Founder, Artistic and Musical Director, Vocalist, Guitarist
Lori has devoted herself to restoring the “joy of klez” to the Chicago Jewish community by founding the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band in 1983. Under the auspices of the Klezmer Music Foundation, Lori founded the Junior Klezmer Orchestra in 1994, mentoring young people in klezmer music and Yiddish songs. She also founded the Salaam-Shalom Music Project (an interfaith orchestra combining members of Maxwell Street and members of the Chicago Muslim musical community), as well as several congregational klezmer bands. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Lori is also a freelance Cantorial Soloist.
Artistic and Musical Director, Violin, Vocalist
Alex was born in Minsk, USSR in a musical family where his grandfather taught him Jewish folk music. Alex received his Master’s Degree from the Conservatory of Minsk, and, when drafted into the Red Army, conducted a military orchestra. After immigrating to America in 1990, Alex studied with Albert Igolnikov of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He then joined Maxwell Street Klezmer Band and soon became its violinist, Musical Director, and arranger.
Alex’s creative arrangements and compositions combine the traditional klezmer style with classical, jazz and contemporary influences. Since the 1990s, Alex has recorded five CDs and performed across the world with Maxwell Street, with highlights including Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Theatre in London, and the Vienna Mozart Hall. In 2008, Alex was the featured soloist in the world premiere of “Klezmer Rhapsody'' by Ilya Levinson, which he reprised in Symphony Center in 2014 with Chicago Sinfonietta. In 2015, Alex was a featured performer in Lyric Opera of the first klezmer opera, “The Property.” In 2019, Alex was Musical Director of "The Dybbuk," an original setting of a folktale, at DePaul Theatre School. As an educator, Alex teaches klezmer musicians of all ages and levels, Alex conducts three grassroots synagogue bands and mentors young musicians in the Junior Klezmer Orchestra.
In 2019, Alex was featured as a soloist and teacher at “Litvak Klezmer Festival,” Minsk’s International Jewish music festival. In 2020, during the Covid-19 Pandemic, Alex was selected as a soloist in a virtual worldwide event, “Beregovski's Musical Treasures: 35 Klezmer Fiddlers: 12 Countries, 158 Nigunim.”
Alex’s other musical credits include the Chicago Music Consortium, the David Rothstein Orchestra, the Bill Porter Orchestra, the Steppenwolf Theater, and movie and commercial soundtracks.
Clarinet, Tenor Sax, Flute, Arranger, Composer
Shelley Yoelin (tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute) is one of the original founding members of the band. Formerly Chair of the Fine Arts Department and Director of Bands at Triton College in River Grove, Illinois, Shelley has been playing with Maxwell Street since 1983. Shelley regularly performs in the Palm Springs area and was nominated in the Coachella Valley Weekly magazine for Best Jazz Instrumentalist. He is a long time instructor at the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshop and with the International Federation of Jazz in London. Shelley leads jazz bands in Chicago and Palm Springs, California.
Clarinet, Piano, Composer
Bartek (Bartosz) Warkoczyński graduated from the Music University in Lodz, Poland in 2002. The city and its rich Jewish history had a significant influence on Bartek’s future musical path. After playing clarinet and piano in the Sudecka Symphony in Wałbrzych, Bartek became entranced with klezmer music and founded the band “Klezmerado,” which entertained throughout Poland. He has also played with Anashim (“People”) in Poland and with the Supertonic Orchestra in Dublin, Ireland. As a conductor and composer, Bartek conducted two woodwind orchestras in Strzegom and Zarow and composed music for a children’s theater in Walbrzych. On his way to Chicago, Bartek performed on the Asuka II, a Japanese cruise ship, and with the Las Vegas Philharmonic. Besides being Maxwell Street’s newest musician, he plays in the Chicago City Wide Symphony Orchestra.
