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Bios

Leadership

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Lori Lippitz

Vocalist, Founder, Artistic Director, Guitarist

Lori has devoted herself to restoring the “joy of klez” to the Chicago Jewish community since founding the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band in 1983.  Under the auspices of the Klezmer Music Foundation, Lori created the Junior Klezmer Orchestra in 1994, mentoring young people in klezmer music and Yiddish songs.  In 2001, she started the Salaam-Shalom Music Project (an interfaith collaboration with members of the Chicago Muslim musical community), as well as three congregation-based community klezmer bands.  A graduate of the University of Michigan, Lori is also a freelance Cantorial Soloist.

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Alex Koffman

Musical Director, Violin, Vocalist

Alex received his Master’s Degree from the Conservatory of Minsk in Belarus, and conducted a military orchestra in the Red Army.  After immigrating to the U.S. in 1989, Alex studied with Albert Igolnikov of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  He joined Maxwell Street Klezmer Band in 1990 and became its first pianist, and then violinist, Musical Director, and arranger.  Alex has recorded five albums with Maxwell Street and performed in Carnegie Hall, and across Europe and the UK including at 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 at DePaul Theatre School.  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.”  In 2023, Alex arranged and performed music in “The Cherry Orchard” at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.  Alex conducts three grassroots synagogue bands and mentors young musicians in the Junior Klezmer Orchestra.

Vocals

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Lisa Fishman

Vocals

Singer, actress, and recording artist Lisa Fishman has performed throughout the U.S. and Europe in a diverse career that has spanned TV, musicals, and music from pop and jazz to her own originals.  In 2023, Lisa played Yente the Matchmaker in Off-Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish” directed by Joel Gray.  Lisa appeared with Maxwell Street Klezmer Band in Carnegie Hall in 1998, and is the featured vocalist on their 1995 album, You Should Be So Lucky!  Lisa has shared the stage with many Jewish luminaries including Itzhak Perlman, Mandy Patinkin, Theodore Bikel, Claire Barry (of the Barry Sisters), Zalmen Mlotek, Fyvush Finkel, Bruce Adler, Mike Burstyn, Seymour Rechzeit, as well as Debbie Friedman and Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, & Mary).

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Lori Lippitz

Founder, Artistic and Musical Director, Vocalist, Guitarist

See "Leadership" above.

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Bibi Marcell

Vocals

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, and appears on three of the band’s albums.  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.

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Natasha Bodansky

Vocals

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 UIC 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, and is a freelance Cantorial Soloist in the Chicago area.

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Etel Melamed

Vocals

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 albums.  In addition to Maxwell Street, she has performed and recorded with Eyes Manouche (a Balkan band), and Guitarra Azul.  Etel divides her performances between her two homes in Chicago and Florida.

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Cantor Pavel Roytman

Vocals

Hailing from Nikolaev, Ukraine, Cantor Pavel Roytman of Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah has toured 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.  He has appeared on stage, solo and with Chicago Acapella, members of Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Howard Levy, and Corky Siegal and Chamber Blues.  He has composed liturgical and secular compositions for voice and choir. Learn more about Cantor Pavel Roytman in this article.

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Rabbi-Cantor Charlene Brooks

Vocals

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.

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Joseph R. Black, Senior Rabbi

Guest Vocals 

Rabbi Black has been the Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado since 2010.  He has recorded six critically-acclaimed albums of Jewish music, including Eight Nights of Joy: Rabbi Joe Black and the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band in 2000.  He has also authored two children's books, a songbook and two videos.  Rabbi Black was honored by Moment magazine as one of the top ten male performers in American Jewish music as well as one of the top ten children's performers in American Jewish music.

Woodwinds and Brass

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Shelley Yoelin

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.

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Bartek Warkoczyński

Clarinet, Piano, Composer

Bartek graduated from the Music University in Lodz, Poland in 2002.  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 (“The People”) in Poland and with “The Supertonic Orchestra” in 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 as an immigrant in 2018, Bartek performed on a Japanese cruise ship, and with the Las Vegas Philharmonic. Besides being Maxwell Street’s newest musician, he also plays in the Chicago City Wide Symphony Orchestra. 

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Jeff Jeziorski

Clarinet

Jeff has been playing with Maxwell Street since 1987. He received his Bachelor of Music Degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and lives in Wisconsin. He has played and recorded since the 1960s with Balkan and other international music ensembles, and founded the group “Festival European.” Jeff is featured on three of Maxwell Street’s albums, and has performed twice with Maxwell Street in Europe.

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Donald Jacobs

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. 

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Ivo Braun

Trumpet

A native of Prague, Czech Republic, Ivo has played with Maxwell Street since 1993, including at Carnegie Hall and the Barbican Center in London, several European tours, and can be heard on three of the band's recordings.  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 taught music appreciation at Triton College as well as serving as the trumpet instructor for 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.

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Bob Samborski

Trombone, Bass

Bob received his BA in Music Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Bob was honored as Best Soloist at the Governors State University Jazz Festival.  Bob has performed with 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.  Bob has played and recorded with Maxwell Street since 2007, and appears on two of their albums.  He also plays piano, string bass, and percussion.

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Dana Legg

Trombone

A member of the band since 1998, Dana is in demand as a freelance musician and clinician.  As an educator, he serves as the band director at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.  In addition to Maxwell Street, he has played with many legendary jazz musicians, and toured with the Guy Lombardo and Buddy Rich Orchestras, and has performed in a dozen different countries and nearly every state.  His own professional big band, The Dana Legg Stage Band, is entering its fourth decade, and can often be seen in the Chicago area or heard on jazz radio stations.

