Chances are you haven’t heard the eight Hanukkah songs that the Klezmatics will perform during their show at Landmark on Main Street Sunday, Dec. 13. For starters, the songs — with titles like “Happy Joyous Hanukkah,” “Hanukkah’s Flame” and “Hanukkah Tree” — were penned by folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, not someone usually mentioned in the same breath as the Festival of Lights.
“I like to make believe that he wrote one for each night of Hanukkah,” Klezmatics trumpeter Frank London said about the recently discovered songs that were given to the group by Guthrie’s daughter, Nora.
“We looked at them and said, ‘This is the coolest thing we’ve ever heard,’ ” said London, who grew up in Plainview.
YOU CAN DANCE TO IT
You won’t need to know Yiddish, the typical language for klezmer music, the genre of the Klezmatics. Guthrie’s songs all feature English lyrics set to music by the six-member band. Klezmer originated in the 19th century among the Yiddish-speaking Jews of Eastern Europe, and was introduced in New York by early 20th century immigrants in the Jewish Diaspora, London said. Originally played at weddings and other celebrations, klezmer’s toe-tapping music has a good beat — and, as they used to say on the TV music show “American Bandstand” — you can dance to it.
“This music is such a celebration of life,” says Laura Mogul, executive director of Landmark on Main Street, which last hosted the Klezmatics in 2001. “It just makes you happy.”
THE JEWISH CONNECTION
Though not Jewish, Guthrie learned about Jewish culture from his mother-in-law, renowned American Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt, and other in-laws who “introduced Woody to Jewish food, holidays, lore and jokes,” Nora Guthrie said in an email. The “This Land Is Your Land” singer was also influenced by living in Coney Island in the early 1940s where he experienced “all the flavors of Jewish life — from the deli on the corner, to the knishes and hot dogs along the boardwalk, to the accents and dialects of the Jewish people who lived and worked there,” his daughter said.
The Klezmatics, who won a 2006 Grammy for “Wonder Wheel,” their album of Guthrie folk songs, “have done me and many others a great service by creating such brilliant music for Woody’s lost ‘Jewish’ lyrics,” Nora Guthrie said.
A 30-YEAR REPERTOIRE
The Klezmatics’ set list will also include songs the group has been performing for the past 30 years, which reach back to the genre’s earliest American roots. “We’re going to play a lot of our favorite Klezmer stuff,” London says, including material from their new album, scheduled for release next summer. One of the vintage Klezmer songs, “Mazel Tov,” was written for a 1917 Yiddish Theater production of the same name.
“It’s a waltz, and it’s beautiful,” London says. “Hopefully, people will be singing and dancing in the aisles.”