Jeff has been playing with Maxwell Street since 1987. His Bachelor of Music Degree in Music History and Theory is from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has played and recorded since the 1960's with Balkan ensembles at folk festivals and at venues such as Old Town Restaurant in Milwaukee, and founded the group Festival European. He has also performed with Skylight Opera. He has written the scores for musical theater productions. Jeff is featured on the band's most recent CD and has performed twice with Maxwell Street in Europe. Jeff, Elizabeth, and sons Adam and Gregory live just outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Clarinet, Tenor Sax, Arranger
Donald Jacobs has played with the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band from its founding. Don recorded on three of Maxwell Street’s CDs, and performed with other Maxwell Street musicians in the first klezmer opera, The Property, in Lyric Opera of Chicago's production. He has also arranged many pieces for the band. Don's touring career has included two trips to Jewish festivals in London, Vienna and Germany with Maxwell Street, three Danish tours, and many festivals in the U.S. and Canada. He graduated cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis, and has studied with clarinet masters Sid Beckerman, Richard Corpolongo, George Silfies and James Stoynoff. Now a resident of Houston, Texas, Don is the assistant band director at Lanier Middle School. He plays with “The Best Little Klezmer Band in Texas,” and also plays gypsy jazz and Balkan music.
Irina Kaufman received her Master’s degree from the Conservatory of Minsk. She performed with numerous Symphonic Orchestras and Musical Theaters. From 1983-1995, she toured and performed around the world with Belorussian Symphony Orchestra, the Belorussian Chamber Orchestra, and the Concert Orchestra of Belarus across Eastern and Western Europe and in the US. She joined Maxwell Street Klezmer Band shortly after her immigration in 1995, and has appeared with the band on stages across the US as violinist and vocalist. She has recorded two CDs with her own band, the Irina Kaufman Orchestra. In addition to performing with other groups, Irina is involved in pedagogy, teaching violin, piano, and vocal education.
Ivo Braun, a native of Prague, Czech Republic, grew up in Skokie, Illinois. He has played with Maxwell Street since 1993, including performances at Carnegie Hall and the Barbican Center in London, several European tours, and can be heard on three of the band's recordings. Ivo received his B.A. in Trumpet Performance from the University of Illinois and his M.M. from the University of North Texas where he was a member of the school's award-winning Two O'Clock Lab Band. Ivo's performance experience includes Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey Circus, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Irving Symphony in Dallas and cruise ships for both Carnival and Royal Cruise Lines. In addition to performing, Ivo has also enjoyed teaching music appreciation at Triton College in River Grove, Illinois as well as serving as the trumpet instructor for several schools in the Chicagoland area. In his spare time, Ivo enjoys studying and performing improvisational comedy and is a graduate of both Second City's Training Center and the Improv Olympic Theater in Chicago.
Bob Samborski is a native of Chicago and has played and recorded with Maxwell Street since 2007. Bob studied trombone with Robert Gray and Tom Senff at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education. While at college, he played lead trombone with the famous U of I Jazz Band as well as with the Symphonic Band under Dr. Harry Begian. Bob was honored as Best Soloist at the Governors State University Jazz Festival. Before joining Max, Bob performed professionally with many notables including such greats as Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell, Mel Tormé, Cab Calloway, Sonny & Cher, Les Elgart, Roger Pauly, Jack Kramer, Anita O’Day, Si Zentner, Warren Covington, Pat Boone, Gloria Morgan, The Temptations, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. He is also a highly skilled pianist and percussionist, and is comfortable playing in virtually all musical genres including Jazz, Classical, Latin, Pop, Swing, Dixieland, Rock, Bluegrass, and, of course, Klezmer.
A native of Marshalltown, IA, Dana Legg has been a member of Maxwell Street since 1998. He played his first gig at the age of 15 and studied music at Southwestern Community College and The University Of Northern Iowa. Dana has been a member of the music faculty at Glenbard South High School, Marshalltown Community College, Harper College and Loyola University, and has performed with such notable artists as Bruce Adler, Louie Bellson, Randy Brecker and The Mills Brothers, and toured with the Guy Lombardo and Buddy Rich Orchestras. Dana has served as clinician, guest soloist, and composer/arranger for many school jazz ensembles of all levels, as well as his own professional big band.
