Yale Strom (violin, composer, filmmaker, writer, photographer, playwright) is a pioneer among klezmer revivalists in conducting extensive field research in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans among the Jewish and Rom communities since 1981. Initially, his work focused primarily on the use and performance of klezmer music between these two groups. Gradually, his focus increased to examining all aspects of their culture, from post-World War II to the present. He was among the first of the so-called klezmer revivalists to identify the connection between klezmer and lautare (Rom/Gypsy musicians) and explore that connection in his scholarly and artistic works.
In the more than two decades since his initial ethnographic trip, Yale Strom has become one of the world’s most productive and influential scholar-artists of klezmer culture and history.
Yale Strom’s klezmer field research helped form the base for the repertoires of his two klezmer bands, Hot Pstromi in New York and Klazzj in San Diego (combined in 2006 under the Hot Pstromi umbrella, www.hotpstromi.com). Since Strom’s first band began in 1981, he has been composing his own New Jewish music, which combines klezmer with Hasidic nigunim, Rom, jazz, classical, Balkan and Sephardic motifs. These compositions range from quartets to a symphony, which premiered with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. He composed original music for the Denver Center production of Tony Kushner’s “The Dybbuk”. He also composed all the New Jewish music for the National Public Radio series “Fiddlers, Philosophers & Fools: Jewish Short Stories From the Old World to the New”, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, as well as numerous film scores. Strom is also one of the only top composers of Jewish music to carry on the tradition of writing original songs, with Yiddish lyrics, about humanitarian and social issues. List of CD recordings: “Cholent With Huckleberry” (Rounder, 1985), “Eclectic Klezz” (Rounder/Global Village, 1987), “With A Little Horseradish on the Side” (Global Village, 1993 – featuring original Hot Pstromi lineup of Strom, Andy Statman, Mark Dresser, Ismail Butera and Seido Salifoski), “The Last Klezmer” (Global Village, 1994), “Carpati: 50 Miles, 50 Years” (Global Village, 1996), “Wandering Jew” (Global Village, 1997),”Tales Our Father Sang” (Global Village, 1998), “Garden of Yidn” (Naxos World, 2000) “Cafe Jew Zoo” (Naxos World, 2002), “Dveykes/Adhesion” (Global Village, 2005) “Absolutely Complete Klezmer” (Transcontinental Music, 2006), “Borsht with Bread, Brothers” (Arc Music UK, 2007), “Absolutely Klezmer, Vol. II” (Transcontinental, 2007), “The Devil’s Brides: Music from The Witches of Lublin” (Arc Music UK, 2011, featuring narration by actress Miriam Margolyes).
Strom has performed with many well-known musicians including Andy Statman, Mark Dresser, Marty Ehrlich, Mark O’Connor, Alicia Svigals, Salman Ahmad, Samir Chatterjee, Muzsikas, Kálmán Balogh, Damian Draghici, Marta Sebestyen, Tanya Kalmanovitch, Theo Bikel and myriad others.
Yale has been hailed as “a commanding bandleader and composer” (Pulse! Magazine), “one of the best klezmer musicians in the country” (Houston Public News) and “an all-around musical visionary” (Seth Rogovoy). Dirty Linen sums it up most concisely: “Yale Strom is a Jewish roots trip unto himself”. The New York Jewish Week writes:
“He’s a gifted photographer and author, a talented documentary filmmaker and has his own klezmer band… Strom’s multifaceted career is a wonder, and his work schedule is downright fiendish.”
