Party Until You Are Beyond Rationality, An Interview with Klezmer Musician Frank London

Frank London -  Carnival Conspiracy: In the Marketplace All is Subterfuge
Frank London –
Carnival Conspiracy: In the Marketplace All is Subterfuge
Klezmer musician Frank London has a new recording with one of his numerous musical projects, Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All Stars.

Carnival Conspiracy: In the Marketplace All is Subterfuge
was released by German label Piranha Musik, distributed by Harmonia Mundi in the United States. The recording brings the spirit and aesthetic of Brazilian
carnival together with the street sounds of Brass Band and Klezmer in the celebration of what London calls “the original New York Jewish music.”

A departure from
Frank London
’s other projects, Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All Stars is rooted in the spirit of Brass Band music.
World Music Central interviewed Frank London in January of 2006:What is the concept behind your latest project, Carnival Conspiracy: In the Marketplace All is Subterfuge?

The concept is to party until you are beyond rationality, and then forced to stand on one leg and explain the meaning of existence and give a dvar Torah on the dialectic of social order and repression while being tickled. It’s a drinking game. It has no meaning and is as serious as your life.

What attracts you to Carnival?

The old question of whether Carnival is a sop, bread and circuses, that the ruling class uses to allow the oppressed to let off steam, or if it is the incubator of revolutionary consciousness through its manifestation of the upending of traditional social order. Then there is the fact that carnival is a conscious party, dancing, ecstasy, color, sensuality, cross dressing, spectacle,

How has living in New York, in culturally diverse neighborhoods, affected your music?

By not only exposing me to different musics (one can listen to recordings anywhere) but rather affording me the opportunity to play in a multitude of traditional musical situations (rock, rap, reggae, calypso, Caribbean, Haitian, Balkan, etc.) and also the access to the greatest musicians in all cultures, making collaborations as easy as a phone call and a subway fare.

You work with a very diverse group of musicians on the album. Could you detail how you met and started to work with these musicians?

Susan Watts, Merlin Shepherd, Sanne Moericke, and Mark Rubin are among the many people I know simply because they are the superstars of the modern Klezmer world, and we meet at all the international events —
Klezkamp, festivals, etc.

Matt Darriau and I met in Boston almost 30 years ago and have played every conceivable music together.

Curtis Hasselbring, Ron Caswell, Alex Kontorovich and Jacob Garchik are part of the next generation of creative classical improvising ethnic brass players on the New York City scene and are obvious choices for a traditional progressive Klezmer brass band.

Aaron Alexander moved to New York and due to his experiences in improvisation, Jazz and Jewish music
rapidly became one of my main collaborators in Hasidic New Wave, and friends.

Lorin Sklamberg was one of the first musicians I met in New York over twenty years ago when we both played Balkan music with Zlatne Uste. We are co-founders of the Klezmatics and have recorded together as a trio.

Michael Alpert, of Kapelye and Brave Old World, and Adrienne Cooper are (along with Lorin Sklamberg) the leading New York City Yiddish singers. They have a great repertoire, and are essential members of my life. Michael introduced me, and the rest of the Jewish music world, to the amazing German Godenshtayn, who at 72 years old, makes his recording debut here.

Rob Curto and I met many years ago playing acid-Jazz gigs in clubs around the city. As his interest in Brazilian music deepened he became an obvious collaborator for this project. He introduced me to Scott Kettner, who leads the amazing Northern Brazilian drumming ensemble, Maracatú New York.

Tine Kindermann is not only a singer and visual artist, but also my wife. Sarah Gordon is Adrienne’s daughter, and is now the upcoming star of Yiddish songwriting and singing. I scored Pearl Gluck’s film

, and she is one of my closest Hasidic music informants and a great friend and drinking buddy, and she introduced me to Michelle Miller.

Jeff Warschauer and I were in the Klezmer Conservatory Band in Boston.

Hugo Dwyer has been recording and producing New York new music for as long as I have lived here. I am truly blessed.

The cover artwork is by Richard Kenigsman.
Were you involved in the selection of the album cover?

This is a blessing and a coincidence (‘there are no coincidences’) and a gift and bashert (meant to be…) Richard Kenigsman is a Klezmer violinist whom I met while teaching in London. Not only is he a great artist, but his sensibility is hand in glove with mine. He uses Jewish traditional materials with love and respect while he subverts them, from the inside, transforming meaning and metaphor. I played him the music and discussed carnival, and he got inspired! one week later all the
art was emailed to me, an artistic outpouring of love and

You are a member of several musical projects.

You betcha.

How do you manage to keep up?

Necessity, artistic and economic. Burning inspiration. Recreational drugs. Love of music and culture and people and communication. Frequent flyer miles, and especially good food and good friends and a great family. Love.

How does it affect touring and rehearsing?

So, say I get an idea for a project (‘how can I learn classic historical Jewish religious singing and recontextualize it?’), or I am presented with an opportunity (“can you lead a project with Austrian soloists and a 90-piece amateur town band?”). Then I do something with it and hopefully rehearse perform and record it. Then people hear it and want to bring it to their community so i am on tour with the project. I go places, meet people, they present me with new ideas and opportunities or are interested in what I want to do next, and the
circle is completed.

You record for a European label. Is Klezmer music more popular in Europe than in the US?

I also record for US labels – solo records on Tzadik, Klezmatics on a variety of labels… My main goal is to match the project with the label, and Piranha & FLKBAS [Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All Stars] are a perfect match. Piranha has great klezmer (Klezmatics)
and great brass bands (Boban
Fanfare Ciocarlia
) and understand the intersection of tradition and modernity, so there is nowhere that I would rather be.