Gail Mangurten is musical director of many professional and community ensembles and accompanist of musicals. Gail is on the teaching staff at Virtuoso Performing Arts and accompanies services at several congregations. A master of many styles, she is in demand as an accompanist of musicals, wedding ceremonies and synagogue and church services. She has made four recordings with Maxwell Street and is composer and arranger of the show, "Jewish Songbirds of Tin Pan Alley.” She graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, where she honed her classical and jazz skills. Gail was the musical director at “Tuxedo Junction", a 1940's ensemble, when Maxwell Street discovered her in the 1990s. Since then, Gail has toured with Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, including in Europe and Carnegie Hall.
Jim Cox graduated from the University of Illinois in 1979 and has played and recorded with Maxwell Street since 1993. He toured with Earl "Fatha" Hines from 1979-82 and played with Marian McPartland for almost 20 years. Jim is equally comfortable playing jazz, klezmer, bluegrass, pop, cabaret, and classical genres. Some of the artists he has played and recorded with include Rosemary Clooney, Michael Feinstein, Debbie Boone, Liza Minelli, Ann Hampton Callaway, Christine Ebersol, Wesla Whitfield, Phil Woods, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Sinfonietta, and jazz mandolinist Don Stiernberg, among others. He currently teaches at Lake Forest College and North Park University in Chicago.
Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, Dan Kristan graduated from DePaul University in 2013 with a B.M. in Jazz Studies. He has worked since that time around the Chicago area and beyond with numerous groups in the jazz, bluegrass, country, rock, and pop fields, as well as playing on musicals at the Mercury Theater, Porchlight Music Theater, and others. Dan also maintains a private lesson studio of bass, guitar and piano students.
Howard Prager started playing piano when he was 7 and tuba at 11. When he was 14 he started The Royal Blue Tinkertoy Dixieland Band, which continues to this day. He studied music at VanderCook College of Music and Northwestern University during high school and college. Howard has performed with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, on venues with Al Hirt and Jerry Lewis, toured Europe several times performing in England, France, Italy and Germany, and plays with virtuoso jazz clarinetist Doreen Ketchens and her band when he is in New Orleans. Howard created Tubapalooza!, showcasing the tuba in various styles of music from classical to ensemble to klezmer and jazz, and in 2013-14 conducted the University of Notre Dame Tuba Ensemble. He has been a member of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band since 2016.
String Bass, Tuba
Dan Anderson’s interest in music emerged at the age of nine with the discovery of his uncle's trumpet in the attic. Dan subsequently started playing the tuba in the fifth grade band and also enjoyed playing the baritone and trombone during his earlier years. He studied further at the Interlochen Arts Academy, University of Illinois and Northwestern University. Before finishing college, Dan spent two years living in Germany. There, his freelance work took him from the Oktoberfest Bands to the Nuremberg Philharmonic. In addition to the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, he has played string bass with the Chicago Brass Quintet, Von Freeman Quintet and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. On occasion Dan is also a guest with the Chicago Symphony and many other musical organizations in Chicagoland. He teaches jazz bass at Columbia College Chicago and tuba and euphonium at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
Justin has a degree in Percussion Performance from the University of Illinois (1992). He went on to play in many ensembles around the Chicago-land area including The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band (since 1993) and the progressive Jazz group Spazztet, including guitarist Aaron Weistrop and violinist Zach Brock. After a two-year stint in New York City, Justin returned to Chicago and currently enjoys playing with many ensembles, especially Maxwell Street, and teaching high school English in the western suburbs.
Mark Ponarovsky was born in Kiev, Ukraine, and received his BA from the Kiev College of Music. He toured with various show orchestras in the former Soviet Union and became the percussionist of the Kiev State Circus Big Band. After his immigration in 1989, Mark performed in Milwaukee until relocating to Chicago in 1991, when he joined Maxwell Street Klezmer Band. He has recorded four CDs with Maxwell Street.
A graduate with an MA of the Odessa Conservatory in Ukraine, Etel (Tanya) Melamed has been a vocalist, pianist and dancer with Maxwell Street Klezmer Band since 2014. After arriving in the U.S. in 2001, Etel has led her own ensemble, “The Melamed Band,”with whom she has recorded four CDs. In addition to Maxwell Street, she has performed and recorded with Eyes Manouche (a Balkan band), and Guitarra Azul.
