As of 2015, the Red Hot Chachkas are taking a break.


(50 words) 
Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, the Red Hot Chachkas create new American klezmer from Old World roots with their original compositions, arrangements, and improvisations, featuring violin, clarinet, accordion, mandolin, bass, and drums. Their CDs are "Beats Without Borders" (2010), "Spice It Up!" (2007), and "Family Album" (2002).

(150 words) 
Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, the Red Hot Chachkas create new American klezmer from Old World roots, with their original compositions, arrangements, and improvisations. Their contagious musical performances inspire and transform audiences. From Toronto's Ashkenaz Festival to San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall, favorite clubs, theaters, galleries, community centers, schools, and Jewish congregations, as well as private parties and simchas ranging from orthodox to outlandish, their hot sound and uptempo beat has folks up dancing. Led by bandleader, dance leader, and classical violinist Julie Egger, the seasoned musicians draw on disparate influences and backgrounds: soulful Barbara Speed (clarinet), balkanic Diana Strong (accordion), oldtimey Tony Phillips (mandolin), jazzy Breck Diebel (bass), and worldly Aharon Wheels Bolsta (drums). Their CD "Beats Without Borders" (2010) presents all original tunes composed by band members, and follows "Spice It Up!" (2007), and "Family Album" (2002). See


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Musician Bios

  • Julie Egger (Violin, Dance leader, Band manager) ... has played the violin since the age of seven. As a teenager, she performed with the Long Island Youth Orchestra, which traveled all over the world playing music. She received a Bachelor of Music in Education from Crane School of Music, where she studied with the Carnegie String Quartet and Ruth Iogha. Julie lived for nine years in Boston, where she performed classical, jazz, and liturgical music. She has performed with master artists such as Stuart Brotman and Joshua Horowitz, and was a co-founder of KlezCalifornia.  She founded and performs with the Red Hot Chachkas, as well as The Convergents, teaches Klezmer music as well as classical and jazz to students of all ages, conducts workshops in Klezmer music, and freelances in the Bay Area.  She lives in West Marin.

  • Barbara Speed (Clarinet, Sax, Flute) ... started on piano, her father's instrument, when she was nine. Flute soon followed, and she studied classical and baroque flute in New York and London through her twenties. In 1979, Barbara moved to Berkeley, took up saxophone with Kurt Bradford (former lead alto with Jimmy Lunceford). Barbara's fascination with that era of jazz led her to the clarinet, which she studied with Jim Russell. A gig playing a swing suite with the Westwind International Folk Ensemble led to participation in a klezmer suite with Tony, who later recruited Barbara to the Red Hot Chachkas. She also plays in soul-R'n'B band Juke Joint and pianist Stuart Rabinowitsh's jazz quartet Scirocco.  She teaches clarinet, sax, and flute privately.

  • Tony Phillips (Mandolin) ... got his first mandolin as a law school graduation gift from his parents, to their subsequent and lasting regret, and now also plays octave mandolin, electric mandolin, mandolin-banjo, guitar, fiddle, and whatever other stringed instruments he can buy, borrow, or steal. He played in several Bay Area bluegrass bands, and performs oldtime, contradance, jazz and swing, Cajun, and other traditional American music with the Jubilee American Dance Theatre. He formed and leads the Instant Klezmer Mandolin Orchestra, and is involved behind-the-scenes in the Jewish Music Festival, KlezCalifornia, and San Francisco Festival of the Mandolins. He can be also heard regularly playing oldtime fiddle tunes with The Improbabillies.

  • Breck Diebel (Bass) ... holds a MA degree from San Francisco State University, and BM from Berklee College of Music in Boston, and is a credentialed music teacher. He grew up playing guitar, and has been playing bass since 1980. He plays standup bass and electric bass guitar, and has performed within a wide range of musical genres, including jazz, salsa, Cuban son, folk, rock, and Andean and Latin American folk. Breck has taught bass at Blue Bear School of American Music in San Francisco. Breck also plays with Barb in pianist Stuart Rabinowitsh's jazz quartet Scirocco.