You have been interested in the rebirth of Jewish culture in New York. Did you receive any support?

The support that I get in New York is threefold:

  • The love of my family and the way that living Jewish culture enriches our life on a daily basis.
  • Being in a community of friends who constantly challenge me, themselves, the world, with their ongoing dialogue with Jewish and world culture.
    Without slighting the countless people that I am leaving off this list, I think of Jenny Romaine, Adrienne Cooper, Jennifer Miller, Basya Schaechter, Anthony Coleman, John Zorn, Sandy Dubowski, Lorin Sklamberg, Pearl Gluck, Rabbi Sebert, Greg Wall, Aaron Alexander, Yossi Piamenta, Aaron Bisman, Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross ,.. this list could go on and on.
  • being surrounded by the artifacts and detritus of this culture (I live in the Lower East Side, where 4 of 5 churches are old Jewish synagogues.)
    The inspiration of people and place.

What is the present condition of Jewish music in the United States?

There is more Jewish music of more variety being created and marketed at this point in the USA than ever before. The music ranges from great to execrable, but that is the sign of a living vibrant culture (Baruch HaShem.) What is interesting and perversely annoying is the way unlike musics are compared simply because of the label Jewish Music, which is too large or too general to have any meaning. Thus the subtitle of the new CD: “In
the Marketplace All is Subterfuge

Some people are talking about Alternative Jewish Music. Is there such a trend?

To get a little religious/ preachy, Judaism encourages ‘singing new songs of praise’ and so in our culture we constantly create new musics based on our living textual and musical tradition. But, more generally, this is the human condition, the universal need of people to create and create anew. The terms (ie Alternative Jewish Music) are simply for marketing purposes, but the content is real.

Every generation has to makes its claim to its own zeitgeist and therefore its mark on history and (in obvious terms) what they create becomes an ‘alternative’ to what already existed.

We live at a time of consumption and communication where all eras of art and music co-exist, so it is possible on any given Shabbes in New York City to go to a Synagogue and hear traditional cantorial music, both Ashkenazic & Sefardic, Klezmer bands, Hasidic nigunim (either historical or newly composed), Israeli music, American folk-inspired songs, 19th century German Jewish music, progressive middle-easterny jam music, etc… all serving the same ritual function. That’s a lot of alternatives.

What role does the Knitting Factory play in New York’s Jewish music scene?

At the moment, none, as it has become an all-rock venue. But in its heyday it was the center for much of the performance and recording of new Jewish music and there were a good 8-10 years (say 1993 -2001) when, through its label, venue, festivals and tours, it really was one of the the prime foci and motivators of the
New York Jewish music scene… so much so that now, 5 years later, you still ask about it.

Are you interested in other forms of Jewish music, such as Sephardic or Middle Eastern?

I am interested in all music, and obsessed when I find something I love. Most recently it is one of the most beloved singers in Ethiopia, Mahmoud Ahmed who I cannot stop listening to. His music inspired one of my new compositions for the
‘ upcoming CD of songs with lyrics by Woody Guthrie.

What new projects are you working on?

– In Krems, Austria I created a piece based on local music and drinking songs for local folksinger, plus improvisers Wolfgang Muthspiel and Otto Luechner, and the 80-piece Trachtenkappelle Rossatz.

– In Sao Paulo, Brazil, I created a piece for FLKBAS plus Spok’s 20-piece Frevo Orchestra, and other Brazilian Guest stars.

– The film A Cantor’s Tale which I scored has been winning prizes at Festivals throughout the world, and debuts in New York this month. The CD Hazonos that I recorded for the film with Cantor Jack Mendelson, was released on Tzadik Records.

– I am recording an album of German medieval love and death ballads with Tine Kindermann

– I am invited to be part of a Trumpet Trio tour this summer with Boban Markovic & Roy Pacci (from Manu
‘s band)

– In Paris, I was special guest with the Hip Hop Hoodios at La Scene Bastille

– In Toronto, we debuted a radical music theater piece entitled “A Queer Jewish Wedding.”

– One of the theater pieces I am working on, “Green Violin” a musical by Elise Thoron & Frank London was workshopped and performed in St Petersburg, Russia.

– In
New York
, the Hasidic New Wave performed with Yakar Rhythms at the Shlomo Carlebach Conference. Then, the
played at Lincoln Center’s annual Holiday Tree lighting event before going on tour in California.

– The Nigunim Trio (myself, Lorin Sklamberg, and Rob Schwimmer) were featured in “Songs of the Spirit” with Odetta, Sussan Deyhim and a group of Tibetan Monks at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA ;
at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington; and at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

– The Klezmatics are entering the studio to record our CD of Woody Guthrie songs with our original music, including many songs that I composed.

– “A Night in the Old Marketplace” new Jewish musical by Glen Berger & Frank London in Buenos Aires.

– I taught at KlezKamp in the Catskills.

– Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars will debut ‘Carnival Conspiracy‘ at GlobalFest at Joe’s Pub, in New York City.

– Folksbiene Yiddish Theater presents “ESN: Songs from the Kitchen.”

Frank London & David Yengibarjan will perform for the 7th Vienna
international Accordion Festival 2006

– February 26th.Folksbiene Yiddish Theater presents “A Night in the Old Marketplace” new Jewish musical by Glen Berger &Frank London.

– The Klezmatics will perform New York’s Town Hall for our 20th Anniversary Celebration

Author: World Music Central News Department

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