“There are those who know Andy Statman as the virtuoso klezmer clarinetist – violinist Itzhak Perlman, for instance, who chose Statman to lead his klezmer album. There are those who know Andy Statman as the down-home mandolin player with a stack of straight-up bluegrass albums to his credit. In Statman’s versatile hands is a music that’s full of surprises, sophisticated and completely accessible at once.” (New York Daily News)
Beginning our exploration of the members of Country Cooking…
Andy Statman’s music is just so amazing. It has so much spirit! Full of mystery and vigour and spark. Though I’m always impressed by David Grisman’s mandolin playing, and his compositions especially, there’s just some quality to Statman’s music that reaches a deeper part of me. His music is so profoundly human, in a way that it denies none of the mystery and incomprehensible beauty of the human experience. He has gone to the depths of bluegrass and emerged with a phenomenal technique, full of power and precision. And he has plumbed the depths of his own Self, exploring his Jewish roots and emerging with the mystical, devotional wildness that mark the best aspects of that tradition. He has taken the adventurous spirituality of avant-garde jazz and brought it to bear on the plaintive folk-born melodies of America, all channeled through the fragile timbre of his humble, graceful mandolin. This is real Grapevine music, folks. Seeds, branches, fruits. This music is challenging, but it’s also uplifting and rewarding. It takes you to places you’ve never been before, but you’ll be glad you went. Statman stands alone: a true master.
Inspired by the emotional intensity of Bill Monroe and technique of Jesse McReynolds, during his early teens Andy began a lifelong obsession with the mandolin. Applying a New York sensibility to an Appalachian aesthetic, by age 21 Andy was among the most inventive creators of a fresh approach to American roots music (described by some as “newgrass”). He was soon called upon for sessions with (among others) Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. His first mandolin teacher, David Grisman, soon became a musical partner for recordings and concerts; David has often said that his proudest musical achievement was having given Andy his first mandolin lesson. Absorbing and transcending traditional approaches to the instrument, Andy is acknowledged as one of the most original and creative voices the mandolin has known, as demonstrated by his own recordings as well as collaborations with Bela Fleck, David Bromberg, Stephane Grappelli, Vassar Clements, and many others.
But Andy’s mandolin wizardry is only part of the story. Statman is just as deservedly known as an innovative interpreter of Jewish instrumental music — specifically the devotional and celebratory music of Chassidic Judaism — on the clarinet.
The international resurgence of interest in klezmer – Eastern European Jewish instrumental music – is due in no small measure to Andy Statman. One the last generation of musicians to learn directly from the great European klezmorim of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Andy was uniquely qualified to introduce (and help reinvent) an old world musical form for a new world audience. His early klezmer albums helped inform an entire generation of musicians who continue to play and redefine the music. Among those inspired by Andy was virtuoso classical violinist Itzhak Perlman, who asked Andy to join him for a critically acclaimed series of albums, videos, and concerts entitled “In The Fiddler’s House.” Their relationship was rekindled last year when Perlman asked Andy and his group to accompany him in a gala tribute to Steven Spielberg.
Andy’s greatest clarinet mentor was the legendary Dave Tarras. Known as one of the giants of klezmer music in his native Ukraine and later in America, Tarras was also one of the technically finest clarinet virtuosi of his day. He saw Andy as a worthy protÈgÈ, asking him to produce his final recording sessions and bequeathing Andy his treasured clarinets. That legacy came with a proviso, however: that Andy not be bound by tradition, but play the instruments his own way .
In carrying on Dave’s legacy, Andy’s approach to the clarinet is much like his style on the mandolin — respectful of the traditions of his teachers, but uniquely and unmistakably his own. The spark is provided by the same inspiration from which klezmer flows: the sometimes contemplative, often ecstatic, and always deeply spiritual melodies of Chassidism. These songs, usually wordless vocal melodies, are sung at different times of day, week, month, or year to induce specific states of spiritual devotion and exaltation. Andy and his Trio often take these mystical melodies as starting points for flights of exploration, communication, and imagination. For Andy’s Trio, spontaneity is a key component of the music, and the roadmaps for these musical journeys include obscure two-hundred-year old songs passed on exclusively by oral tradition, modern melodies from one or another Chassidic dynasty, a Statman original written in a Ukrainian taxi or a crowd pleasing stomp remembered from a radio broadcast of the Louisiana Hayride. Each time these melodies are played by the Andy Statman Trio they are radically reinvented and reinterpreted.
HAD THERE BEEN a planetarium in 19th-century Galicia, or a kosher deli in Depression-era Kentucky, Andy Statman’s music might have been playing in the background. Meandering through time, geography and culture in a few passionate, organic gusts of music, neither the man nor his inimitable hybrid sound has a very clearly defined “before” or “after.”