Strom’s research has also resulted in nine books (including “The Last Jews of Eastern Europe” and “Uncertain Roads: Searching for the Gypsies”. He was the first photographer since Roman Vishniac to publish photographs of Jews in the Eastern Bloc countries. His “The Book of Klezmer: The History, The Music, The Folklore”, a 400-page history with original photos and sheet music gathered by Yale during his 60+ ethnographic trips to Central and Eastern Europe, was published by A Cappella Books in September, 2002; this was soon followed by the publication of the world’s first “Music Minus One” Instructional Guide to Klezmer (Universal Edition, Vienna Austria, April 2004). Strom’s most recent book, written in collaboration with his wife, Elizabeth Schwartz, is “A Wandering Feast: A Journey Through the Jewish Culture of Eastern Europe” (Jossey-Bass Publishers, January 2005). Strom’s book “The Absolute Complete Klezmer Songbook” (2006, Transcontinental Music) comes with a CD as well called Absolutely Klezmer Vol I and contains 313 known and rare klezmer melodies, many of which were collected by Strom during his years of field research. His first children’s book “The Wedding That Saved a Town”, illustrated by Jenya Prosmitsky, was published by Kar-Ben Publishing in 2008 and won the San Diego Library Association’s Best Illustrated Children’s book award in 2009. His biography of legendary klezmer clarinetist David Tarras, “Dave Tarras: The King of Klezmer” (Or-Tav Publications, 2010) is the first full biography of Tarras, authorized by the Tarras family and includes 28 Tarras melodies, many of which have never before been published or recorded, as well as rare family archival photos and biographical details.
Strom has directed five award-winning documentary films (“At the Crossroads”, “The Last Klezmer”, “Carpati: 50 Miles, 50 Years”, “L’Chayim, Comrade Stalin!” and “Klezmer on Fish Street”) and has composed music for countless others. He was the first documentary filmmaker in history to be given his own run at Lincoln Center’s prestigious Walter Reade Theatre, where “The Last Klezmer” broke box office records; this record was only exceeded by “Carpati”‘s run there. Both films went on to strong theatrical runs both in the U.S. and abroad, and were featured on major Top Ten Lists (The Last Klezmer on the N.Y. Post’s for 1994, and Carpati on the San Diego Union Tribune’s for 1997). “The Last Klezmer” was short-listed for an Academy Award. “Klezmer on Fish Street” won the 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival’s Special Jury Selection award. His documentary “A Man From Munkacs:The Gypsy Klezmer ” was produced by Duna Television (Budapest, Hungary). Two edits exist, the producer’s cut to be shown exclusively in Hungary, and the director’s cut for other countries. In 2007, Strom curated an event in New York City, “A Great Day on Eldridge Street”, a photo shoot (by photographer Leo Sorel) of over 100 of the world’s leading klezmer and Yiddish artists (based on the iconic photos “A Great Day in Harlem”), a parade through the Lower East Side and concerts. Strom’s short film, “A Great Day on Eldridge Street”, documents these events.
Strom’s solo photo exhibit, “The Rom of Ridgewood”, about Gypsy communities in Queens, New York, was mounted at the Queens Museum of Art; he has had numerous solo exhibits (depicting Jewish and Rom life) throughout the U.S. and Europe (complete exhibition list upon request). His solo exhibit of portraits of klezmer musicians (Jewish and Roma) in Bessarabia, “Klezmorim”, was exhibited in Romania and Hungary. This same exhibition just recently was at the Jewish Community Center in Houston. His photos are part of many collections including Beth Hatefusoth, The Skirball Museum, The Jewish Museum of NYC, The Frankfurt Jewish Museum and the The Museum of Photographic Arts.
Strom’s original stage play, “…from man… to beast… to crawling thing…”, was given a fully staged workshop in June 2001 by the Streisand Festival (La Jolla, California). His play, “The Education of Hershl Greenshpan” (formerly, “Verdigris”) was workshopped by the San Diego Rep, North Coast Rep as well as in New York City, Connecticut and Los Angeles. Yale was featured in the May 31, 2004 issue of Time Magazine for this play, and the scholarship behind it. In collaboration with wife/partner Elizabeth Schwartz and author Ellen Kushner, Yale co-wrote the audio drama, “The Witches of Lublin” (2011), starring Tovah Feldshuh, and featuring Simon Jones, Barbara Rosenblat and Neil Gaiman, among others. He also composed the original music for the recording.
Lectures and Teaching
Strom has lectured extensively throughout the United States, Asia and Europe and taught at the Gallatin School of Interdisciplinary Studies at NYU for 4 years, where he created the course “Artist-Ethnographer Expeditions”. He is on the advisory board of the Center for Jewish Creativity, based in Los Angeles. Since 2006 he has been an Artist-in-Residence in the Jewish Studies Program at San Diego State University, a position created for him. Yale was the first klezmer violinist in history to be invited to instruct master classes at both the American String Teachers Association and the Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp, a position that continues.