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Keeping it klezmer
A dance music tradition continues at the Jewish Food Festival
Bill Averback fronts the Carolina Klezmer Project, and the jazz quartet BAM Jazz.

Oy! to the world. The band is fun.

That’s the word going around on the Carolina Klezmer Project, which will play at Sunday’s annual Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival in Forsyth Park.

Singer, trumpeter and accordionist Bill Averbach fronts the Charlotte–based group, and he’s been playing klezmer music for the better part of three decades.

Klezmer is, to put it simply, Jewish dance music, firmly rooted in the rhythms and musical traditions of the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

“Originally, it was kind of a derogatory term that referred to musicians who would play anything for money,” Averbach says. “Kind of like today!

“They were disliked by the Jewish community because they often had gypsy musicians and non–Jews playing with them. And they were disliked by the non–Jewish community because they were Jews.

“But everybody hired them, because they would play anything. The tradition is actually to incorporate other styles and cultures into the music, why it covers all the Eastern European dance styles, and Turkish music.”

These days, Averbach explains, there can be elements of rock ‘n’ roll, blues and jazz in a klezmer performance.

“There’s always experimentation in the music. It’s kind of like jazz — Jewish jazz! There’s experimentation, but there’s a certain amount of traditional background that’s kept in the music. Jazz has certain roots that kind of tie it all together. There’s a very similar situation with klezmer music.”

Before relocating to North Carolina in 2005, Averbach spent 20 years playing jazz in Austin, Texas.
“Somebody called me up and they said ‘Look, we’re having a bat mitzvah for 19 women. We have 600 dollars. Can you play Jewish music?’

“And I said, 600 dollars? Sure!’ Thirty–five years ago, that wasn’t too bad.

“I called all my jazz musicians, and said we’re going to get together and play klezmer music. And they said ‘What’s that?’”

They got a crash course in the form of an album by the Klezmorim, a klezmer outfit out of San Francisco. Averbach was turned onto the band by a saxophone–playing friend who went on to form the eclectic polka/rock quintet Brave Combo.

“What I heard was jazz musicians playing Yiddish music,” he recalls. “It was an eye–opener. So I approached it that way, as a jazz gig. We all played through the music, and eventually I developed a style of playing the music that used the different instruments as characters. Much like Dixieland music. I would conduct the group and arrange things as we were playing. It worked great.”

Averbach also runs a pickling business — check out — and plans to have his wares for sale at the Shalom Y’all festival.

Later on Sunday, the four members of the Carolina Klezmer Project will switch uniforms and play another Savannah gig. They’re also known as BAM Jazz, and they’re scheduled for a Coastal Jazz Association performance at Four Points By Sheraton.

Ah, musicians, taking all the work they can get. Just like the old days. CS

Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival

Where: Forsyth Park, Bull St. at Park Ave.

When: 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25

Admission: Free

Carolina Klezmer Project: 12 and 2 p.m.


BAM Jazz in performance

Where: Four Points By Sheraton, 520 W. Bryan St.

When: 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25

Admission: $10 public, free for Coastal Jazz Association members

Online: www.coastal–