Klezmer music is commonly known as the instrumental music traditions of Ashkenazi Jews. What you might not know, nor will Wikipedia inform you, is that the term “Klezmer”, as most of us know it, came about 40 years ago here in New York City! The coining of the term for this genre of music was part of an initiative by the Center for Traditional Music and Dance (CTMD) to recover this art form.
“We take Klezmer music for granted now but when we started [this initiative], the musicians didn't really call it 'Klezmer music',” says Peter Rushefsky, Executive Director at CTMD. In 1978, they did a concert series with David Tarras, sparking a huge interest in promoting and resuscitating the art form. Their researchers were searching for a spicy term to use when one of them suggested using the word “klezmer,” previously a somewhat derogatory Yiddish term used to refer to less-than-trained folk musicians. “It’s kind of amazing,” Rushefsky says, “40 years later, it’s embedded in world music.”