30 Nov 2016

Born 1932

In writing a critical appreciation on percussionist Elaine Hoffman Watts’s career, it is difficult to refrain from listing her accomplishments and leaving it at that. Actually, it’s not so difficult. Because after recalling that Ms. Watts was the first woman to graduate for the percussion program at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute and has played with nearly a dozen ensembles of considerable regional importance over the course of her 40 year career – even after a litany of these milestones, and her teaching and recording experience, and the fact that she is one of the only female klezmers around in the first place – there remains her music. Ms. Watts plays percussion in klezmer ensembles. The music lurches with surprising nimbleness like a rhythmic and melodic steeplechase from one end of the song to the other. And, like the acrobat who feigns clumsiness on the high wire, the Klezmer musician remains in control even through the most accidental seeming musical spasms. Ms. Watts observes that younger klezmer percussionists tend to be influenced by Dixieland or ragtime, while the music’s real rhythmic roots are found in 19th century military music. As a drummer, Ms. Watts (who is, by the way, a third generation klezmer musician, and does it get any more thoroughly in the blood than that?) is a foundation on which the careening architecture of klezmer is constructed. Hers is a fluid and inventive foundation, though; not the monotony of a rhythm that remains fixed while the world swirls around it. But she is a foundation also in the sense that she connects this increasingly popular music to it origins.