Krakauer Goes To The Movies


The noted clarinetist David Krakauer has moved through enough genres to last several musical lifetimes. In the past 25 years he has played everything from klezmer (where he was one of the leaders of the klez revival) to classical, jazz, folk and funk.

So it was time to go to the movies — for inspiration, that is.

“I was talking with my management team,” Krakauer said in a telephone interview last week. “We were trying to come up with an idea for something different for me, something new and a bit unexpected.”

The assembled multitude turned to music producer Joseph Baldassare who is “a very smart guy with a lot of great ideas,” Krakauer said. “He thought, ‘How about doing music from iconic films with Jewish content?’”

Eureka! It was a nice fit for the reedman. The result is an extended run of performances of his new project — “The Big Picture” — at the Museum of Jewish Heritage beginning Jan. 29.

“I thought that was brilliant, an extension of my whole last 25 years of work, searching for my Jewish identity and grappling with the questions that came out of that search,” Krakauer said. “All the stuff I’ve done with klezmer and with cross-pollinations from that — it’s all about dealing with the Jewish heritage issue.”

After all, there is a reason that his klez-funk project is called Abraham, Inc., and his regular working band is now named Ancestral Groove.

The resulting CD, “The Big Picture,” and the series of concerts that begins at the end of the month showcase yet another, very different aggregation, one that features “people who are musically a little left-of-center,” as Krakauer put it.

“I could have gone in the direction of getting session musicians who would have been great; there are so many amazing musicians in New York City,” he said. “But we wanted a band of poets, a band of very poetic musicians.”

Among the edgy voices prodding Krakauer on the CD are a few downtown luminaries such as Greg Cohen (bass) and Rob Burger (keyboards), but he also is joined by violinist Jenny Scheinman and guitarist Adam Rogers, relatively unfamiliar faces in the Krakauer constellation. The live dates will feature a different but equally capable sextet, with Rob Schwimmer on keyboards and theremin, Sara Caswell on violin, bassist Mark Helias, drummer John Hadfield and longtime Krakauer guitarist Sheryl Bailey.

The band book features composers that Krakauer hasn’t played before, from Kander and Ebb (“Willkommen” from “Cabaret”) and Bock and Harnick (“Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof”) to Mel Brooks (“Keep It Gay” from the musical version of “The Producers”). But there are also several numbers that place the clarinetist squarely in the jazz tradition from which he emerged — a Sidney Bechet tune “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere,” and the inexhaustible Johnny Green standard “Body and Soul.”

Dexter Gordon, one of the greatest tenor saxophonists in jazz, used to introduce that chestnut by saying, “Into the life of every tenor saxophonist inevitably there comes the challenge of ‘Body and Soul.’” Asked about the decision to include the tune, Krakauer invokes the milestone version by Coleman Hawkins, one of the solos that all jazz players measure themselves against.

“That’s a masterpiece, of course,” he said. “If you were a painter, surely you’d want to paint your version of ‘The Night Watch,’ your own version of ‘Guernica.’”

Another aspect of “The Big Picture” that this listener found very appealing is Krakauer’s use of his lower register, seldom heard on his klezmer recordings. It has a rich, dark, woody tone that is very satisfying to hear.

For the live performances, Krakauer will be adding another element to his palette, a visual one.

“We’ve been working with this incredible computer animation house and graphics designers — Light of Day and Cutting Room Films — a group of incredibly creative young animators, and the films they’ve made for the concerts are absolutely extraordinary. They flip the relationship between music and film; these are films that were made to accompany the music instead of the other way around.”

Krakauer, like most people, has fond memories of going to the movies as a kid, and he’s hoping that the live version of “The Big Picture” will evoke some of those recollections for listeners.

“That’s the lovely thing about movies,” he said. “The movies have created epiphanies for all of us.”

David Krakauer will be performing “The Big Picture,” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (36 Battery Place) on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m., and at 2 p.m. every Sunday and 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday in February. For information, call (646) 437-4202 or go to Krakauer’s CD “The Big Picture” will be released Feb. 18 and will be available in stores and online.