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?