  • Diana Strong (Accordion) ... began studying piano at age seven, and throughout young adulthood avidly practiced classical repertoire and informally composed. At the same time, she grew up surrounded with traditional folk music from all over the world (especially Balkan music), because of her family's connection to a vibrant music community and yearly music camps. In 2006 she discovered the accordion and hasn't put it down since! Diana plays a wide range of styles including Klezmer, Balkan, Brazilian choro, Scandinavian, French musette, waltzes, swing, plus a growing repertoire of originals. Diana was also a founding member of Babes in the Woods, performs with singer-songwriter (and cousin) Juliet Strong, played with Moh Alileche, performed in The In Betweens (a play by Dark Porch Theatre), and is featured in the 2013 and 2009 Bay Area Accordion Babes Pinup Calendar and CD. She also teaches at Zambaleta community world music and dance school, and private lessons. 

  • Aharon Wheels Bolsta (Drums) ... joined  the Chachkas in June 2012. The rhythms of India combine with jazz and funk, West African poly-rhythm, Balkan meters, and various Middle Eastern rhythmic traditions in his drumming, whether the instrument be the drum set, the Indian tabla, Egyptian dumbek, framedrum, shakers, Malian calebasse, vocal percussion or any of the vessels on his multifarious palette of percussive sounds. He has studied with masters of percussion from all over the world, and has played many kinds of music with many bands.

    "Beats Without Borders" CD (2010)

    The Red Hot Chachkas have been playing Klezmer music since 1998.  We started by learning the basics, the standards, going to KlezCamps, and listening, listening, listening to recordings and performers, old and new.  We bring our deep appreciation of traditional Klezmer to all our gigs.  At the same time,  we have explored other musical genres, and added a wide array of these to the mix, including improvisation.  This new CD presents all original compositions, and the title “Beats without Borders” reflects our many musical journeys.   With wild abandon and solemn introspection, we travel to places of joy, beauty, and dancing; our excitement has no borders!  Enjoy!

    Zets! (Barbara Speed © 2009) 3:13. Our drummer Michael really gets a chance to shine on this revved-up ditty of Barbara's. He may never have gotten as hot and sweaty as he did during this recording session! According to Michael Wex, in his book on yiddish "Born to Kvetch," a "zets" is a "blow." Julie knows the word well; parents often say to their kids, “If you don’t stop it now, I’m gonna give you a zets!”
    Barack Ata Illinois (Tony Phillips © 2009) 2:48. No prize for guessing to whom this modal melody that Tony composed on January 20, 2009 is dedicated. Although the mood of the day was elation, this intelligent, elegant, and dignified meditation is what emerged. The title is from the beginning of the Hebrew prayer that circulated by email during the previous November, "Barack ata Illinois elohenu melech ha'olam hoo-ray p'ri ha-electoral landslide. Amen." Based on actual historical events. Amen.
    Dancin' on the Creekside (Julie Egger © 2009) 3:44. Julie lives in West Marin, where every winter she watches to see if the creek will overflow, as it has in the past. But her community is close-knit and vital, and it rejuvenates on a daily basis. It is like living in “Brigadoon,” where, when someone is in need, the universe provides. Glenn's suggestion to use the tight James Brown-style anticipated accents on the snare, his wild accordion solo, and his "Twist and Shout" lead into the final notes of this song, help us all to shake it up, baby! This song is dedicated to the folks from San Geronimo Valley, California.

    SF Sher (Breck Diebel © 2009) 2:39. The traditional Yiddish sher dance is for squares of four couples, accompanied by a dance tune likewise called a "sher," with moderate tempo, usually played in duple meter. Breck's original composition is squarely in the tradition. Named for "the City by the Bay," it displays a pretty melody and a bit of a novelty. It's the only tune on this CD featuring multi-instrumentalist Barb on the flute.

    "Spice It Up!" CD (2007)

    Kostakowsky's Sher No. 4 (Traditional, arr. Red Hot Chachkas © 2007) 3:42. This traditional sher is from Nat Kostakowsky's International Hebrew Wedding Music, published in 1916 (now available as The Ultimate Klezmer, and recommended). Kandel's Orchestra recorded a version in 1918 as "Rusishe Sher." As with most sher melodies, sections can be mixed-and-matched to fit the square dance choreography.

    Stomp It Up (Barbara Speed © 2007) 2:38. Barbara wrote this soon after joining the Chachkas, to reflect her excitement about being in the group and soaking up the klezmer style. She tried to write a dance tune in the tradition, but she's played in a lot of other styles, and it shows. It starts out as a bulgarish, but gets bluegrassish, and then heads out to sea.

