Mazel Tov Kocktail Hour is a traditional Jewish music project, started in 2007 by Samantha Goldberg. Dylan M. Blackthorn, & Kronk (Sick). The band has traveled the world in many formations, learning many different tunes and the history and context of the development of klezmer music and Yiddish folksongs. From Texas to Manhattan, Mexico, Poland, Cleveland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Greece, Mazel Tov Kocktail Hour has played at sold out venues, busked for a living on the street, and shared Jewish music with many people.
Jewish music is filled with the spirit of celebration, yearning, and meaning. Mazel Tov Kocktail Hour brings to all this our experience as Texans & Jews, exiles with rebellious spirit. The band features a mix of klezmorim (folk musicians) and muzikantn (master players), all acoustic instruments in a traditionalist ensemble resembling the klezmer orchestras of Jewish immigrant families from Eastern Europe in the early 1900’s.
In the beginning, the band had learned two sets of klezmer music and Yiddish folksongs from sheet music and old recordings. Their deep exploration of Klezmer began when one of their mentors, Mark Rubin, told us that if you learn music from a record, your understanding is only as deep as the grooves on the record. He suggested we visit a list of certain teachers, festivals, workshops, & places, to get a feel for the context that the music developed in.
The band’s adventures began with a trip to Poland with a holocaust survivor to play for the Polish family that hid him during the Shoah. We ended up also playing a sold-out show in Oświęcim, Poland, near the infamous Auschwitz death camp, getting Sig-heiled off the street by Neo-nazis in Warsaw, and also drinking with Anti-fa skins and playing for them in their local bar after hours in Krakow. The Poland leg of that journey ended with Mazel Tov Kocktail Hour playing for a large crowd circle dancing in the streets after the final concert in the square in the historical Jewish Kazimierz neighborhood of Krakow, Poland.
For most of their existence as a band, Mazel Tov Kocktail hour has studied in-depth with Sherry Mayrent, founder of the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture and former Associate Director of KlezKamp and Living Traditions, Inc. Sherry’s adept approach to teaching traditional Jewish music has impacted the band’s sound to a great degree, providing a deep well of understanding from which the traditional klezmer sound has sprung to life. The band has studied with Sherry Mayrent at Klezkamp NY, Klezkamp Madison, and with private and public lessons and workshops. For more information about Sherry Mayrent and her teachings, you may visit www.klezmeracademy.com
Professor of Yiddish, Itzik Gottesman has been an important mentor for the band, coaching the singers on Yiddish pronunciation and translations. Professor Gottesman publishes informative articles on Yiddish folksong on his website, Yiddish Song of the Week.
Mazel Tov Kocktail Hour has been featured at the San Antonio International Accordion Festival (on the poster even!), Pecan St. Festival in Austin Texas, Houston Pride Parade, Honk TX festival, many Jewish weddings all across the country, Bar/Bat Mitzvot, as part of services and festivals at congregation Agudas Achim in Austin Texas, schools, synagogues, churches, clubs, bars, cafes, streetcorners, birthday parties, dog’s birthday parties, interfaith events, really just about anywhere music has been played.
About the Klezmers & Muzikantn:
Samantha Goldberg – Flute, Xylophone. Samantha Goldberg, wandering Jewsician is passionate about spreading Yiddish music to all corners of the earth, and bringing together players to help her on this mission. As a multi-instrumentalist, her choice to play flute in this ensemble is to honor the early days of klezmer and bring back the haunting sound of the pipes and the hopeful sounds of nature. Samantha creates live music multi-media presentations on Jewish culture, traditions and history, leads educational programs and directs community bands in the Klezmer style. She has worked with the Lanier middle school band and the Austin klezmer bund.
Dylan M. Blackthorn – Accordion, Vocals, Misc. Foley. Dylan M. Blackthorn is a singer/songwriter & accordion-based composer. Traditional Yiddish music and culture is an interest he has studied since 2005, traveling the world with Samantha Goldberg. Dylan also plays with Goblinfolk ensemble THAT Damned Band, 999 EYES Freakshow & Surreal Sideshow, Gary Lindsey & the Pleasure Tide, and is a part-time goblin in thee Hobo Gobbelins.
Professor David Gilden – Trumpet. The “Prof.” is a player that is in high demand, and has been part of many bands and music projects in the Austin music scene including Wino Vino, Huerte Culture, and the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble of Austin Texas. He teaches the “Psychology of Music” class at UT Austin, and is involved in important research in the Psychology Dept. of UT.
Ethan A. Smith – Fidl, Piano. Ethan has a strong background as a Texas Fiddler & Texas fiddle competition judge. He teaches fiddle, violin, piano, & music theory in central Texas. Ethan has attended KlezKamp and studied with Deborah Strauss and Cookie Siegelstien.
Tom Crail – Tuba, Bull Fiddle. A versatile Bassist, specializing in Klezmer, Bop, and Jazz. This UT Alumni has added honor and pomp to Longhorn ensembles for many graduations with his tuba playing. The eyes of Texas are upon us. Tom plays with Scrappelli, Strawberry Piranhas, and many other groups.
Ben Saffer – Clarinet. Formerly of the Rubinchicks, Ben Saffer has a strong background in klezmer music & trad. jazz. He also plays Banjo with THAT Damned Band, saxophone & clarinet with a variety of jazz projects, including the Minor Mishap Marching Band.
David Ansel – Tsimbl. The famous Soup Peddler, former worship service music director for the South Austin Selah ensemble & is rumored to be the only professional Tsimblist in central Texas.
Jennifer Marshall – Fiddle. She sings through her bow and strings, tunes ancient and not-so-ancient, as well. Her expressive stylings bring forth the Yiddishe neshome. Jennifer has has attended KlezKamp and studied with Deborah Strauss and Cookie Siegelstien.
Steven Polunsky – Poyg. Popular in Austin bands, his boisterous klezmer drumming has been compared favorably to “a hound dog hitting its head against a wooden fence.”
Svetlana Saenger – Voice. All the way from Belarus, comes the shimmering Svetlana. A multi-lingual vocalist, singing in Belarussian, Hebrew, Russian, Yiddish, and English, who is known for her energetic and engaging presence on stage.
Special guests & former members:
Sherry Mayrent – Clarinet, Kronk (Sick) – Fidl, Guitar; Mark Rubin – Tuba, Tenor Guitar, Baritone; Mike Gray – Percussion, Go Box; Bruce Salmon – Guitar, Trombone; Rob Jewett – Bull Fiddle, Roy Coon – Clarinet.
RIP, Leah Morgan Durret – Trumpet.