The Brothers Nazaroff
The Happy Prince
Not much is known about Nathan “Prince” Nazaroff, a Russian-Jewish musician and singer who immigrated to the United States in 1914. Apparently, he worked as an accompanist to the Russian Ballet Theater in New York and recorded a couple of songs for a 78-rpm record in 1928.
Nazaroff, who sang and played accordion and octofone (a variation of the mandolin), recorded 11 more songs, nine of which were released by Folkways Records on a 10-inch LP called Jewish Freilach Songs in 1954. This obscure album of Yiddish folksongs, including the familiar “Tumbalalaika,” showcased an exuberant performer whose energy and enthusiasm for the songs would influence performers like poet and singer Tuli Kupferberg, who co-founded the Fugs in the mid-1960s, and had a tremendous impact on the klezmer revivalists who discovered it in the 1970s and later.
About six decades after the release of Jewish Freilach Songs, some of today’s most accomplished klezmer musicians – including Michael Alpert (Brave Old World), Daniel Kahn, Bob Cohen, Psoy Korolenko, Jake Shulman-Ment and Hampus Melin – gathered as The Brothers Nazaroff to record The Happy Prince, a joyous tribute album to Nazaroff.
The album begins with the nine songs from Jewish Freilach Songs, played in the same order as on the 1954 LP, followed by two more songs Nazaroff recorded at the time, but which didn’t make it onto the album, and finishes up with the two songs Nazaroff recorded in 1928.
From the opening bars of “Vander Ich Mir Lustig (While I’m Happily Walking),” it’s quickly obvious that this CD will be fun to listen to. Though the song is a list of the troubles that have befallen the protagonist – cold, rain, no mill, no cow, no wife – he’s in a happy mood celebrating life.
Other highlights include “Arum Dem Feier (Around the Fire),” a song popular in Jewish socialist circles, and “Fishalach (Little Fish),” usually known as “Fisherlid,” a moody piece written by the Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt who was the mother-in-law of legendary American folksinger Woody Guthrie and grandmother of Arlo Guthrie.
Perhaps the most curious song is “Krasnoarmeyskaya Pesn (Red Army Song).” One of the songs recorded by Nazaroff in 1928, and sung in Russian, it’s a tribute to the Bolsheviks who overthrew the cruel Russian czar in 1917.
The Happy Prince is my favourite album of Jewish music for 2015.
Jason Rosenblatt is well established in Jewish music circles as the leader of Shtreiml, the Montreal-based klezmer band, and Jump Babylon, a rock band whose songs centre on Jewish themes. But, on Wiseman’s Rag, Rosenblatt steps away from those projects to feature his own compositions, drawing on jazz, blues and roots music influences.
Rosenblatt is an innovative harmonica player who also plays piano and organ, sings, and offers some terrific playing as he surrounds himself with a tight quartet, including guitarist Joe Grass, bassist Joel Kerr and drummer Evan Tighe.
The album kicks off with the title track, an infectious swing tune on which Rosenblatt’s harmonica playfully interacts with Grass’ guitar. It’s one of several tunes in the 13-song set named for streets in the Mile End/Outremont area of Montreal. Others include “Fairmount Blues,” a jazzy blues tune that again has Rosenblatt and Grass delightfully trading licks; “Waltz Querbes,” a slower piece that features some nice work by Rosenblatt on harmonica and Kerr on the bass; and “Hutchison,” a contemplative jazz tune on which each of the musicians gets time to stretch out.
Among the tracks that showcase Rosenblatt as a singer are “Cold Outside,” a jumping blues about the weather at this time of year; “You’ll Take the Highway,” a Chicago-style blues song; and the rollicking “You’ll Miss Me.”
The Jason Rosenblatt Quartet will launch Wiseman’s Rag in Ottawa with a concert, Saturday, December 12, 7:30 pm, at Gigspace Performance Studio, 953 Gladstone Avenue. Tickets are $20 and can be reserved at 613-729-0693.