A Jumpin’ Night in the Garden of Eden

Re-released for a new generation: the first film to document the klezmer music revival.
by
Year Released
2021
Film Length(s)
75 mins
Remote video URL

Introduction

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.

Featured review

The discovery of klezmer is comparable to the uncovering of the tomb at Tutankhamen.
New York Post
New York Post

Synopsis

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?

Reviews

…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.
New York Times
New York Times
A revelatory musical documentary…it suggests an epic theme – how it feels to see yourself in an earlier generation.
Boston Phoenix
Boston Phoenix
Music of joy and wit in this fine, exuberant and somehow very touching movie.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Awards and Screenings

The Dallas International Film Festival, 1988
Chicago Jewish Film Festival, 1988
Moscow Jewish International Film Festival, 1990
Film Forum (New York), 1988
Coolidge Theater (Boston), 1988
Roxie (San Francisco), 1988

Director Commentary

What does it mean to be a second or third generation American? What does such a person make of the legacy she carries from her not-quite-so-American forebears? All those stories of the “old world,” the other language, the food, the celebrations, the music? The impulse to bury all that, the pull toward the cultural center in the desire to “pass” as an American, proves irresistible – in part because all along such a person harbors the suspicion that she is really not “American” at all. As Henry Sapoznik says in this film, “I wanted to be Beaver Cleaver – to pass. I didn’t want to have parents who had accents.”

But then, perhaps as the generation that came from the “old country” begins to pass on, many of us grandchildren decide decide that we need to stand face to face with that legacy, investigate it, and integrate it into our own way of being before it’s too late. A Jumpin’ Night in the Garden of Eden is a film about some young second and third generation Americans who do that through music – and bring a lot of other young musicians along with them just for the fun of making something new. As a third generation American myself, I was especially engaged by their process of discovery and integration through music-making, so that became the film’s focus. Although the film was made in the 1980s, I believe it has a certain timelessness, a vitality: second and third generation Americans turn out to be an abiding fact of American life, at least so far.

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