    Sha! (Traditional, arr. Red Hot Chachkas © 2007) 3:41. At weddings and other simchas, we're likely to play this freylach, a traditional dance tune with frenzied energy, as the chosen and kalle (bride and groom), or other honored persons, are lofted in chairs, and family and friends dance wildly around them.

    Der Cholem Fun Yid (Traditional, arr. Rob Reich © 2007) 2:43. On a transcontinental plane trip, Rob heard and transcribed this stately hora from a 1955 recording by the great clarinetist Dave Tarras. Julie starts the melody on violin, and then it's passed around. Note the cool and unusual resolving figure.


    • "This is just an extraordinary CD, from klezmer and beyond. From the ground up ..., the band just shines. Listen to this and realize that the Red Hot Chachkas are burning up the airwaves. Time to listen in." ~ Ari Davidow, KlezmerShack (Oct. 2007). Recommended on "The Klez Top Ten -- Ari's Choice" (Feb. 2008)

    • "This inventive San Francisco area band mixes up their klezmer with bits of Irish trad, reggae, avant garde jazz, blues/soul (check out the sax break on "Rocky Hora!") and even bluegrass. Everything is well played and cleverly arranged. Kudos to the accordionist, saxophonist/clarinetist, and violinist who let rip with some really wild solos! Recommended for those who enjoy the progressive side of klezmer (such as The Klezmatics or New Orleans Klezmer All Stars)." ~ Ken Roseman, Sing Out! (March 2008)

    • "Here's the kind of frustration that makes the lives of musicians who dedicate themselves to Jewish music so thankless: this second set from the Bay Area-based Chachkas is their first in over five years. Their last CD merited one of my infrequent five-star reviews, and the wait for the new one was downright painful - but definitely worth the pain. This is a playful group with a sense of humor; as proven by such little gems as the reggae intro to "Chosidl Diddle," or the crazy clockwork and fractured square dance riff of "Stomp It Up," written by their new clarinetist Barbara Speed. Another fun recording with great musicianship. Rating: Five Stars." ~ George Robinson, The Jewish Week (New York) (March 2008)

    • "The Chachkas play with Yiddish-accented fluency, their homegrown pieces flowing naturally out of klezmer tradition - and just as fun.... Spice it Up! could easily serve as a model for modern klezmer innovation.... if you want to find out where klezmer is headed, this is the band to befriend." ~ Dan Pine, j. (Jewish News Weekly) (Dec. 2007)

    • "When I got a copy, I didn't know the 'Red Hots,' but now, listening for the twentieth time to the music of this GREAT BAND I know they are one of the best bands, maybe THE BEST. I love the way they make traditional Klezmer music more modern. My compliments for all band's members. I think my copy of Spice It Up! will soon be worn too thin to use anymore." ~ Ad Peeters, Stichting Klezmerfestival Baarn (Holland, 2008)

    • "Spice it Up! is the second release by Red Hot Chachkas, of the San Francisco Bay area. The group has an eclectic sound with truly inventive arrangements of both traditional and original works. Many of the songs are composed or arranged by the band members. Some songs defy classification. They can be a blend of styles that merge into a wonderful sound that is a refreshing listening experience.... With 18 tracks and over 72 minutes of music, you really get your money's worth from the album. To sum up, this is a terrific recording by a top notch group. If you're ready for a wide-ranging adventure in Klezmer, you should give the Red Hot Chachkas a listen. They really know how to Spice it Up!" ~ Keith Wolzinger, KlezmerPodcast (Dec. 2007)

    • "Spice it Up! showcases the Red Hot Chachkas and their singular brand of klezmer fusion. This California band is chameleon-like in its ability to play styles from early Eastern European string-based klezmer to all-out modern jam band with stops along the way in Turkey, Jamaica and Appalachia." ~ Elliot Simon, All About Jazz (Nov. 2007)

    • "California's long-running Red Hot Chachkas do an excellent job of playing both sides of the fence on Spice It Up! They can play classic numbers straight, the way your grandparents' recall them, but when called upon can add a veritable cholent (stew) of different influences...." ~ Seth Rogovoy, Berkshire Jewish Voice (Nov. 2007)

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