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Frank London: The Jew with the Horn

By Published: November 13, 2007

FL: If you look again at history, in the eighties when I first discovered this music, we were learning and establishing it, and in the early nineties something new happened. The Klezmatics began to open up, to play from the inside, and people came from outside jazz, and than you got the feeling that something was happening all over the States, Europe, everywhere, maybe not yet in Israel. The experimentation began. In 1992 I played with John Zorn on Kristalnacht (Tzadik, 1995), Zorn curated the Radical Jewish Culture days in Munich, and the Knitting Factory smelled the trend in the air and put together the Jewish Alternative Movement discs.

FrankAAJ: In retrospect, don't you think that some of the output of Zorn and the Tzadik releases or Knitting Factory's Jewish Alternative Movement were nothing more than more codified and formalized versions of what the Klezmatics and other bands began to explore? How many of these recordings will stand the test of time?

FL: These are someone's marketing terms. For me it was very organic thing. I was playing jazz, improvisational music, World music, Jewish music. It made natural sense for it all to come together.

If I've had any influence on other people, I feel blessed. The point was to be honest. When Jewish people come up to us and thank us for what we have done, for enriching their ability to celebrate their lives as Jews, as gays; and likewise, when non-Jewish musicians and artists come to us say that our work gave them inspiration how to work with their traditions. We did not try to make a text that you were forced to follow, but a text that you would have to work out for your self.

Many of these recordings will stand out for different reasons. Marty Ehrlich's because he is an interesting composer and Anthony Coleman because he has such a unique approach to jazz history. Not because they are Radical Jewish. It may seem from the outside that it's become a formula, but who cares? I am more disappointed that more people have not tried to follow their own identity and, instead, followed a trend, a formula. Nine times out of ten it's boring. The tenth time is interesting when someone develops it, gets it right, figures it out.

It does not affect my path, which is to integrate my musicality, my own aesthetics, my politics. I've found that the process of learning old traditions, and applying different aesthetics, processes and critiques to that, interests me and suits who I am. It is so hard to do something that stands out outside of tradition. The musical traditions and vocabularies are so strong, that we can come as friends, jesters and enemies, and challenge them, live with them and see how we can work with them. I love the strength and ethos of traditions, set on community and spirituality, and you don't have to reject them but you can embrace and engage with them, have a dialogue with them.

Tradition is not supposed to be a hammer that hits you on your head. I am so deeply committed to tradition—Jewish or jazz traditions—our rabbis are Abraham, Joshua, Mongezi Feza, Don Cherry and HaBaal Shem Tov. We learn from these rabbis. Sure, you have your iconoclasts, such as La Monte Young, Bill Dixon, Mark Rothko and James Joyce; maybe they that did not spend time imitating their predecessors, but they were aware of the connection.

For many of us, some are Jews where Judaism is part of our lives and for others it's not, and some are not Jews. We don't sit talking about the Judaism in the movement, we'd rather be doing the music. But it's interesting. In Hasidic New Wave my partner Greg Wall became an orthodox and now he is a rabbi, and in the Klezmatics my partner and buddy Lorin Sklamberg is deeply Jewish, culturally and religiously, but in a way that is separate from me, partially because he's gay. We are all connected in different ways with mutual respect, even our rejections are connected with love.

align=center>Frank London ></br> Frank London at The Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Poland 2007 </p><br /><br /><P><strong>AAJ:</strong> For you the new Jewish music has always something to say about the current world and its politics, not only about the tradition.<br /><br /><P><strong>FL:</strong> And vice versa. It's not only about looking at my tradition, because I have a problem with nationalist identification, saying this is our identity, our tradition at the expense of who we are as human beings. I'm an open, liberal, humanist person who absolutely believes in universal rights but it's not only a Jewish discourse.<br /><br /><P>
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