The two volumes of "Klezmerola At The Yiddish Theatre" are very unlikely CDs.
It’s not that Jewish piano rolls are such unlikely things, because they’re not. In the U.S in the 1920s, player pianos and rolls were so popular and so profitable that even ethnic minorities constituted worthwhile niche markets. Knowing this, it is not surprising to learn that Jewish rolls were readily available though never as plentiful as those made for larger immigrant groups.
Given the limited original output, the fragility of the paper, and the passage of so many years (which saw the collapse of the player piano market and the discarding of millions of rolls), what is unlikely is that many examples would have survived to the present day in playable condition. It’s further unlikely that these examples would have been sought and found ---“over here a few and over there a few”--- by someone who recognized what they were and what they could be.
There was virtually no likelihood that the rolls’ rescuer would turn out to be a superb pianolist, an artist who can not only play the player piano expressively but has something to express; and also little likelihood that he would possess an instrument that is pleasant to listen to, records well, and is up to the demands he makes of it.
And yet, all of these unlikely things have come to pass. Pianolist Bob Berkman has gathered over 350 scarce Jewish rolls over 35 years and has recorded these thoroughly charming and well-balanced selections of Yiddish Theatre tunes, played on the player piano in his house in Buffalo, NY.
Of course, it’s also unlikely that listeners will totally understand what has been accomplished here. The delightful musicality you will hear in these rolls is not coded in the perforations. It is imparted to the performance, moment by moment, by the pianolist’s art --- the shaping and coloring of the sound by subtle and well-timed variations in pressure on the foot pumps; by delicate, manually-controlled use of the sustain pedal; by judiciously suppressing bass for the sake of treble and vice versa; and by controlling fine adjustments in tempo and attack.
In the end, it’s not necessary to understand the technicalities or the musicianship involved. Just sit back and listen. There is every likelihood you will enjoy what you hear, its utter unlikelihood notwithstanding.