One Larchmont Composer Revives the Music of the Borscht Belt

Sam Sadigursky | All photos by Joe Brent

Larchmont composer and clarinetist Sam Sadigursky celebrates the music of New York’s Borscht Belt with his new album, The Solomon Diaries.

When he isn’t performing with the famed Philip Glass Ensemble, composing music for movies, playing on Broadway, or writing books, Sam Sadigursky can often be found brushing up on Jewish history. After a fateful encounter with Marisa Scheinfeld’s book The Borscht Belt, Sadigursky was inspired by the music of “America’s Jewish Vacationland.” Released in January, his three-disc album, The Solomon Diaries, is a love letter to the Jewish immigrant story, as well as a demonstration of Sadigursky’s eclectic, cross-genre compositions, which encompass jazz, post-minimalism, and world music. We caught up with the talented musician, who provided a glimpse into his melodic existence.

Sam Sadigursky
Sam Sadigursky

Tell us about your youth and introduction to music.

I was born and raised in LA. Both of my parents are former immigrants from the Soviet Union, and they are both musicians. My mother is a classical pianist, and my father is a clarinetist and accordionist; they met in a conservatory in what is now Moldova. I was lucky to grow up and study with some amazing musicians and see some of the most legendary players play. Fast-forward, I moved to New York in 1997 to go to William Paterson University, which has a legendary jazz program that was started by Thad Jones. From the time I was 13 years old or so and saw that New York was the epicenter of jazz, I was determined to move here, and William Paterson was my way of doing that.

Tell us a bit about your music.

The Solomon Diaries is actually my sixth album. I did a series of four albums, called The Words Project, for New Amsterdam records. The first one was in 2006, and they were all my original [musical] settings of poems and texts. I am really proud of those records, but they were always incredibly difficult to perform live because I was reliant on singers learning and delivering the music in a very technical way. After that, I made a collaborative album that was supported by a grant by Chamber Music America with great French pianist and composer Laurent Coq, called Crosswords. Then, over the last 10 years or so, I feel I really found my voice and what I am most interested in, playing clarinet, so I made a record called Fall of the Stick, which was sort of my coming out as a clarinetist. Now, here is the Solomon Diaries, which is all clarinet.

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Why is the Jewish vacation destination known as the Borscht Belt important to your work?

To me, the story of the Borscht Belt really tells the story of immigration into the U.S., the challenges of it, the exclusion that a lot of immigrants face here and how you respond to that. It also tells the longer story of how assimilation starts to take place. A lot of the fall of the Borscht Belt was for reasons that we should actually celebrate, in that Jews became less excluded and more assimilated into mainstream America, and they didn’t want to limit themselves to just going to resorts in the Catskills. They started to go other places, and they also started to feel more American.

What can listeners expect from The Solomon Diaries?

I started writing this music in about 2018 or 2019. I was the onstage clarinetist for The Band’s Visit on and off Broadway, and that was beginning to wind down. I had spent the last three years playing all this Jewish- and Middle Eastern-influenced music and getting more comfortable with those sounds and letting them become a deeper part of me. During the pandemic, I quickly realized I needed something to keep me sane. I had all this music I had written, and it seemed very challenging to find a safe way to record it. But Nathan Koci, the accordionist on the album, and I figured it out. We were able to record it live, with lots of air purifiers running and COVID tests happening. It was really important to have that experience and document it in that way. I feel that these albums wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the pandemic and that they wouldn’t have happened in the same way, on the same level.

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