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!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • 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.