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Maxwell Street Klezmer Band 

Celebrates Four Decades of Sharing the “Joy of Klez”

Chicago-based Jewish Music Ensemble 

Leading the Midwest's Klezmer Revival Since 1983

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The Beatles were together for almost eight years...Gilbert and Sullivan’s partnership lasted twenty-five years...And in 2023, Maxwell Street Klezmer Band celebrates 40 years of bringing the “Joy of Klez” to Chicago and the world.  

Then: 1998, Carnegie Hall

Now: 2022, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

In 1983, Lori Lippitz, a vocalist and guitarist from Evanston, Illinois, put out the word to local musicians that the Midwest needed to join the Klezmer Revival, which was burgeoning on the East and West Coasts.  The name that she chose for the band–Maxwell Street Klezmer Band–tips its fedora to Chicago’s Sunday lively morning market, established in the late 1800’s by newly-arrived Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. 

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The band has even played for three generations of celebrations in single families (a wedding, then the bar/bat mitzvah of the wedding couple’s child, and then at the grown child’s wedding).

 

“A shared life of simchas (celebrations)–you’ve been part of our lives, just as we’ve been privileged to be part of yours,” writes a grandmother who recently invited Maxwell Street Klezmer Band to play at a grandchild’s bar mitzvah.  

Lori Lippitz (Founder) and Tanya Melamed (Vocalist)

Of the original band, only Lippitz and Shelley Yoelin (clarinet, sax, flute) remain.  Yoelin, who was nominated for CV Music Awards Best Jazz Instrumentalist in 2019, wrote the arrangements that gave the band its distinctive Chicago Jazz sound.

 

Then in 1989, Alex Koffman, a graduate of the Music Conservatory in Minsk, Belarus, arrived in Chicago and met Lippitz at the band’s weekly gig at the Cafe Continental on Lincoln Avenue.  First joining as the band’s keyboardist, then violinist, Koffman became the band’s musical director, composer and arranger, creating the band’s signature quirky, quasi-classical originals.

 

Although most of the band’s core members have been on board since or before the 1990s, the newest clarinetist, Bartek Warkoczynski, immigrated only four years ago, after leading his own klezmer band in Poland.

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Alex Koffman, Musical Director and Violinist

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Lisa Fishman (Vocals) and Jim Cox (Bass), Photo by Kent Sievers

The band’s shows always feature Yiddish vocals.  Featured vocalists include Lisa Fishman, who recently played Yente the Matchmaker in off-Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish” directed by Joel Gray; and Rabbi Joe Black, featured on the band's most recent album 8 Nights of Joy.  Other featured Maxwell Street vocalists include Cantor Pavel Roytman, who has sung on stages across the US and Europe, as well as Bibi Marcell, Natasha Bodansky, Tanya Melamed, and Marcia Sterling, as well as founder Lori Lippitz.

As part of its celebratory year, the band presented two 40th Anniversary Concerts on June 4, 2023 at 2:00 PM and 5:30 PM at Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago (for details click here).  The venue's stage has been graced by the likes of Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchel, Mahalia Jackson, Big Bill Broonzy, and John Prine. The venue also hosted Maxwell Street’s 30th Anniversary Concert in 2013.  Over twenty musicians and vocalists performed on 6/4/2023: click here for bios. 

Alex Koffman played a violin from Violins of Hope​ at this concert.  The violin is from a collection of 70 string instruments played by Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust.  Thes instruments have been painstakingly restored and are now in our area for cultural exhibitions, performances, and community education with a message of hope, resistance, resilience, and unity.

Koffman shares, "Violins of Hope is a unique collection of 70 string instruments which were recovered and rebuilt in Israel from the time of the Holocaust.  This exhibit is continuously touring around the globe.  I’ve been one of the lucky musicians who was given the honor of playing some of these instruments when the exhibit stopped in Chicago.  Connecting to those perished souls who once played these instruments, helping these violins to sing again while feeling those musical vibrations in your own body is like reaching back in time and being part of history. This is an experience that will stay in my heart for the rest of my life!" 


Since 1983 and still loyal to the cause, Lippitz, Koffman, Yoelin and the other musicians continue putting their stamp on the klezmer revival, playing with a schmear of folk music, a dollop of jazz, and a bissel of brassy Big Band and Broadway.  

 

"The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band conjures joy from thin air while at the same time freeing the deep waters of the soul." - Rich Warren host/producer Emeritus WFMT Radio, Chicago

“The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band…A joyous celebration of music that was—and fortunately, still is.” - Studs Turkel, Author and Radio personality

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