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Petaluma klezmer group hosts Dance for Humanity

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: Dance for Humanity: A benefit concert for Doctors Without Borders, featuring the Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble and special guests

When: Sunday, Sept. 23, 3:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Where: The First Presbyterian Church, 939 B. St.

Admission: Sliding scale $35-$75, with ticket including food and (non-alcoholic) beverages, plus dance lessons and more.

Information: Danceforhumanity.brownpapertickets.com

“Listen, dance, eat, give, and be happy.”

That’s not just the tagline on posters for the upcoming Dance for Humanity fundraiser, a klezmer-themed benefit for Doctors Without Borders. It’s also the personal philosophy of clarinetist Paul Alexander, one of the two founding members — with accordionist Sonia Tubridy — of the Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble, which is hosting the event.

“Life is hard, so you might as well enjoy yourself when you can,” Alexander says, smiling the smile of a man who truly buys what he’s selling. “Sing when you can, dance when you can, give when you can, love when you can, and always be kind to others. That’s how we heal the world.”

On Sunday, Sept. 23, from 3:30-6 p.m., the Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble will present the third annual Dance for Humanity event, this year at the First Presbyterian Church of Petaluma, which is donating its space for the event. Doctors Without Borders, which has been the beneficiary of Dance for Humanity from the beginning, is an international nonprofit humanitarian organization through which volunteer medical professionals provide much-needed aid in over 70 mostly-war-torn countries around the world. Alexander says that 100 percent of the money raised at the event will go to the organization.

“We did a fundraiser last year at the Petaluma Art Center, and raised quite a bit. But we did a benefit house concert the year before that, and at that one raised over 2300 dollars,” he says. “We hope to exceed that with this year’s concert.”

The show will, or course, feature klezmer music and dance from Eastern Europe, Israel, Yemen, Romania, Moldava, the Ukraine, and the Mediterranean Basin. In addition, the event will showcase Larry Kass (son of renowned Sephardic singer Alby Kass), performing Sephardic love songs and lullabies. Leading the dancing, and teaching a number of authentic dances, will be Sunnyvale instructor Karen Bergen.

“The area we’ll be performing in at the church is carpeted, which is not the best for dancing, but it will be fine,” says Alexander. “We performed there seven years ago, and it’s a wonderful space.”

Asked about the origins of the ensemble itself, Alexander says he formed Jubilee 18 years ago, in the year 2000, as a response to growing worldwide social unrest. He named it Jubilee as a conscious message that there is always something to celebrate.

“Sonia, our accordion player, she was the first to join me,” says Alexander. “She’s a wonderful accordionist, and also a marvelous classical pianist and teacher. Phil Lawrence, our mandolin player, was the next to join. He’s a composer, too, and has played with David Grissman and others. He’s a fantastic musician.”

Filling out the roster of the ensemble for the upcoming show are violinist Sarah Jo Zaharako and acoustic bassist Eric Perney.

“Klezmer music is music of the Jewish people, and it goes back many centuries,” explains Alexander. “The first klezmer guild was in Prague, in the 16th century. The early klezmer players tended to be nomadic, roaming the Eastern European continent, looking for jobs, and avoiding persecution. In the process, they would meet with other bands of people, and would play music together.”

Given its history, the klezmer “sound” has picked up countless musical influences along the way.

“There is a noodle dish called Tzimmes, which has all kinds of ingredients thrown in, a rich mixture of flavors, and that’s what klezmer has become,” says Alexander. “It’s a very rich broth of sounds and styles.”

PLANNING TO GO?

What: Dance for Humanity: A benefit concert for Doctors Without Borders, featuring the Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble and special guests

When: Sunday, Sept. 23, 3:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Where: The First Presbyterian Church, 939 B. St.

Admission: Sliding scale $35-$75, with ticket including food and (non-alcoholic) beverages, plus dance lessons and more.

Information: Danceforhumanity.brownpapertickets.com

According to Alexander, that “broth” now include traces of American jazz and swing music.

“Yes, in the early 20th century, a number of really great klezmer musicians came to America, escaping anti-Semitic oppression, and a lot of them ended up in New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco,” he says. “The klezmer musicians ended up influencing vaudeville and other art forms, and in turn were influenced by American jazz music and Big Band music and swing, and you still hear elements of that in some of the tunes klezmer musicians play today.”

That said, the Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble tends to play strictly traditional klezmer music, though he admits that even “traditional” klezmer is a style that probably varies significantly from what was played two or three centuries ago.

“Both the music and the dance that are now associated with klezmer are a bit of a crapshoot, an educated guess at what it was like previous to the Holocaust,” he says. “During the Holocaust, so many musicians and artists were killed. And because klezmer had always been an oral tradition – passed down from one musician to another, with nothing ever really written down – we lost a lot of what existed before that. A lot of research has been done since to ascertain what klezmer music and klezmer dances were really like. We have an awful lot of fun, though. But we are definitely using our intuition and musical instincts, making this up as we go along.”

With a laugh, Alexander adds, “That’s a big part of what klezmer is all about, of course. Celebrating life in the face of sadness and hardship, making it all up as we go.”