Bibi Marcell began her singing career at a young age as a vocalist in her father’s band. In 1991, Bibi began singing with the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, as well as the Chicago Klezmer Ensemble. In addition to performing extensively on the stage, Bibi works as a freelance Cantorial Soloist, and is the Education Director at Congregation Hakafa in Glencoe.
Natasha Bodansky has been singing with Maxwell Street Klezmer Band since 2014. A native of Ukraine, she came to the U.S. in 1995 and holds a BA in Choral Conducting from Kharkov State Institute of the Arts as well as a Masters of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Her performance credits include singing with UIUC Opera Theater, The Savoy-Aires, and Northwestern University Music Academy Chorus. She has served as a Cantorial Soloist with UIC Hillel Foundation for over a decade, and sings with North Suburban Synagogue Beth El professional choir. Devoted to the revival of Jewish music, and to introducing Yiddishkeit to the local Russian-Jewish community, she has taught Jewish music at several congregations and directed Jewish children's choirs.
Cantor Pavel Roytman
Hailing from Nikolaev, Ukraine, Cantor Pavel Roytman (Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah) earned a degree in piano and conducting at a Russia-based conservatory, and toured as a vocalist throughout Russia, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Immigrating to the U.S. in the 1990s, he obtained his Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance and Master of Music in Musicology. He is a member of the American Conference of Cantors and the Cantors Assembly. In addition to singing with the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band since the mid-1990s, Cantor Roytman has performed in festivals from Chicago to Israel. In 2004 he won the first prize in the Jewish Arts contest in Berlin. In 2018 he performed in Paris with Kol Zimrah Jewish Community Singers. He has appeared on stage, solo and with distinguished musicians and ensembles including Chicago Acapella, members of Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Howard Levy, and Corky Siegal and Chamber Blues. His creative work includes liturgical and secular compositions for voice and choir. In 2017, he wrote and produced “The Singing Yid," a musical show based on his journey from the USSR to Chicago and the Cantorate. He also hosts the Junior Klezmer Orchestra and sponsors the Wilmetsky Orchestra (a congregational band) at Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah. Learn more about Cantor Pavel Roytman in this article.
Singer, actress, songwriter, and recording artist Lisa Fishman has performed throughout the U.S. and Europe in a diverse career that has spanned from Klezmer music and Yiddish Theater to musical theater and children’s television to singing pop, rock, jazz and blues and her own original music. Lisa is the featured vocalist on Maxwell Street Klezmer Band’s You Should Be So Lucky! album. As a concert artist of Jewish music, Lisa has shared the stage with many musical luminaries including Itzhak Perlman, Mandy Patinkin, Theodore Bikel, Claire Barry of The Barry Sisters, Zalmen Mlotek, Fyvush Finkel, Seymour Rechzeit, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, & Mary, and members of Brave Old World and of The Klezmer Conservatory Band. Lisa has sung backup for the legendary Jewish singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman, in concert at Carnegie Hall. In 2018-2020, Lisa was featured Off-Broadway in "Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish, "Bruce Adler, A, B, C," and starred alongside Broadway and film star Mike Burstyn in “On Second Avenue.” She has performed in numerous shows produced by New York’s National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. A songwriter in her own right, Lisa created and performs in an original one-woman show.
Charlene Brooks is a Chicago born singer, cabaret performer, writer, lyricist and actress. She has been performing her one-woman shows combining her love of all types of music, Broadway, swing, pop, and country, to sold-out houses around the country. She has opened for such greats as Tony Bennett. Yiddish was her parents’ first language and performing this music as well as other styles with The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band has been a great joy and honor. Charlene has been the Cantorial Soloist and Music Director of Congregation Bene Shalom for over 25 years. Officiating at Jewish life cycle events inspired Charlene to attend the Hebrew Seminary and she is now approaching her rabbinic ordination.
