All it took was one klezmer improvisation workshop with Israeli clarinetist Giora Feidman for German mathematician Helmut Eisel to change his career course and devote himself to Feidman’s mentorship and music. Nearly 25 years later, Eisel’s mastery of his instrument has earned him the moniker “The Talking Clarinet.”Through it, he sings, spits, wails, cackles, and flirts, all with a distinctive klezmer spirit.
Together with Feidman and others in Germany’s klezmer revival scene, Eisel makes music that recalls everything from traditional klezmer to bossa nova to blues. Check out, for example, his album “Klezmer at the Cotton Club,” on which tracks like “Der Rebbe Elymelekh” rubs elbows with good old “Minnie the Moocher.”
Eisel, who is not Jewish, and Feidman, who is, teach summer improvisation workshops in Safed, and have performed at Yad Vashem to commemorate Jewish musicians killed in the Holocaust.
Feidman perhaps best sums up the uniqueness of Eisel’s sound: “You only need to hear a few seconds and you immediately know: this is Helmut playing! And if not – it’s not him!”