For 10 years, the Bagels & Fraylox Klezmer Band has kept crowds across the Peninsula dancing to a lively Jewish beat. It seems the group's authentic, ethnic party music translates even to folks who've never bitten into a matzo ball. The band often plays local parties and outdoor gatherings. This morning, for example, they'll perform at the Farmers Market on Duke of Gloucester Street in the historic area of Williamsburg.
Accordion player David Gussman took some time to tell us about his band's music and mission.
Explain your name. The Band's name is Bagels & Fraylox, which is a bad pun if you understand Yiddish. Bagels and lox (smoked salmon) is a traditional Jewish dish. A frailach (from the German freundlich) refers to a happy occasion such as a wedding or bar mitzvah. The lively folk tunes played at these events also became known as frailachs. The pronunciation sounds like Fraylox. Hence, Bagels & Fraylox.
What's your home base? Williamsburg
What year did the band start? 1998
Who plays what? Roger Schultz on clarinet, Andy Petkofsky on upright and electric bass, Howard Bierenbaum on clarinet and tenor sax, Lance Pedigo on drums and David Gussman on accordion.
What's your style? We play klezmer music, a lively mixture of wedding and party music of 19th-century Eastern Europe with strains of Yiddish theater and American dance band music of the early 1900s. It also borrows freely from gypsy tunes, Middle Eastern music and other sources as diverse as American folk music and rock 'n' roll.
Who are your musical heroes? Naftule Brandwein, the Jimi Hendrix of klezmer music. Brandwein was a talented clarinetist who was born into a family of klezmer musicians in the Ukraine in 1884, emigrated to the U.S. at age 19 and died in 1964. He had a colorful personality and a warm and lively style of clarinet playing that jumped up and down the scales and expressed itself in trills, slides and other ornamentations.
What's your favorite local stage? First Night in Williamsburg — everyone is in such a festive mood. We also love the intimacy and great audiences at the Williamsburg Regional Library Theatre.
Describe your dream gig. Playing for 1,000 people each New Year's Eve at First Night is pretty close. We also had a dream gig last December when we were hired to play at a party at the Galleria in D.C. following the Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the White House. I personally dream about creating a Virginia Klezmer Music Festival featuring Bagels & Fraylox as one of the headliners.
Why do you love to play? Performing klezmer music is like laughing, weeping, praying, exhorting, consoling and making love all at the same time.
What's your ultimate goal? Long term, to see klezmer music rival Celtic music in popularity. Short term, we would love to do a "Klezmer Brunch with Bagels & Fraylox" at a fun restaurant once or twice a month.