Recorder of the mysterious 1954 Folkways EP “Jewish Freilach Songs,” Nathan “Prince” Nazaroff is largely an obscure and unknown figure. But for a certain cadre of contemporary Jewish musicians he is like a lost uncle: the missing link between today’s post-modern Babylonian exile and the lost Atlantis of Yiddish “Middle-Europe”. In his mad howl, guttural whoops, piercing twang and funky whistle one hears the alleys of Odessa, the cacophony of Coney Island, and the mountain air of the Catskills. In rescuing the repertoire of this lost master tumler, this group aims to bring the subversive joy of Yiddish music to new audiences, tearing down borders with a musical balagan. They have become a family of Nazaroffs:
Daniel “Danik Nazaroff” Kahn: vocals, accordion, bird whistle; born Detroiter, part-time Berliner, leader of The Painted Bird.
Psoy “Pasha Nazaroff” Korolenko: vocals, tumler; traveling avant-bard from Moscow.
Michael “Meyshke Nazaroff” Alpert: vocals, guitar; central figure of the Klezmer revival, founder of the legendary bands Kapelye and Brave Old World.
Bob “Zaelic Nazaroff” Cohen: vocals, mandolin, fiddle; Budapest-based ex-pat, archeologist of Carpathian klezmer and Roma music, leader of the Naye Kapelye.
Jake “Yankl Nazaroff” Shulman-Ment: vocals, violin; NYC virtuoso violinist, composer, Fullbright scholar, member of The Painted Bird.
Hampus “Hempl Nazaroff” Melin: poyk; the great Swedish klez/jazz drummer and member of The Painted Bird.
Their album, “The Happy Prince,” was recorded in Michigan, in North America’s largest astrological library, and Berlin, high above the frozen canal. The approach was simple: re-record the entire Nazaroff album song for song, with the new addition of translations into English to make the lyrics’ playful absurdity universally understood. The renowned graphic novelist Ben Katchor, another Nazaroff fan, has designed a beautiful cover. “The Happy Prince” is to be released by Smithsonian Folkways on October 23, 2015, 61 years after the original album, 101 years after Nazaroff‘s immigration to America. The group is also the subject of an upcoming documentary feature film, directed by Hungarian filmmaker Csaba Bereczki, following The Brothers all over the new world and the old, from Quebec to New York to Romania to Paris to Berlin, due out in 2016.
The Brothers Nazaroff thought this was all that could be done to revive their legendary forgotten “uncle”. But the vaults at Smithsonian Folkways have been hiding treasures never before heard: dozens of Nazaroff songs that were recorded (but not released) in the 1960s. The whole project has just gotten bigger. The Brothers Nazaroff, having been permitted to hear the tapes, now have the task of developing, translating, annotating, and making performance-ready a repertoire five times larger than what was known.
The material evokes a cultural heritage thought lost to the world. Original Yiddish songs, transpositions of Russian melodies to the Negev, wild dances, it all deserves the broadest possible audience: from underground punkfolk venues to large festivals. The Brothers Nazaroff have performed their old songs all over Europe for audiences of every cultural background and now look to America to help them celebrate the discordant, jubilant, ecstatic legacy of their Happy Prince.
Click here to read a press release from Smithsonian Folkways on “The Happy Prince.”