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In August, 1997, when we were putting together this band, bass player Gary Raynor told me about a violinist right in our town who who should be famous all over the world.  I found Gary's extravagant praise hard to believe, but became a believer at our first rehearsal, when Yuri sat cross-legged on my living room floor, a most difficult passage of sheet music propped on his knees, and played it perfectly right off the page. 


In the subsequent 8 years, the band has traveled all over the United States to perform, including California, Nebraska, South Dakota, New York City, Miami, Las Vegas and many others in between, and enjoyed a wonderful trip to Israel.

I even have the honor of knowing that Yuri's last public performance was a one-hour duet with me before a small audience in Minneapolis.


When I was asked to mention one thing that distinguishes Yuri as a musician, the thing that

popped into mind is his great ability as an improviser.  Very few musicians combine his mastery

of the classical repertoire with his uncanny ability to make up music on the spot.  Music really did seem just to come right out of him. Of course, we know that even this seemingly effortless mastery was the product of thousands of hours of work.


I created this web page just to share a small part of the music and memories Yuri left behind .

--Joe Vass





April, 2001"Gershwin The Klezmer" at the Coconut Grove Playhouse;

Yuri on the balcony of our condo, nighttime Miami behind him.


A small sampler of Yuri's many recordings with us:


Heyser Bulgar


Bass:                      Gary Raynor            Hot traditional music of the klezmorim, with Yuri and Jerry Gotler in the lead.

Drums:                   Jay Epstein             

Soprano:                Jerry Gotler

Violin:                    Yuri Merzhevsky                                                                 Hear Heyser Bulgar

Melodica:               Joseph Vass



Minnesota Tango

Bass:                      Gary Raynor            A critic wrote that Yuri's playing sometimes "soars into an ethereal realm."  He might have been writing about

Drums:                   Phil Hey                  Yuri's playing on this composition, arranged to feature Yuri's improvisation at its heart.

Soprano:                Jerry Gotler

Violin:                    Yuri Merzhevsky                                                                 Hear Minnesota Tango

Melodica:               Joseph Vass

    Music by Joseph Vass

    Copyright 1995 Joseph Vass All Rights Reserved.



Bass:                      Gary Raynor            Dale and Yuri evolved a unique way of improvising together.  The middle of this traditional tune provides a great example

Drums:                   Jay Epstein              of the excitement they could generate.

Clarinet:                 Dale Mendenhall

Violin:                    Yuri Merzhevsky                                                                  Hear Purim

Melodica:               Joseph Vass

    Music by Joseph Vass

    Copyright 1995 Joseph Vass All Rights Reserved.


Lullaby                                                This doesn't involve improvisation.  To record a song I'd written, I simply made one phone call to Yuri and asked.  He asked 

Piano:                    Joseph Vass            no questions back.  A few days later, we were in and out of the studio in under an hour. 

Violin:                    Yuri Merzhevsky           

    Music by Joseph Vass                                                                                                                        Hear Lullaby

    Copyright 2002 Joseph Vass All Rights Reserved.


The World To Come                             An impulse prompted me to ask Yuri to help accompany as we recorded Donny singing this.  It was a live recording

Vocal and Guitar:     Donny Maseng        in which everyone seemed to add his viewpoint to the total story.  Yuri improvised his on the spot.  Now, the

Drums:                    Jay Epstein            song, including Yuri's musical commentary,  seems a fitting remembrance, at least to me.

Bass:                       Gary Raynor                                                         

Violin:                     Yuri Merzhevsky                                                             Hear The World To Come"

Piano:                     Joseph Vass

    Words & Music by Joseph Vass

    Copyright 1999 Joseph Vass All Rights Reserved.


A photo gallery:


Yuri the photographer snapping Jay Epstein and Bruce Henry at the Stage Door of the Coconut Grove Playhouse. Despite what you may have read, in the newspaper, what I saw most frequently in his hand along with a cigarette was his precious violin case. Miami, April 2002.

Jay Epstein enjoying Yuri's delicious home-made borsht.  Miami, April 2002.

Back: Bruce Henry, Bruce Thornton, Yuri, Joe Vass, Jay Epstein

Front: Gary Raynor & Donny Maseng.. Safed, Israel









On Stage at the Klezmer Festival in Safed, Israel:


  "Gershwin The Klezmer" in a 14th Century Turkish Inn at 1 in the morning.  Afterwards, we sat on the grass outside until at least 5 A.M..  That's when we heard Yuri tell the harrowing story of his interrogation by the KGB when he fled the Soviet Union.



Yuri hears something.  What he hears, you may fill in yourself.


Joe Vass, Gary Raynor, Bruce Thornton, Jay Epstein and Yuri doing what we do