Andy Statman Trio
Part of: Migrations: The Making of America
Andy Statman Trio
·· Andy Statman, Clarinet and Mandolin
·· Jim Whitney, Bass
·· Larry Eagle, Drums and Percussion
Event DurationThe concert will last approximately two hours, including one 20-minute intermission.
Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Robert Browning Associates LLC.
Support for the Russian and Eastern European Jewish Migration series of the Migrations festival is provided by The Polonsky Foundation.
Lead support for Migrations: The Making of America is provided by the Ford Foundation, The Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund, and Igor Tulchinsky.
Additional support is provided by the Howard Gilman Foundation.
Public support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Two closely related musical traditions were brought to America by Eastern European Jewish immigrants: Chasidic vocal music and its instrumental counterpart, which became known as “klezmer” in the 1970s.
Chasidism was a populist, mystical movement begun by the legendary Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer—better known as the Baal Shem Tov—in the mid-1700s, and has continued through today. One of the Baal Shem Tov’s deep convictions was that every individual, even the most humble, could develop an intimate relationship with God and experience closeness to God. God was understood as not just the Supreme Being, in an abstract sense, but as a living reality that one could experience in one’s heart and in the world—if that was a person’s sincere intention.
Music played an important role in this spiritual quest. To be sure, Chasidic melodies were rooted in earlier Eastern European Jewish musical styles, but they developed in a variety of original directions—some of them startlingly so—to serve as a vehicle for cleaving to God. This spiritual use of song was a characteristic of Chasidic life, whether during the prayer service in the synagogue, at informal Chasidic gatherings—often presided over by a Chasidic mystical teacher, known in Yiddish as a rebbe—or in private, during the individual Chasid’s meditations and religious contemplation.
Chasidic melodies (niggunim) were usually sung without instrumental accompaniment except at weddings or special celebrations. On those occasions, the instrumental styles echoed the way the songs were sung. Beyond this, however, the musicians would perform the melodies in ways that allowed them to demonstrate their own skills; improvisation also played its part in making the instrumental interpretations creative and expressive. The more gifted of these musicians would compose original instrumentals for the same purposes. Yet the heart of the music remained true to the feelings expressed by Chasidic vocal music, and the instrumental flourishes and ornamentation were reflective of that spirit.
It has been noted that Jewish music, as it evolved, absorbed Gypsy and regional musical influences—but these influences and amalgamations, too, were transformed by the style and spirit of the Jewish way of playing. With the arrival of Eastern European Jewish immigrants to America in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, this style expanded even further.
Many of the great klezmer instrumentalists and composers came from Chasidic families, such as clarinetists Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras. Their repertoire reflected the influence of the music’s religious roots. Klezmer recordings of the early 20th century not infrequently had titles that mentioned various Chasidic rebbes (Naftule shpielt far der Rebbe and Der Manestricher Rebbe’s Chusidl) or cited phrases from Jewish liturgy. While the immigrants were assimilating American secular culture, the core of their music still reflected the deep emotions of Chasidic melodies—just as early African American soul music reflected its roots in gospel music.
While klezmer music—played by mainly secular musicians—gradually departed from its Chasidic roots and was influenced by other popular styles, the vocal music of the Chasidim continued to develop independently, according to its own subculture. Several great Chasidic composers came to America and continued to expand their music here; among them were the Modzitzer Rebbe, known as the Imrei Shaul, and his protégé, the late Rabbi Ben Zion Shenker. Another was the Bostoner Rebbe and his sons and grandsons, most of whom were born in America. Popular 20th-century Chasidic singers Rabbi Yankel Melamed and Rabbi David Werdyger were Gerer Chasidim.
Beginning in the 1950s, secular pop music began to make its way into the Orthodox Jewish world through backup bands on Jewish recordings and also through wedding bands. However, in recent years, there has been a renewal of klezmer instrumental music in the Chasidic communities of New York, and in the secular Jewish world, there has been a thriving klezmer scene for many decades. Unexpectedly, the almost-forgotten music of the Eastern European Jewish tradition has received a new lease on life.