Statman, one of his generation’s premier mandolinists and clarinetists thinks of his compositions as “a spontaneous, American-roots form of very personal, prayerful hasidic music, by way of avant-garde jazz.” This small, modest man takes for granted that a performer might embody several worlds in his art, and seems not to recognize that his music, like his story, is extraordinary.
Statman’s musical soul journey began early, when he was a child in Queens, not far from his current home in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Born into a family with a long line of cantors and some well-known professional musicians in the family tree, young Andy grew up singing hasidic melodies in the afternoon Jewish school his otherwise secular parents sent him to, and listening to show tunes, klezmer, classics —and every other variety of music playing within earshot.
Indeed, Statman the boy had ravenous ears, absorbing the early sounds of rock and roll and the beginnings of the folk revival. But after his brother brought home a vintage country record by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Andy’s obsession became bluegrass, which he would tune into from West Virginia via shortwave radio. He sent away for a method booklet, and picked up the guitar and banjo on his own. In a number of years, his fervent fingers would walk this boy—briefly —to Nashville.
A possessed Statman found mandolin master David Grisman in 1965, in a Greenwich Village teeming with young musicians at the heart of the resurgence of folk culture, and asked him for lessons. Grisman, with whom he would record and coproduce “Songs of Our Fathers” 30 years later, says that Statman was the best student he has ever had. “The kid just gobbled up everything,” says Grisman, a Grammy-nominated bluegrass-folkjazz musician. “I always tell people that if the only thing I ever did was give Andy his first mandolin lesson, it would have been a life well spent.”
Statman’s virtuosity and passion led the teenager into a progressive bluegrass band and into the company, as a session man, of folk superheroes like Bob Dylan and other celebrated performers, such as folkie David Bromberg and bluegrass fiddler Vassar Clements.
“I’m very lucky,” says Statrnan. “The guys I’ve studied with have treated me as an apprentice in the Old World sense. I’m probably from the last generation that had a chance to learn from the greats.”
In fact, his next significant mentorship after Grisman, with little-known jazz-saxophone virtuoso Richard Grando, turned out to be life-changing. After feeling a tug away from bluegrass during his late teens, Statman, stirred at the time by John Coltrane’s experimental jazz, found himself compelled to master the saxophone.
But his first lesson, as he tells it, was in fact a discussion, one about whether or not God exists. Grando was something of a renaissance man, as interested in spirituality, anthropology and psychology as he was in music. Statman’s sponge-like qualities did not stop at his ears; he started soaking up Native American mysticism, the I Ching, and Jung’s theories on synchronicity and the “miracles in coincidence.” Musically, Statman relates, he was at the time attracted to all things ethnic —Balkan, Native American, Japanese, Latin and African root music, and at one point even recorded with the likes of Jerry Garcia. In the spirit of Jung, it was a kind of quest for what the collective unconscious might sound like.
That’s when lightning struck: “I realized that I was born a Jew,” says Statman, “and that it wasn’t by accident. I needed to find my own spirituality in my music and in my life my own roots, not someone else’s.”
Statman’s hunt for his heritage progressed slowly, met by small, incremental changes in his everyday practice— laying of tefillin and a prayer service here, a traditional Sabbath there. And there were those prayers again, those nigunim from his childhood.
It all made Statman wonder: Why was no one playing (professionally, at least) the instrumental music to accompany this living hasidic tradition? Whatever happened to that great Old World Jewish music he had heard as a kid at home? He took it as a personal challenge: Unearthing this musical tradition – what we now call klezmer – would help him to unearth his own roots.
So, true to character, the young apprentice, now in his early 20s, went off to seek another master. The mentor he found was no less than klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras, “the most successful immigrant-era Yiddish musician,” in the words of music writer Seth Rogovoy.
While Statman the musician was blowing into the instrument, Statman the Jew was inhaling his history, rejoicing in the sound and the feel of his self-discovery as a person with a rich ancestral past. He felt revived—as did Tarras, who was rediscovered and recorded once again. Tarras (who died in 1989) later bequeathed his clarinets to his greatest protégé, and made him the next link in the chain.
And so Statman became known primarily as one of the key klezmer revivalists of the 70s and early 80s, the musicians who launched a great wave to reclaim the music of the Old World that had been fumigated away 50 years before at Ellis Island.
To Statman, the alt-neu klezmer music was about much more than reclaiming cultural roots. It was about ecstatic devotion, recreating the transcendent prayer of the founder of hasidism, the Ba’al Shem Tov —prayer he was engaging in more and more regularly as he grew closer to Orthodox life. Grisman, who is himself Jewish, notes that “it was the music that led Andy into observance. And then he got deeper into the music by going deeper into its source.”
