Klezmer, or as I occasionally refer to it, “Jewish Salsa.” It’s even metaphorically like salsa — lots of spicy things from different places chopped fine and mixed together. A little Gypsy fiddling, a little classical, a little jazz, a little Greek …
I think it also just sits well in Italian ears in a lot of ways. The accordion, the violin, the high singing. Italians like baritones and bassi fine, but if a guy can sing high, then he sings high — and the higher the better.
And klezmer seems to be the main folk fiddle style where the thing is still a voice. A lot of American folk fiddle traditions treat the violin as an instrument. Old time fiddlers say that the violin sings while the fiddle dances, and I think it’s a decent broad-stroke characterization. With klezmer, the violin is a singing fiddle. Lots of slides, lots of vocal effects, vibrato. Evidently, a lot of the ornaments were designed to imitate the singing styles that went along with liturgical Jewish singing.
I’m also amused at the way that klezmer musicians were considered a little wild, drinkers, the sort of people you wouldn’t want to marry your daughter. Secular musicians have always had that image, no matter the culture, and before the advent of the electric guitar (which sort of holds the top position for Instrument Supposedly Played By People Who Party Too Much And Can’t Hold Down Real Jobs), the violin was really the focus for this. Old Scots-Irish fiddlers were supposed to be the ones who drank and got their abilities by making a deal with the devil, Hardanger fiddles were burned in Norway by religious revivalists because the thing promoted drinking, dancing, and fights, renaissance violins were ignored as status instruments and only played by tacky working-class people who “earned their living by it,” and even klezmer musicians got the occasional stink-eye from local rabbis. The fiddle really has been the electric guitar of Western culture for a very long time. No wonder there’s such a huge contemporary crossover between classical violin and metal.