Twenty-five years ago, inspired by a klezmer tune playing on a Grey Lynn cafe’s stereo, Hershal Herscher picked up his accordion and started playing the music his grandfather Harry had brought to New York from the Ukraine. In no time at all a a group of musos keen to play this “new-old” music coalesced around him, adding mandolin, trumpet, tea-chest bass and percussion to the pumping accordion and creating a local sensation. Thus was The Jews Brothers Band born, one of the most entertaining and original bands on the planet.
Before long they’d taken the genre right out on a limb with jazz-style improvisation and swing rhythms added to the mix and an emphasis on edgy vocal and instrumental harmonies. The band’s repertoire morphed from traditional klezmer tunes to their own originals with the same vibe, many of these reflective of the fun and comedy schtick characteristic of New York’s Yiddish theatre music-comedy style. The instrumental line-up changed too: mandolin became guitar, the featured horn became saxophone and the tea-chest bass was replaced by the more versatile double bass. Their first national NZ tour took place in 1997 and since then they’ve played the world over, from the Faroe Islands to Southern Spain, from Nuremberg to Chicago, on various folk, jazz and world-music festival stages. Feathers in their cap were the prestigious North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands and the 20th anniversary WOMAD in Reading, UK where they caused a riot in a small tent that couldn’t fit all the people who wanted to see them; “Security” had to be called! Their hard-driving rhythms, impossible to resist, have pulled many a bride and groom and their guests, Jewish or Gentile, on to the dance-floor and they’ve even played a knees-up at a pagan wedding on the English sea-shore.
The current line-up is two Jewish New Yorkers (Ashkenaz Hershal on accordion and Sephardic Nigel on guitar), a New Zealander of Jewish – Maori descent (Aaron Coddel on bass) and two Scots-descended kiwis, Neill Duncan playing the world’s first one-handed tenor sax and drums and chanteuse/ melodica player Linn Lorkin.