In fact, Statman says that he began to see klezmer as a living form of music mostly in the context of a religious life. But the irony here is rich: Once he became religious—today he lives as a conspicuously devout (white shirt, black pants and velvet yarmulke) “fusion” hasid —he didn’t feel the need to play the music anymore. By the time his roots were both deeply planted and fully exposed, Statman felt pulled back toward jazz and the ways that it offers to indulge in contemplative, wandering, deep-space spirituality.
Since its divergence from mainstream klezmer in the mid-90s, Statman’s journey has taken him, once again, to new places he’s somehow been before. He’s recorded a number of traditional Jewish-inspired albums, including “Songs of Our Fathers” (which sold over 60,000 copies without advertising) with Grisman, who says that the emotional Jewish connection he feels with Statman (“my rabbi”) is as strong as the bond he feels with him musically, and the classical klezmer sensation “In the Fiddler’s House,” with Itzhak Perlman, in 1996. He’s also done some more bluegrass inspired work—like “Andy’s Ramble” in ‘94, a klezmer-overlaid progression over his previous mandolin work.
It’s a journey Statman says he now revisits with his trio when they perform: “We’re creating an experience between the audience and us,” Statman now performs his distinctive, unconstrained meditations on jazz, klezmer, bluegrass and the human soul with bassist Jim Whitney and percussionist Larry Eagle, frequently at the Charles Street Shul, in the West Village. “At a certain point, we’re just talking, just having a three-way conversation.”
This “conversation” changes each time they have it on stage, no melody sounding quite the same as it did before, and none bearing the definitive stamp of the genre that spawned it. A totally unselfconscious performer, Statman does not mind that many audiences leave slightly befuddled as to what kind of music, exactly, they have just heard.
It is unabashedly American music, Statman would tell them, proud of his U.S. roots, and the spirit of individuality, creativity and compassion that country embodies. And it’s jazz, he’d say, on its lonely search for the spirit of lost worlds. Or it’s deeply religious hasidic prayer, he’d explain in his kind, soft voice, intended to embrace my brothers and bring them back into the fold. It’s deeply Jewish because I am, and it’s honest, because I am. It’s all of those things, because, although they may seem worlds apart to you, “they all come together in me.”
“If you’re in touch with your Judaism,” Statman is saying, his voice cracking, “you experience things…” He is misty by now, and it is clear that this is a man who still and always speaks, and plays – whatever it is he’s playing—from the very roots of his soul.
Label: Rounder 
Andy Statman’s 1980 album ‘Flatbush Waltz’ may take its name from a Brooklyn neighborhood but it encompasses a whole world of music, from the klezmer trills of the title song to the modal explorations of “China” to the percussive modern jazz of “Fanfare” to the gentle swing of “Barbara in the Morning.” Statman, a virtuoso mandolinist who has played with everyone from David Grisman to The Wayfaring Strangers, has never been truer to his artistic vision than on this fine, eclectic record.
01 Flatbush Waltz 04:29
02 China 05:25
03 Away You Go 02:33
04 East Wind Blues 06:11
05 Ancestral Steppes 05:36
06 Fanfare 03:20
07 Meditation Signal 04:52
08 Barbara In The Morning 03:39
09 Bats and Belz 03:47
10 Twilight Blue
orchestrated. mandojazzgrass. yeah it works.
vinyl, clean | mp3 320kbps | w/ liner notes
Review by Chip Renner
An excellent display of mandolin artistry, featuring Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Jerry Douglas, Vassar Clements, Russ Barenberg, and Kenny Kosek.
Andy Statman, mandolin, percussionl, clarinet, guitar, vocal
Russ Barenberg, guitar
Bob Jones, guitar
Marty Confurius, bass, guitar
Jimmy Buchanan, violin
Kenny Kosek, violin, piano
Bela Fleck, banjo
Tony Trischka, banjo
Jerry Douglas, dobro
1 The Old Country – 3:45
2 Bath House Blues – 3:18
3 Apple Pickin’ Girl – 4:54
4 The Whup of Love – Statman – 3:30
5 Ariela’s First Step – 6:35
6 Tshure – 5:53
7 The County Brown – 2:58
8 Joshua’s Waltz – 4:52
9 I Do Not Ride the Horse – 5:08
10 The Hermitage Smorgasbord – 1:03
11 George and Gladys Kazatski – 4:58
a real smorgasbord.
vinyl, clean | mp3 vbr 320kbps | w/ cover
I may do a post on his more clarinetty, klezmery stuff later. You may also want to see my earlier post David Grisman & Andy Statman: Mandolin Abstractions.
Oh, and if any of ye have his albums East Flatbush Blues, Awakening From Above, Klezmer Suite, Hidden Light, or On Air, I’d love to hear them…