Beat of the Boroughs: Klezmer from Brooklyn
Born in New York City, violinist Jake Shulman-Ment is at the helm of a new generation of Klezmer and Yiddish music performers. In addition to an international performing career, he has collected, studied, performed, and documented traditional music in Romania as a Fulbright scholar, and has lived and traveled in Hungary and Greece, learning traditional violin styles.
His new group, Midwood, released its first album, Out of the Narrows, (Chant Records) in May 2018. The Kensington resident is featured in the Center for Traditional Music and Dance’s Beat of the Boroughs: NYC Online series, which is showcasing the artistry of 54 of the city’s leading immigrant performers and diverse cultural traditions from around the world.
Your musical journey – when did it start and how?
I think music has been a deep part of me for my entire life. When I was two years old, I saw Itzhak Perlman play the violin on Sesame Street and, according to my parents, I was completely transfixed. I decided then that I wanted to play the violin and I never let go of the idea. My father made me a cardboard cut-out violin that I ran up and down the halls of our Morningside Heights apartment with, until I finally got a real violin at the age of three.
What makes your music distinctive?
Although I am classically trained and have studied many different musical styles, I have been surrounded by Yiddish music and culture my whole life and have been dedicated to the klezmer violin style since the age of 12. So, that has become a natural voice for me when I play. I compose new music drawing centrally from the klezmer tradition, which I live and breathe, although many of the other music that I have been exposed to in my travels in Romania, Hungary, and Greece, as well as in my life as a New Yorker, also come into the music I make.
What inspires your musical repertoire?
I am inspired by music, and traditional music in particular, because it has a special power to break boundaries between people of different cultures and backgrounds. Much of the work I have done in my research and travels has given me an understanding of how musical traditions change and develop over time and through geographical migration. Despite humanity’s tendency towards brutality and conflict throughout history, the endless richness of our musical traditions is a testament to a creative, joyful, playful, and potentially loving quality that exists in every individual.
How has the pandemic affected you and Midwood?
The pandemic has completely upended my life in pretty much every possible way, as my professional, creative, and personal life was structured around being able to travel internationally and to assemble large groups of people in spaces together for concerts and dances. Although I have been able to do some online performing and teaching, that is a poor substitute for the energy created when people are able to experience this music in a physical space.
What types of support do you most need now?
Beyond the obvious financial support which would help me to envision a future in which I can still dedicate the majority of my time and energy to creating, teaching, and developing music, I could use help finding circuits of people across the country who are, or would be, interested in hosting limited-size gatherings outdoors, weather permitting, at their homes or community spaces, so that I can perform live for people in safe contexts.
What is next for you?
I am currently working on a plan to buy and convert a small cargo van into a livable vehicle so that I can tour around the country playing solo shows, probably mostly outdoors once the weather gets warmer again. The violin has a unique ability to captivate people as a solo voice, and I can express myself in a very personally authentic way through it. I have done several of these kinds of live solo performances during the pandemic, and it seems to touch people greatly. I hope to bring it to a wide audience, small groups at a time.
You can view Jake Shulman-Ment’s presentation on Monday, January 4 at 5:00 PM on CTMD’s YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/CTMDProgramsConcerts or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CTMDnyc. And learn more about him at www.jakeshulmanment.com and www.midwoodband.com/
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