Undoubtedly there are hundreds of jokes whose punch line is some version of “… and the Jewish guy says, ‘I’d like a second opinion.’” The affinity of Jews and medicine — well, actually of Jews and illness — is proverbial and it has seeped into every aspect of Jewish culture including, according to Eve Sicular, Yiddish song.
Sicular is the acclaimed leader and drummer who drives Metropolitan Klezmer and Isle of Klezbos, but her latest project takes her outside those two estimable ensembles next week to an impressive quartet and the unlikely musical theme — “Krankayt: Jews, Hypochondria & Song” (Nov. 30, 8 p.m., JCC in Manhattan; www.jccmanhattan.org;  505-5708.) Krankayt is theYiddish word for sickness.
The always effervescent drummer explains the genesis of the project simply.
“I was playing with someone who lines up school gigs,” she says. “And we were playing this Yiddish folk song that teaches the part of the body, sort of like ‘The neckbone’s connected to the headbone.’ The song is ‘Oy mayn kepele tut mir vey’ — ‘Oh, my little head gives me pains.’ Every single time you get to a body part it tells you how isn’t feeling well.
“I was listening to this repeatedly and my mind had the leisure to say, ‘What is with this form of pedagogy? Is this a reflection of the culture?’ And other songs would crop up.”
It takes a healthy crew to sing and play songs about illness. Sicular has assembled an unusually robust threesome for the project: Adrienne Cooper, who is not only a great Yiddish singer but also sports an encyclopedic knowledge of the repertoire; Paul Shapiro, saxman and singer whose Ribs ‘n’ Brisket Revue covers another aspect of the physical body; and pianist Dan Rosengard, who adds significant comedic talents to his reputation as a skilled accompanist.
Sicular seems just a shade ambivalent about the degree of intellectual heft that the quartet is bringing to the project.
On the one hand, she cautions, “This not a pure romp. There’s a lot of issues to delve into.”
But a moment later she says, “This is an exploration, but a fun one.”
Perhaps the ambivalence is born out of the fact that this gig is a one-time-only experience and, therefore, the beginnings of a show that Sicular hopes will evolve over time.
“It’s been really fun sharing notes,” she says. “Everybody had something the others hadn’t thought of, but there’s a core of material we all had in mind. I’m not going to reveal … I’d rather have people see the show as it evolves.”
At the very least, the timing of the event is fortuitous.
“We hope everyone will feel better having already digested their Thanksgiving meal,” she says.