One of the first klezmer revival bands in the Midwest, the Chicago-based Maxwell Street Klezmer Band has been playing their blend of Yiddish pop tunes, dance music, and Jewish folk songs since 1983. Named after Chicago’s busy marketplace, Maxwell Street Klezmer Band injects horn-driven energy into the music of the past. With guitarist and vocalist Lori Lippitz, co-founder of Yiddish Arts Ensemble and a cantor of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, leading the way, the 15-piece group pays tribute to the Klezmer masters while allowing their music to evolve.
Formed in 1983, Maxwell Street Klezmer Band has gone through numerous personnel changes. Only Lippitz and Mintz-born violinist, arranger, and music director Alex Koffman, ex-concertmaster of the Byelorussian Pops Orchestra, remain from the original band. Saxophone, clarinet, and flute player Shelley Yoelin, a professor of music and director of bands at Triton College in River Grove, IL, has been with the group since 1985. As of June 2000, Maxwell Street Klezmer Band features Kimber Leigh Nussbaum (vocals), Donald Jacobs and Jeff Jeziorski (clarinets), Ralph Wilder (clarinet, saxophone, flute), Gail Mangurten and Bob Applebaum (pianos), Sam Margolis and Audrey Morrison (trombones), Ivo Braun (trumpet), David Rothstein (bass), and Mark Ponarovsky and Steve Hawk (percussion).
In 1989, Maxwell Street Jazz Band joined with choreographer Lynn Shapiro to launch a non-profit organization, the Yiddish Arts Ensemble, to present family-oriented theater productions. In 1994, this organization grew into the Klezmer Music Foundation under whose auspices the Klezmer and Yiddish Music Institute, a weeklong series of concerts and workshops, is held annually in the Midwest. The organization also supervises a teenage band, Maxwell Street Junior Klezmer Orchestra.
Since 1996, Maxwell Street Klezmer Band has joined with Peter, Paul & Mary’s Peter Yarrow and Jewish singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman for a Hanukah concert that has attracted an eager audience each year. The band’s peak year came in 1998. They performed in New York at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in February and Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park in June. In November, they traveled to London, Munich, Vienna, and Amsterdam. ~ Craig Harris, All Music Guide