Displaced musician feels at home in Bay Area

Glenn Hartman wasn’t planning on moving to San Francisco, but Hurricane Katrina had a way of changing people’s plans.

Hartman, an accordion player and co-founder of the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars (NOKAS), has called San Francisco home since Katrina displaced him and his family last year.

While he still tours with the band — they opened this year’s Berkeley Jewish Music Festival — he has been playing around the Bay Area with a number of local musicians as well, calling himself Glenn Hartman and the Klezmer Playboys.

They are one of the eight acts on the main stage at To Life! A Jewish Cultural Street Festival in Palo Alto. Hartman and the Klezmer Playboys will take the stage at 4:30 p.m.

Raya Zion has been working hard to ensure there’s something for everyone on the main stage at this year’s festival. From folk music to hip-hop, electronic to beach party to klezmer, the main stage will feature a wide array of local talent for all ages.

Zion is a self-described Jewish music and culture aficionado. The Foster City resident is on the program committee of the Berkeley Jewish Music Festival and has worked on promoting several concerts locally, which brought her to organizing this year’s talent.

“It’s all about raising Jewish consciousness through culture,” she said.

While Hartman still plays gigs all over the country with NOKAS, he has recently begun performing with two musicians here. Hartman and his wife, a neurologist who was recently hired by UCSF Medical Center, have two young children, and they did not think they’d be out of New Orleans for as long as they have. But it’s now one year later, and they do not plan to go back yet.

Their home was not as damaged as many others, and they recently were considering a return. When he played Jazzfest there in April he thought things in New Orleans were on the mend. But he had a different impression when he visited in July.

“The city was much worse than it had been,” he said. “It felt like it was going in wrong direction. I was really looking for a reason that I was making the wrong decision to leave, but except for the love of my friends and our nice house there, I didn’t find it.”

In forming his new ensemble here, Hartmann did not want to play with longstanding klezmer musicians; he wanted talented musicians who were open enough to learn his interpretation of it. With his new bassist and drummer, they play some classics, and many of the same songs that he does with NOKAS.

The single-named Hyim will open the day with his self-described brand of urban world beat, at 11:30 a.m. Hyim, who was born and raised in Oakland, has a growing following, as is evident by his opening for major recording acts Steely Dan and Carlos Santana this summer.

Most recently, though, the religious-school teacher gained notoriety for conducting a hunger strike in front of Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater, protesting the budget cuts in arts and music programming for schools.

His Jewish pride can sometimes be heard in his lyrics.

“It’s part of what I am,” he says. “When you become conscious of cultural awareness, you have to find your own harmony and seek your roots.”

Another up-and-coming hip-hopper is Dr. J., otherwise known as Jonathan Gudtstadt, and a group of his Oakland friends who created “Hip Hop Shabbat” — which they describe as “a CD that turned into an experience.”

Gudtstadt, too, grew up in Oakland, and his friends on the CD call themselves the OJGs (short for the Original Jewish Gangsters). They are set to perform at 12:30 p.m.

He founded the group when he was a kid, explaining that “it was my response to wanting to be proud to be Jewish.”

The group has been performing at local synagogues since the CD was released. “I want to give to all kids a strong sense of Jewish identity, that it’s cool to be Jewish,” said Dr. J. “They shouldn’t feel that there’s something wrong with being different.”

Maratris is the name of an Israeli husband and wife team, Einat and Natan Gammer, who are now based in Redwood City. They have found a fan in Zion.

“They play electronic, world-beat music, and they’ve played in lots of Israeli festivals,” she said.

Einat, who is trained in opera, sings in eight languages and has a range of 3.5 octaves. Natan is a composer who has been studying music since the age of 7. His father was a well-known jazz musician.

While the couple composes and sings electronic music, they also are involved in an Israeli chorus in Silicon Valley, which sings many old, crowd-pleasing pioneer classic songs.

They’ll be on stage at 2:30 p.m.

Judith-Kate Friedman, scheduled for 1:30 p.m., sings Jewish

folk music in numerous languages and styles, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi. A leader of various workshops, she is also known for her work with residents of the Jewish Home.

Winding down the day at 5:15 p.m. will be

Meshugga Beach Party, the Alameda-based band that brings Jewish surf tunes to life.

Hosting the day will be Lev Tov (a stage name), an Argentinean Jew who is ba’al tshuvah, a returnee to the Jewish faith. By day he is an attorney, but he’ll let his standup comedy aspirations loose for To Life!

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."