For Jake Shulman-Ment, his love of music started as a toddler when he saw Itzhak Perlman playing on Sesame Street. His father created a makeshift-cardboard violin for him to practice on; at 3, he graduated to a real violin. The instrument has been by his side ever since.
Now, at 33, the Brooklyn-based artist is one the most highly regarded klezmer musicians in New York and beyond. On stage — fingers dancing furiously over the violin strings — is where he shines.
From the age of 12, he honed his technique under violin pedagogues. Now he teaches, records and performs internationally with the likes of Daniel Kahn, Frank London, Di Naye Kapelye, Joey Weisenberg, and Duncan Sheik.
As an ethnographer, he’s travelled through Eastern Europe, documenting the culture and history of klezmer and Romani gypsy music helping to, he said, “preserve and continue a tradition that brings a lot of value to the world.”
Though Klezmer declined in popularity post-World War II, the genre experienced a revival in the 1970s as part of an increased interest in Yiddish music and culture. Now in its post-revival stage, Shulman-Ment said there is more room for exploration.
“It’s about reviving it in a way that it [Klezmer] is not just a museum piece or a nostalgia for something that we’ve lost, but really something that can reflect who we are now and who we want to be.”
On his upcoming album, he collaborates with an electric guitarist and drummer for a genre-bending sound. “It’s a celebration of wandering and musical curiosity,” he said, “It’s klezmer, it’s rock, it’s avant-garde but using the language and style of klezmer.”
In NYC, he helps organize “Yiddish New York,” a celebration of Yiddish culture held annually on the Lower East Side. He also co-founded “Tantshoyz,” (“Dancehouse”) a roving Yiddish-music dance party that takes place in bars around the city.
Part of his musical inspiration comes from listening to violin recordings of Jewish prayer tunes as a child. “It’s so beautiful and so inspiring,” he said. “It’s a folk music without borders … this amazingly rich, diasporic mishmash of European and Jewish history and culture.”
Polyglot: Jake speaks five languages: French, Hungarian, English, Romanian and Yiddish, many of which he learned on his travels around Europe.