30 juin 2009

NAFTULE BRANDWEIN, the incredible clarinet virtuoso

Naftule Brandwein (1889–1963) was born in the small town of Przemyslany, Poland, just outside of Lvov in the province of Galicia, then under Czarist Russia's control. His father, Pesakh Brandwein, was a badkhn, violinist and leader of his family kapelye (band), which traveled throughout eastern Galicia. Naftule was one of 14 children his father had with four different wives. He had nine brothers and four sisters; his sister Henrietta was his twin. Around the end of World War I all but two of the brothers immigrated to America. The two brothers who stayed behind were the oldest Eli, and the youngest, Tzvi-Hirsch. (Both were later killed by the Nazis.) Tzvi-Hirsch's son and Naftule's nephew Leopold Kozlowski (http://zikanina.blogspot.fr/2013/02/leopold-kozlowski.html) has been a leader in the revival of klezmer in Central and Eastern Europe since 1990.
Brandwein can be heard on many of the classic Yiddish recordings from the golden age of Yiddish popular music (1915–1935), especially those of Abe Schwartz (1881–1963). Born in a small town outside of Bucharest, Schwartz came to the United States in 1899 and soon thereafter became a leader in the klezmer scene. He was a violinist, pianist, arranger, composer, klezmer bandleader and performed on several of his own recordings. In the background on many of Schwartz's recordings one can hear the incredible virtuoso Naftule Brandwein playing on the "screamer", the E-flat clarinet. One of the last recordings Schwartz produced on which the clarinetist played was Brandwein's own composition "Firn Di Mekhutonim Aheym" ("Leading the In-Laws Home"). This gas nign, with its continuous sostenuto and legato clarinet solo, displays all of Brandwein's incredible skills. His improvisation, his fingerings, his lightning fast scales, his breath control, his glissandos and knaytches made this one of the most listened to and played recordings of the klezmer revival years in the 1980s. This was particularly true for klezmer revival bands that were playing the repertoire and style of the smaller groups of the 1920s and '30s rather than those of the large brass ensembles.
Brandwein was known not only for his clarinet virtuosity but also for his wild, sometimes impetuous actions. He played hard and he lived hard. He was a womanizer and drinker, and some said that if you hired Naftule for your party all you had to do to keep him satisfied and playing all night was to provide him with plenty of liquor and a lady. He was known to be the favorite klezmer among the Jewish gang Murder Inc. He loved to spice up his stage act by pulling his pants down or wearing an electric neon sign on his chest that read "The Naftule Brandwein Orchestra." His on - and offstage antics made it difficult for him to stay with only one band, as his fellow players grew tired of his histrionics. Brandwein was a member of the Joseph Cherniavsky Yiddish-American Jazz Band and the Abe Schwartz Orchestra.
Between 1922 and 1927, Brandwein made many recordings and created the sound of the solo klezmer clarinetist to American Jewry. Then he stopped recording. His lifestyle took a toll on his health and on his fellow musicians, but he kept busy playing gigs at parties, weddings and hotels. Finally, in 1941, Brandwein returned to the recording studio for the last time. He recorded under the more Anglicized name of "Nifty" Brandwein. The recordings "Klayne Princesin" ("Small Princess"), "Naftule's Freylekhs," "Freylekher Yontef" ("Happy Holiday") and "Nifty's Eygene" ("Nifty's Own") delineate Brandwein's development during his 14-year absence from the studio. Much of his Paginini-like rapid finger work and leaping glissandos were no longer the focus of his playing. Instead a calmer more self-reflective tone can be heard.
By Yale Strom

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