Every time the Flyers win, an E-flat clarinet wails triumphantly in the distance.
I got my first clarinet at age 9 from my grandfather’s music shop, after hearing the likes of Benny Goodman and thinking those were the sounds I wanted to make. Instead I grew up learning classical music, but have also been listening to jazz and “world” musics for as long as I can remember.
In college in the early to mid-1990s as a Biology major and Music minor at Carnegie Mellon University, I got into klezmer music, and felt like I’d struck gold when a friend found an old copy of the Kammen Bros.’ 1920s klezmer folio for Bb clarinet sticking out of somebody’s trash can. But it wasn’t until graduate school that I really branched out, when I had the good fortune to study with Kurt Bjorling of the klezmer super-group Brave Old World.
I got my Ph.D. in Cell Biology from Northwestern University Medical School in 1999, and moved to San Diego for a post-doctoral fellowship first at Scripps Research Institute, and then at UC San Diego. It was there that I played in my first real klezmer group, Punkt Azoy, a duo with accordionist Risa Goldberg.
I finally made it to Philly in early 2008 to set up my research lab at Temple University School of Medicine, where I spent my first 10 years as an independent scientist. I moved my lab to Thomas Jefferson University in late 2018, where I am now Associate Professor in the Cardeza Foundation for Hematologic Research, in the Department of Medicine. I spend a lot of my time tinkering with cells and pondering why they respond the ways they do. But I also consider that one of the best days of my life was back in April of 2008 when, coming home from work, I decided to detour up Broad Street and heard some enticing music coming from outside the Kimmel Center. There was this huge brass band honking away and people were circle dancing on the street, and the energy was infectious. The next thing I knew, I was going out to West Philly every week for jam sessions, learning new tunes in these crazy Balkan styles that resembled klezmer yet were so distinctive, and was suddenly playing gigs with this wild, raucous, monster of a band. I have been playing clarinet and writing tunes for West Philly Orchestra ever since.
I am also fortunate to be married to Jacqueline Goldfinger, “Philadelphia’s finest female playwright,” and dad to three wonderful kids.