Sandra H. Bowen
Special Guest: Vocals
Sandra H. Bowen began singing with Maxwell Street in the 2010s. Sandra’s accomplishments include singing background for Gladys Knight, Melissa Etheridge, Yolanda Adams, and others. She has sung throughout the United States and abroad in Turkey, Central America and throughout Europe. Accomplished in many genres including Soul, the American Songbook, Swing, Rock, Pop, Motown and Gospel.
Special Guest: Vocals
From Sinatra and Smokey Robinson, to R&B and Motown classics and mellow soul, Chicago singer Gerald McClendon has earned the name “The Soulkeeper.” His most recent album, Can’t Stop Me Now, was released in 2020 to universal praise:
"From Sinatra and Smokey Robinson, to R & B and Motown classics that bring the house down and mellow soul, Chicago singer Gerald McClendon has earned the name “The Soulkeeper.” His most recent album, “Can’t Stop Me Now,” was released in 2020 to universal praise:“ - Jim Hynes, Glide Magazine
“Gerald McClendon: A Chicago Classic! This man puts class back into the classics. The heart and soul back into the rhythm and blues and a smooth sense of style into jazz. He is everything that is missing from music today.” - Nick Taylor, Chicago Loop News
Special Guest: Vocals and Guitar
Tom Logan, who has played with Maxwell Street since the 1990s, is a guitarist for musical theater at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and at other Chicago theaters. He has performed with Seth MacFarlane at Ravinia and performs with Chris Sarlas's band, the Carey Deadman's Real Horn Band, and co-leads The Tom Christie Band.
Special Guest: Guitar and Vocals
Jeff Rutter has been playing with Maxwell Street since the 1990s. He studied vocal education at Northern Illinois University. Jeff toured with The New Seekers, Monkees composers/performers Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart,The Drifters, and in 1985, Jeff became the guitarist for the late-1960’s to early 1970’s Chicago band, “The Cryan’ Shames.” Jeff’s own bands, Scramble, and The Nightshift Orchestra, have been playing since the 1970s-80s. Jeff plays with a school music-lecture program that provides music education to schools and municipalities’ summer youth programs throughout the Chicago and southern Michigan areas.
Honorary and Past Members
Honorary & Past Member
Kimber Leigh Nussbaum
Honorary & Past Member
Originally from Kansas City, Kimber performed with the band from 2000–2014. Prior to joining the band, her theater career (as an Equity actor) ran the gamut from musical theatre to children’s theatre and interactive theatre to melodrama and vaudeville. A particular highlight was joining a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” with the legendary Theodore Bikel, in both Kansas City and St. Louis. With Maxwell Street, she has had the honor of performing several times in Europe, including Germany and Austria and all over the United States. In addition to hundreds of concerts, countless families were thrilled to have Kimber singing and leading the band at their weddings and private events. She is featured on two of the five Maxwell Street recordings, and she has written and performed three one-woman cabaret shows, produced at The Skokie Theatre.
Honorary & Past Member
Sam played with Maxwell Street from 1990 until his passing in 2001. He recorded on two of the band's albums and performed with Maxwell Street in Europe and Carnegie Hall. Sam's gentle nature and quirky sense of humor left an indelible impression on the ensemble. Sam also taught Spanish at Lake View High School in Chicago for over thirty years. In addition to trombone, he sang and played flute; he performed in ensembles including the orchestras of Ralph Wilder, Frank Amorosi, and Allan Kaye, as well as with Maxwell Street Klezmer Band.
Honorary & Past Member
Ralph Wilder began as clarinetist in the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band in 1989, and led school concerts with the band since the 1990s. He graduated from Northwestern University where he played principal clarinet in all performing ensembles. His playing with Maxwell Street can be heard on three Maxwell Street CDs, and performed with the band at Lyric Opera (“The Property”). Along with Ralph's love for Klezmer music, he has led The Ralph Wilder Orchestra, taught clarinet and saxophone at North Park University, directed The Northwest Concert Band, and played Principal Clarinet with the Evanston Symphony Orchestra. Ralph was adept in many styles including orchestral, ballet, Broadway musicals, rock, pop, jazz, Dixieland, New Age, and, of course, Klezmer.