In this delightful PBS video, Itzhak Perlman, hailed by many as America's greatest violinist, leaves the classical concert hall to go on a personal search for the roots of klezmer, the Jewish celebration music that his own parents knew and loved in Eastern Europe. Perlman's journey takes him to the streets of Poland and the cafes of New York, to music festivals, weddings, and modern klezmer groups such as Brave Old World, Kapelye, The Klezmatics, and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
This is not your usual documentary. It's a very personalized, heartfelt video, with delightful scenes of Perleman jamming with the various klezmer bands. Klezmer has been called "Jewish jazz," and these jam sessions give a feel for how the music is improvised from the depths of the Jewish soul. Plus, there's a great vaudeville number performed by Feyvish Finkel, who explains that every stage play in the old Yiddish theater had a wedding scene, and what would a Jewish wedding be without klezmer? Red Buttons also makes an appearance -- he, too, got his start in Yiddish vaudeville.
There's plenty to dance to here, but the film has it's solemn moments, too. One of the most moving is a scene of Perleman playing alone in a Kracow synagogue, a beautiful building now empty of worshippers. One can almost hear the walls weep for joy as they reverberate once again with contemplative strains of Jewish music.
On the technical end, there's a minimum of canned narration, allowing the story to unfold naturally, through reality-based conversations and interactions with the performers. Most of the conversation is in English, and those scenes in Yiddish are subtitled. But that most universal of languages --- music --- comes shining through from beginning to end. Approach this video as a live concert rather than a history lesson, and you will enjoy it again and again.