The New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars
5:45 p.m. Friday, May 6
It's the energy in the group that still appeals to me," says Jonathan Freilich, guitarist and cofounder of the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. The band celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and its Jazz Fest set features a crowded reunion of current and former members.
From modest beginnings at the long-gone Kaldi's Coffeehouse on Decatur Street and bring-your-own-stir-fry nights at Lucky's Lounge on St. Charles Avenue, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars grew to become one of the most intense and innovative klezmer bands on the planet. Perhaps that's because it's one of the only bands to fuse celebratory Eastern European Jewish folk music with a New Orleans attitude and funky vibe. Audiences get wild and weird in the best of ways. The Klezmers played my wedding. And it's going to play my funeral.
The Jazz Fest show features many original members, including accordionist Glenn Hartman, saxophonist Ben Ellman of Galactic, bassist Arthur Kastler, violinists Dave Riebeck and Rick Perles, original drummer Mean Willie Green, who is more familiar to many for his work with the Neville Brothers, and percussionists who subsequently replaced him, Stanton Moore of Galactic and Kevin O'Day.
"It's going to be a big party," Freilich says. And well it should be — 20 years is a long time for a band, especially one with such strong personalities. Back when it started, "We admired bands like the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead who were bands for years," Freilich says.
"We figured that this was music old men could do and make the young girls shake it," he adds. And the young girls do — and the old women and even the young men too. It's music for all ages. My 93-year-old grandmother did a turn with the hora when she heard what the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars were throwing down.
"We've been thrown together in intense situations, so there is this closeness between us. There are intimate bonds between us," Freilich says. "We played balls out for years. Now we're diversifying the repertoire. But people still like it. The audience is still into it and we're still into it. It's still vital. There is still potential in it. It still has creativity."