A single album, inherited from his late father, led disc jockey Max Reinhardt to rediscover his Jewish musical roots. The recording was "Mish Mosh," by comedian and klezmer clarinetist Mickey Katz: "He does a version of Dean Martin's 'That's Amore' as 'That's Morris,' which my father, Morris, was forever playing for his Jewish friends," Reinhardt, 52, recalled from London. "As a kid, I took in the jokes, but I couldn't help but notice the stuff Katz played at lightning speed in the middle that had nothing to do with Dean Martin."
As he spun the disc in '93, Reinhardt -- known for bringing world music to London's club scene -- was riveted by Katz's wild but precise klezmer breaks. So began a journey that brings him to Los Angeles this month to perform with a Jewish world music band, Dis/Orient.
The group is among a dozen acts to appear in Zeitgeist: The Harry and Belle Krupnick International Jewish Arts Festival, which kicks off at the Skirball Cultural Center Aug. 10-28 and continues in winter 2004. Unprecedented in the United States, the festival spotlights Europeans who draw on Jewish tradition to create edgy, contemporary work. Artists include Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (see below), the jazz-infused Cracow Klezmer Band and the quirky Danish dance company, Rosenzweig.
The program -- along with Los Angeles Yiddishkayt Festival -- should help place Los Angeles in the forefront of a Jewish cultural Renaissance that began with the klezmer music revival of the 1970s.
Zeitgeist began in 2001 when Skirball program director Jordan Peimer set off on a series of research trips to find performers to bring back to the Skirball. In a Paris underground club, he discovered Les Yeux Noirs, a band that combines klezmer and Gypsy strains. In a theater in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, he encountered the Jewish director of the multicultural Ilkhom Theatre. In a London cafe, he met with Reinhardt, who described how Katz's brilliant album ultimately led him to collaborate with a another kind of Jewish virtuoso, Sephardic grandmaster Maurice El Medioni.
An impressed Peimer raised approximately $1.2 million (including a $300,000 grant from the Harry and Belle Krupnick Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles) toward a festival dedicated to the cutting-edge European artists.
"Jews feel much more like 'the other' outside the United States, which is reflected in their work," he said. "The attitude is, 'I've got this interesting story to tell and chances are, you haven't heard it." Reinhardt and Dis/Orient do just that by blending El Medioni's Algerian Rai music, Sephardic Andalusian sounds and hip-hop-infused klezmer.
"We're showing that Jewish culture belongs not just at bar mitzvahs, but within the burgeoning roots and world music market," he said.
Zeitgeist begins with a family festival Aug. 10. For information, call (310) 440-4500; for tickets call (323) 655-8587.