Klezmer music, the traditional music of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, was in David Krakauer’s blood. He just didn’t know that until his late 20s.
“Through a series of chance meetings and coincidences, I got into klezmer music,” Krakauer said. “I was a totally assimilated American. None of [my grandparents] spoke Yiddish in front of me, [but] I knew that obviously we didn’t just jump out of an episode of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ on TV.”
The Krakauer Acoustic Klezmer Quartet will play at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. Krakauer, on clarinet, is joined by accordionist Will Holshouser, bassist Nicki Parrott and drummer Michael Sarin.
Krakauer’s ancestors, who came to the U.S. from places like Poland and Belarus at the turn of the 20th century, were part of a larger immigration wave from Eastern Europe, he said. They left their homes because of economic hardship and anti-Semitism.
“Like many immigrants, [my ancestors] were very invested into assimilating into the mainstream American society,” Krakauer said. “They basically abandoned the Yiddish language and started to really Americanize themselves.”
After studying classical and jazz clarinet for many years, Krakauer felt constrained by the genres. He wanted to play with a freer, original voice and couldn’t find his groove in jazz music. When he discovered klezmer music, everything clicked.
“I was really finding that voice that I thought I could never find in jazz,” Krakauer. “I was suddenly able to find [it] in klezmer. I was developing my own very kind of crazy style that drew on a lot of jazz and avant-garde music.”
Today’s program includes traditional klezmer tunes and original compositions by Krakauer, who draws inspiration from klezmer, jazz and other musical genres to write music that shares his quirky viewpoint.
“Basically, I’ve forged out my own language in this music,” Krakauer said. “I try to find a living music that’s not in a museum. It never gets super freaky or avant-garde or crazy, but it always has a quirkiness.”
Krakauer wrote a song about Lviv, Ukraine, the birthplace of his grandfather, juxtaposing a Viennese-style waltz with “these crazy interjections of screams of the Jewish dead.” He wanted to create a dialogue between the natural beauty of the land and the horrible reality of the suffering of Eastern European Jews.
Another original composition featured on today’s program is “Klezmer á la Bechet,” a tribute to jazz legend Sidney Bechet.
Playing klezmer music is fun for the quartet, but Krakauer said it’s not only about making people want to dance.
“It’s like a philosophical journey,” Krakauer said. “This is part of my experience — the experience of growing up assimilated and coming to [klezmer] music. You [would] come to it from a completely different angle if you grew up in a little village and all you heard was that music.”