazz Hall CEO.

            “Klezmer music,” explains Dr. David Hurewitz, “is the traditional instrumental and dance music of Eastern European Jews. It's Fiddler on the Roof wedding music. As soon as I say that, people say, `Oh, yeah. I know what you mean now.'

            “But there are different styles,” he adds. “so we'll be playing fast stuff and waltzes and ballads and things from the Yiddish theatre that evolved in Romania and then came to the lower East Side of New York. We'll have some tunes that became mainstays in jazz, like `Bai Mir Bistu Shein' that the Andrews Sisters did, and several others that sound more like Dixieland than anything else.”

            The group performing this varied program is the Tulsa Klezmer Band, which includes Hurewitz on clarinet. It began around 1975, after Hurewtiz completed a stretch in the Navy and settled in Tulsa, establishing his medical practice.

            “When I came here, I met an Israeli, a representative from Tulsa's sister city, Tiberius, who had an accordion,” he recalled. “He was a klezmer musician in Israel, and I said, `Gee, I play that stuff. I have a clarinet.' So we got together and started playing, and then someone else joined, and someone else said, `Wow. Can I join you?' It just sort of evolved, over the late '70s and early '80s. The band has been a presence in Tulsa since that time.”

            The current lineup of the Tulsa Klezmer Band includes, in addition to Hurewitz, Stephen Thompson on trumpet, Craig Sanford on trombone, Kent Farish on tuba, Eliyahu Krigel on drums, Nick Bratkovich on accordion, and the well-known Tulsa entertainer Jon Glazer on piano.

            “Nick Bratkovich is from Milwaukee; he's lived here for 10 years. He's an expert in Balkan and Serbian music,” notes Hurewitz. “And I've played with Steve Thompson in the Sounds of Music Orchestra for years.

            “We also have Moe Bernstein, an attorney who grew up in a Yiddish-speaking household in New York. He knows a lot of the Yiddish theatre-type songs, so he's going to sing some of those with us.”

            Hurewitz traces the beginnings of klezmer music back to biblical times, noting that the Romans forbade music after the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Holy Temple in 70 AD.

            “Then gradually, people started to play music again; the first recorded evidence of klezmer music was in the 1500s,” he says. “These were the most mobile of Jewish people: They would go from town to town playing, not religious music, but life-cycle music, for weddings, bar mitzvahs, festivals. The clarinet became the lead instrument, taking over for violin and strings. And then when people came out from the Czar's army in Russia in the late 1800s, trained in brass instruments, they joined these bands.” 

            By that time, European immigrants were beginning to bring klezmer music to America, where it flourished for a time. But, says Hurewitz, “authentic klezmer music all but disappeared” during World War II, and didn't really make a comeback until the late '70s, just about the time the Tulsa Klezmer Band was starting up.

            “It was revived by young musicians coming out of conservatories,” he says. “One of the leading musicians was a guy who trained in the Boston Conservatory, and he found all these authentic klezmer-band arrangements in the attic of an uncle. All his co-musicians were students, and many of them weren't Jewish. Many of ours aren't, either. They're just people who wanted to play in that style.”

            He adds that he feels it has been a “mitzvah,” a worthy deed, “this opportunity to preserve and provide traditional Jewish music to the Tulsa community.”  

            Following the Tulsa Klezmer Band, Rebecca Ungerman, her band, and a guest singer will take the stage for not one but two live recording sessions.

            “[Veteran Tulsa music figure] Hank Charles is recording the show, and it's actually going to yield two projects: my latest CD, which will be called Hopeful Romantic, and an EP of six songs by Sarah Maud and I called Songs for Our Folks – all duets,” explains Ungerman. “Sarah Maud will be our guest vocalist, and we both picked songs that just somehow relate to our folks, our parents; I think it's going to be really charming to a lot of people.

            “I'll leak a couple of the titles,” she adds. “We're doing `What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” and I'm so excited about singing it with Sarah. Then I'm doing [Bob Wills'] `San Antonio Rose' for Dad. That was his favorite song. We've also got a couple of opportunities for scatting. I didn't know a song that wasn't classical that was related to my mother, so I called my brother and he said he remembered her loving {Ella Fitzgerald's] `A-Tisket, A-Tasket.' So we're throwing that in there as well. Sarah and I are very excited about scatting on a disc – and I'm a little nervous about it.”

            Scheduled to play in the band that evening is bassist Jordan Hehl and drummer Nicholas Foster, two Oklahoma Jazz Hall veterans, along with guitarist Josh Westbrook – who, Ungerman says, “has tone” in his playing. 

            “Oh boy, these boys are good,” she says. “I love playing with them, and I'm in the process right now of trying to find some gigs for us that are more regional than local. We've been playing at Whole Foods every Monday for quite a while, except for when I was sick, and we've come up with some really nice arrangements of a couple of different things that will find their way onto my CD. Of course, there'll be an original or two from me on my solo album, but it'll mainly be covers – with our twist on them.

            For example, she adds, “Somehow, Jordan has found a new path toward [the 1960s Shirelles hit] `Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' that I just love, and I never thought I'd want to sing that song again, because I'd sung it so much. And we've also got a real nice traditional version of that wonderful song `Candy.'”

            The illness that Ungerman alludes to kept her off the stage for several weeks, leading to her having to undergo a gall-bladder operation. And while she admits that she's not 100 percent recovered yet, she feels well enough to do three shows in a row at the Jazz Depot. Prior to the Sunday CD-recording concert, she plans to perform Friday and Saturday with a cast of 18 in her Way Broad Revue, a musical featuring portions of dozens of Broadway show tunes, arranged in medleys and bookended by snippets of pop songs. 

            It is, she says, an honor for her and her company, Spinning Plates Productions, to be performing on stage for a three-day weekend – an honor not only for her, but for all of her musical cohorts as well.

            “Hank's recorded there before, and he's thrilled to be coming back,” she says. “We're all just really pleased to be at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall – to be doing two [different] shows, and two live discs, all over one weekend. The Oklahoma Jazz Hall plays a key role in our local music scene. The Jazz Hall is a place for musicians and those of us who love music”

            The Tulsa Klezmer Band is set to take the stage at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 18, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. The Rebecca Ungerman live-recording concert will follow.

            Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.   

            The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Spring Concert Series.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.

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