Klezmerotica Sweethearts: Jewish music for the uninitiated

When the Bay Area sextet Hernandez Hideaway romps through a klezmer tune, it’s usually for listeners who are new to the Eastern European Jewish party music.

“They always love it,” said accordionist Tim Phillips. “People don’t know the traditional dances that go along with the songs, but the music has this way of making people dance, far more so than other forms of music. It removes an inhibition.”

“People are drawn to it,” added soprano saxophonist Claire Phillips, Tim’s wife. “They say, ‘Tell me more about it. Why can’t we stop dancing?’ ”


Hernandez Hideaway members (from left) Nao Nakazawa, Dan Harrison, Sam Hernandez, Claire and Tim Phillips

After four years of playing joyful, sprightly music for primarily young non-Jewish audiences at festivals and bars in the greater Bay Area, Hernandez Hideaway has released its first album, “Klezmerotica Sweethearts.”


The sextet of 30-somethings will launch the album at an “Old World Dance Party” with two other bands on Aug. 1 at the Legionnaire Saloon in Oakland.

The album features 11 mostly klezmer songs that the band — Sam Hernandez (trombone), Nao Nakazawa (violin, mandolin), Dan Harrison (bass), Lucie Duffort (vocals) and Tim and Claire Phillips — plays at typical shows.

“Bumblebee Sirba” is a mid-tempo folk dance tune that Tim Phillips said the band heard on a recording by klezmer clarinet great Dave Tarras. Violin and saxophone share well-shaped melody lines as the rest of the band bounces along.

“23 Sherele” is a familiar klezmer dance tune on which violin, sax, accordion and trombone cheerfully trade off on the melody. “Chusidl,” another klezmer chestnut, shows off Hernandez’s growling trombone.

Hernandez, who studied music at U.C. Santa Cruz with Duffort, Harrison and Claire Phillips, supplies much of the band’s repertoire by transcribing tunes from recordings.

“Klezmer tunes are not super-complex at their core. They have fairly simple melodies and chord structures,” said Hernandez. “How you arrange them is where the complexity comes out. That’s how we approach it as a band.

“I like to listen to different interpretations of a tune and distill them into one package that I can bring to the band. I also like to learn the history of each song: Who played it, where did it come from?”

Occasionally that history is mundane. “23 Sherele,” for example, came from one of violinist Nakazawa’s music books.

Hernandez said he “didn’t hear a whole lot of klezmer growing up in Marin County. I heard the more religious-type tunes. When I was studying music in college, I learned about the big klezmer revival with the Klezmorim,” the Bay Area band that was a pioneer in relaunching klezmer in the mid-1970s. “I listened to a lot of their records.”

Added Claire Phillips, “We’re all influenced by them” — down to Hernandez Hideaway’s giddiness on stage and thrift shop-chic costuming.

Hernandez drew from his upbringing for the album’s “Adon Olam,” which alternates two of the prayer’s many melodies, one mid-tempo, the other double-time. Duffort’s vocals are soulful and sensuous.

“That’s a tune that I grew up hearing in synagogue, and my mom would sing that to me, too,” Hernandez said. “My mom was always bugging me to play that tune. It was fun weaving those two melodies together.”

The album opener, “Korobushka,” is a Russian folk song that Duffort recasts to describe a young man who attracts dozens of chicks — as in baby chickens. It’s a tribute, complete with clucking, to bassist Harrison, who lives on a chicken farm.

The name “Klezmerotica Sweethearts” came from producer Claudio Landau. “It’s a little bit cheeky,” admitted Tim Phillips. “A lot of the audiences we play for are not Jewish, and most don’t know what klezmer music is. In a way, they get more of what we do by us using ‘Klezmerotica Sweethearts.’ ”

Clearly, somebody’s getting it. The band raised more than $5,000 to finish the album from about 200 people in a Kickstarter campaign, said Tim Phillips. “Support came from around the world, which is really cool.”

Hernandez Hideaway’s album launch party, 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1 at Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. www.hernandezhideaway.com