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Howard Prager

Tuba

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.  Howard Prager is author of the popular book, Make Someone's Day: Becoming a Memorable Leader in Work and Life.  He provides many examples of how doing the right thing at the right time can greatly impact a person.  Playing for audiences with the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band is definitely one of the ways he can make someone's day for the band's many listeners and fans.

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Dan Anderson

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. 

Violin

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Alex Koffman

Artistic and Musical Director, Violin, Vocalist

See "Leadership" above.

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Irina Kaufman

Violin

Irina Kaufman received her Master’s degree from the Conservatory of Minsk.  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 U.S. She joined Maxwell Street Klezmer Band after her immigration in 1995, and has appeared with the band on stages across the U.S. as violinist and vocalist.  She has recorded two albums with her own band, The Irina Kaufman Orchestra.  In addition to performing with other groups, Irina teaches violin, piano, and vocal education.

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Allison Zabelin

Violin

Allison Zabelin began playing violin when she was four years old after seeing Itzhak Perlman perform on Sesame Street.   She is a graduate of Maxwell Street Klezmer Band's Junior Klezmer Orchestra, in which she performed from age 8 through high school.  Maxwell Street also performed at her wedding. Ms. Zabelin completed her Bachelor of Arts in Music Education at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, where she was the recipient of the Verna Townsend Music Award and the Edward J. Krolic String Scholarship. Allison received her Master’s Degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. Allison teaches elementary and middle school orchestra in suburban Chicago, and performs in several string ensembles.

Rhythm Section

See also Dan Anderson (String Bass/Tuba) in Woodwinds & Brass section.

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Gail Mangurten

Piano

Gail Mangurten is musical director of many professional and community ensembles and accompanist of musicals.  Gail is on the teaching staff at Cappelli Institute of Music in Oak Park, IL and accompanies services at several congregations.  A master of many styles, she is in demand as an accompanist of musicals, wedding ceremonies and as a congregational and theater accompanist.  She and members of Maxwell Street collaborated with Chicago's Goodman Theatre, providing music for Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" in 2023.  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 has toured with Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, including in Europe and at Carnegie Hall.

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Sam Hyson

Accordion & Violin

Sam Hyson grew up playing classical violin and Klezmer, then moved on to Balkan music, Latin, Middle Eastern, and beyond. He is co-founder of Chicago Folklore Ensemble, which presents music and stories of master musicians who immigrated to Chicago from countries around the world.  He also performs with Cielito Lindo Family Folk Music (Mexican), Shalizar Ensemble (Persian), Ochin Pakhi (Bengali), and Compass Rose World Violin Duo.  He holds a degree in Environmental Studies from Warren Wilson College.  

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Jim Cox

String Bass

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 collaborated with Chicago's Goodman Theatre, providing music for Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" in 2023.  He has made four recordings with Maxwell Street.

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Dan Kristan

Bass

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.

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Justin Kramer

Percussion

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 of Chicago.

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Mark Ponarovsky 

Percussion

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 albums with Maxwell Street.

For Private Parties

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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.

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Gerald McClendon

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

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Tom Logan

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.

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Jeff Rutter

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-1960s to early 1970s 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

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Bob Applebaum

Honorary & Past Member

Piano

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Marian Concus

Honorary & Past Member

Flute & Piccolo

Marian Concus was a member of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band in the 1980s.  She is a member of Fremont Symphony/Opera/Ballet and Santa Cruz Symphony.  In addition to performing on Maxwell Street Klezmer Band’s first album, Maxwell Street Days, she has recorded in Paris with Adama, with the Windy City Slickers, and with Laudamus Choir and Ohlone Chamber Singers.

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Joel Helfand

Honorary & Past Member

Clarinet

Joel Helfand was Maxwell Street Klezmer Band's first clarinetist, and plays on the band's first album, Maxwell Street Days.  A graduate of Chicago Musical College, Joel ran a popular wedding band for many years in the Chicago area.  He played with many entertainers including Doc Severinson, Sarah Vaughn, Tex Beneke, Helen O’Connell and Red Skelton.  After retiring to North Carolina in 2005, Joel has played at the Flatrock Playhouse, Asheville Community Theatre, Hendersonville Symphony, the Brevard Philharmonic, Asheville Jazz Orch., Hendersonville Community Band, and Brevard Community Band, and was a backup for the Temptations at the Biltmore.  He brought Klezmer music to Hendersonville with the help of another former Maxwell Street member, Bob Applebaum.

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Kimber Leigh Nussbaum

Honorary & Past Member

Vocals

Originally from Kansas City, Kimber performed with the band from 2000–2014.  Kimber performed several times in Europe with Maxwell Street Klezmer band, including in Germany, Lithuania, and Austria, as well as across the U.S.  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.

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Marcia Sterling

Honorary Member

Violin

Marcia Sterling, classically trained violinist, vocalist, violin teacher, cantorial soloist, yogini, and leader of “The Best Little Klezmer Band in Texas,” makes her home in both Houston and Chicago.  Marcia was born into a Yiddish speaking household where her love for the culture was nurtured.  She further cultivated that spirit in Chicago when she became a member of Maxwell Street Klezmer Band in 1985.  Since 1994, she and her husband, Dan Strba, have continued presenting this vibrant musical style with The Best Little Klezmers taking the lead in community events and in the schools through Young Audiences of Houston.

In Memoriam

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Sam Margolis

In Memoriam:

Honorary & Past Member

Trombone

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.

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Ralph Wilder

In Memoriam:

Honorary & Past Member

Clarinet

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.

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