For nearly a thousand years, klezmer music had been part of the celebration of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Immigrants brought it to America, where it intersected with the Yiddish theatre and jazz. Yet klezmer was virtually extinct by the 1970s when some young musicians went looking for their cultural origins in the vast American musical landscape. Tracking two groups of brilliant young musicians, Kapelye and the Klezmer Conservatory Band, and containing rare footage of the elder immigrant musicians they learned from, A Jumpin’ Night in the Garden of Eden is the first film to document the klezmer revival. Originally released in 1987 and re-released in 2021, it tells the story of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants restoring their cultural legacy: a very American story.
“The discovery of klezmer is comparable to the uncovering of the tomb at Tutankhamen.”
Made in the mid-1980s, A Jumpin’ Night in the Garden of Eden was the first film to document the American klezmer revival, and then it became part of the revival itself.
For nearly a millennium, vigorous and soulful klezmer had been part of the celebration of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, and in the early decades of the 20th century it continued to flourish in America. Assimilated and commercialized, this quintessential expression of Yiddish culture was virtually extinct by the time some young musicians went looking for a way to set themselves apart in the vast and competitive American musical landscape. They wanted a new way to be musically Jewish, without having to play musical clichés like “Hava Nagilah” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
A Jumpin’ Night in the Garden of Eden is about musical process, tracing the efforts of two contemporary groups, Kapelye and the Klezmer Conservatory Band as they rediscover klezmer music and make it their own in rehearsals, Yiddish lessons, meetings with their musical elders, a Jewish wedding, a new “Klez Camp” for Americans yearning for a taste of the Old World, and finally on the iconic American radio show, Prairie Home Companion.
Making the past live in the present is at the heart of the klezmer revival, and this film shows three generations of musicians involved in the process. Since the film was first released, the young musical explorers profiled here have become klezmer’s elder statesmen. But the question remains: why do young musicians continue to find this music so seductive?
“…these young musicians are trying to recapture much more than just the tunes of a bygone time; they are after nothing less elusive than the spirit of a destroyed world.”
“A revelatory musical documentary…it suggests an epic theme – how it feels to see yourself in an earlier generation.”
“Music of joy and wit in this fine, exuberant and somehow very touching movie.”