Folk music master keeps Midwood close to his heart

Andy Statman — recipient of the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship for his career in genres like klezmer, folk, and bluegrass — is a Midwood man, through and through.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Andy Statman won one of the most prestigious folk music awards in the country, but he’s still a good Midwood boy who plays clarinet at his local shul.

“I play private things for different occasions in the shul where I pray,” said Statman, an Orthodox clarinetist and mandolin player who was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts last month — the nation’s highest award in the folk music arts. “With the Orthodox community here, this is home for me.”

Yet Statman wishes there was a concert hall in Midwood where he and musicians of his caliber can play.

Brooklyn College’s Center for Performing Arts is less than a mile away, but Statman claims there are no concert venues in the heart of Midwood.

“I practice here and write music here, but the avenues for playing exist outside of the neighborhood,” he said.

Statman may be playing outside the borough — at least when he’s not in shul — but he always keeps Brooklyn dear to his heart. His most recent album, “Old Brooklyn,” includes such Midwood-centric names like “Ocean Parkway After Dark,” and “On the King’s Highway.”

Honoring Midwood in song is how Statman, whose successful solo career has led to collaborations with a list of musical superstars that include the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, keeps in touch with his roots. His religion also keeps him grounded — and never gets in the way of his active touring life, he says.

“On Friday and holidays there’s nothing to talk about,” Statman said. “If people want me, they’ll have me on Saturday or Thursday. It’s not really that big of a problem. It’s just a given.”

Statman’s folk and bluegrass career took off in the early 1970s. His mandolin playing was an important part of a klezmer music revival in the 1980s before he branched out into other musical genres such as pop and jazz.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to go from one genre to the other, but in terms of the types of songs I’m playing, it’s all music,” he said.

Folk music may not be the most godly music out there, but the devout Orthodox Jew sees no conflict.

“I’m playing all instrumental music — there’s no singing. It’s concert music,” he said.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

Statman, who’s played with such musicians as David Grisman, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan, says he tries to practice six hours a day on the mandolin and clarinet — except of course, on the sabbath.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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