Once a month, I get to sidle up to clarinetist Larry Maxey with my cello and play folk- and, in Larry’s case, Klezmer-inspired Hebrew prayers for services at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center. We play as part of Shiray Shabbat, a musical group consisting of five-eight singers, a few guitarists, and Larry and me as the orchestra. Shiray Shabbat means singing and sabbath, and in the spirit of the old Talmudic saying that you pray twice as much by singing your prayers, we do a musical service. Larry is not only a master, but as gracious as he is talented.
How we ever got Larry to play with us is a mystery, but for years, he’s been showing up with his clarinet and blowing us out of the water and onto the wild lands of the clarinet at its most exquisite. When he plays the “MiSheberich,” the prayer for healing, the call of the clarinet is so piercing, full and deep that the sound itself cannot help but heal, pouring through whatever forgiveness and embraces would sound like if they were only sounds.
When Larry plays the introduction to the “Baruchu,” an opening prayer, in his improv Klezmer tumble of notes and soulful twists, the whole congregation on its feet starts dancing a little. Last night, as usual, I noticed a man and woman in the front row, both probably past 70, shimmeying and bopping, both of them grinning madly like they were six years old again and just given a shopping cart full of candy.
You see, when Larry plays, he makes us all young again, or young in a clean and vibrant way we usually can’t remember. When Larry plays, the dark sky outside brightens, the cold air glimmers, and the jazz that is the life force shows its stuff.