The Arty Semite

Monday Music: Songs for the Jewish Jet Set

By Gordon Haber

  • Print
  • Share Share

A non-for-profit organization comprised of music-loving Jews, The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation illuminates the forgotten corners of Jewish music in America. The Society is perhaps best known for “Jewface,” a collection of vaudeville-era minstrelrsy like “Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars” — songs that strike present-day listeners as the Jewish version of Uncle Tomming. Other compilations suggest that for Idelsohn’s curators, history is synonymous with crossover kitchiness — black and Latin artists interpreting Jewish classics, or the legendary Barry Sisters singing Yiddish versions of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” or “My Way.”

Such compilations have their appeal but they strike me as self-limiting — how many times can one listen to “I’m a Yiddish Cowboy?” At least that’s what I thought before I actually listened to an Idelsohn CD. But after keeping its latest on heavy rotation in my car for the last few days, I’m happy to report that although it is a little uneven, the album does exactly what you’d want — it entertains, instructs, and even gets you thinking,

“Songs for the Jewish-American Jet Set: The Tikva Records Story” is, as its title suggests, selections from the catalogue of Tikva Records, a now-defunct New York-based company that was active from the late 1940s to the early ’70s. In addition to the CD, Idelsohn is also launching a “pop-up” Tikva Records store in San Francisco’s Mission District throughout December to promote the project and to host a series of concerts, film screenings, lectures, and other events.

As the CD’s liner notes put it, Tikvah’s owner, Allen B. Jacobs, “churned out anything mid-century Hebrews might be interested in” — cantorial music, klezmer, comedy, Hasidic songs, Israeli folk, speeches by Abba Eban (the latter being the most difficult to dance to). Thus “Songs for the Jewish American Jet Set” is an eclectic selection. As you might expect, there are a lot of novelty songs — two Jewish-cowboy tunes, “Shalom Pardner” and “Passover on the Range,” which provide a chuckle or two but don’t stand up to repeated listenings. More amusing is “Orthodox, Conservative or Reformed [sic]” in which Bernie Knee sings about his success with Jewish girls regardless of their level of observance.

More kitschy fun is provided by The Sabra’s “Ho Yaldonet” and Sara Aviani’s “Weep No More,” two reverb-soaked tunes from the ’60s that bring to mind Austin Powers frugging, in a Union Jack kippah. The pinnacle of the CD — and probably of Tikvah Records — is provided by Jo Amar, “The Moroccan Prince,” a dapper polyglot with an astonishing voice. His “Ani Ladodi,” an interpretations of the Song of Songs, is my own current musical obsession.

“Songs for the Jewish-American Jet Set” is nicely packaged, with detailed liner notes. The one thing it’s missing is lyrics — I’d have liked to been able to follow some of the Yiddish and Hebrew. Regardless, it will make for a quirky holiday gift (for obvious reasons I can’t bring myself to write “stocking stuffer”). Does the CD demonstrate, as the liner notes put it, that Tikvah’s catalogue is packed with “brilliant, jaw-dropping” music? Maybe not. But it brightened up my own vicious commute. I’m looking forward to listening to it again, and to the next CD from Idelsohn.

Listen to Leo Fuld sing ‘Mazzel,’ from ‘Songs For the Jewish-American Jet Set: The Tikva Records Story 1950-1973’:

Leo Fuld, “Mazzel”, from Songs For the Jewish-American Jet Set: The Tikva Records Story 1950-1973 by The Idelsohn Society

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish, Yiddish Music, Tikva Records, Music, Songs for the Jewish-American Jet Set, Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, Gordon Haber

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen.
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.