Andy Statman—a virtuoso mandolinist, clarinetist, and composer—has expanded the boundaries of traditional and improvisational forms in his long career. A major figure in both Jewish music and bluegrass for more than four decades, he was highly influential in the klezmer revival and later broadened his interest in Jewish music to include Chasidic tunes, which he infuses with bluegrass, klezmer, and jazz. In 2012, he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Born in 1950 into a family of cantors, composers, and both classical and vaudeville musicians, Statman grew up in Queens. He started playing bluegrass when he was 12, and was soon performing with local bands at colleges and clubs, and on Sunday afternoons in Washington Square Park. At 17, after hearing avant-garde jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler, he began to study saxophone. Through his late teenage years, he played sax in free jazz, funk, rock, and Chicago blues bands, while expanding his mandolin playing in similar directions. He became a member of the experimental bluegrass groups Country Cooking and Breakfast Special, and also toured and recorded with David Bromberg’s and Vassar Clements’s bands.
Still seeking to broaden his horizons, Statman began to study and play Greek, Albanian, and Azerbaijani music. In 1975, he sought out legendary klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras and became his protégé. Tarras wrote a number of melodies for him and—wanting Statman to carry on his legacy—bequeathed him four of his clarinets.
As a clarinetist, Statman began to zero in on the sublimely ecstatic centuries-old Chasidic melodies that lie at the heart of klezmer music—melodies that were part and parcel of the religious path he had come to follow. This led to his galvanizing klezmer music with the spiritually oriented avant-garde jazz of John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, and various Middle Eastern and Eastern European styles. In so doing, he created his own musical language.
A Grammy nominee, Statman has appeared on more than 100 recordings, including 20 under his own name. His groundbreaking albums include Jewish Klezmer Music with Zev Feldman and Marty Confurius, which became a touchstone for the 1970s klezmer revival; Flatbush Waltz, a mandolin masterpiece of post-bebop jazz improvisations and ethnically inspired original compositions; and Between Heaven and Earth, which featured Chasidic melodies with a Coltrane-oriented approach and was listed as one of the top releases of 1997 in The New York Times. His newly released album Monroe Bus features original works that reflect his wide range of musical influences.
He has recorded and toured with Itzhak Perlman, Ricky Skaggs, Béla Fleck, David Grisman, Stéphane Grappelli, Buell Neidlinger, the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Kenny Werner, and Flaco Jiménez, among others.
Jim Whitney, originally from the mountains of northern New Hampshire and currently a resident of Brooklyn, actively performs and does session work as an acoustic and electric bassist, and composes new music. He can be heard playing jazz, bluegrass, rock, country, klezmer, funk, American roots, Brazilian, or any combination thereof. He recently completed his debut recording, Dodecahedron, which features 12 of his original compositions. He is a longtime member of the Andy Statman Trio and has performed and/or recorded with many musical luminaries, including Bill Frisell, Tony Trischka, Anthony Braxton, David Grisman, Ray Anderson, Jamey Haddad, Richard Greene, John Scofield, and Ricky Skaggs. He has appeared with acting stars Meryl Streep, John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Steve Buscemi as a member of the performance group Parabola, directed by legendary composer Carter Burwell. Whitney’s musical travels have taken him to Europe, Japan, Singapore, Israel, Central America, New Zealand, Canada, and much of the US. He has performed on several feature film soundtracks, including Anomalisa and The Rookie, and was commissioned to compose and record several original works for the Wendy Osserman Dance Company. Younger generations have heard his performances on the award-winning children’s show Blue’s Clues and the popular new children’s show Peg + Cat.
Larry Eagle keeps his musical portfolio diversified. He is a founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s Sessions Band; their album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions won a Grammy Award for traditional folk music and was followed by their Live in Dublin CD and DVD release. Eagle also played on John Legend’s second album, the Grammy-nominated blues album with Odetta, and 2015 and 2017 Grammy-nominated children’s albums with Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could. He has recorded with artists ranging from country and bluegrass superstar Ricky Skaggs to powerful jazz/soul singer Lizz Wright. He continues to play and record with artists in a variety of genres; he performed on the traditional jazz stage with plectrum banjo artist Cynthia Sayer at the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (JazzFest), and with western swing artists Western Caravan at the Fuji Rock Festival (Japan) in 2017 and 2018. He recently returned from his second concert and teaching tour in China, and has also performed on The Tonight Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Good Morning America, PBS, the BBC, and an ice-breaking Baltic Sea ferry out of Naantali, Finland.