Mozel Tov Mis Amigos Out This Week / One Night Only Lincoln Center Show With Arturo O’Farrill & Larry Harlow August 23rd

MAZELTOV MIS AMIGOS is set for release August 11th (distributed by Nail and Ioda) it features 11 tracks, accompanied by Josh Kun’s extensive
liner notes and a gallery of images from archives across the country which have to be seen to be believed.

The entire album will be replayed in in its entirety for ONE NIGHT ONLY at the Lincoln Center this summer, with an eclectic line-up including
Arturo O’Farrill and His Afro-Cuban Sextet, Larry Harlow, The Antibalas Horns and others.

Spinner: “There’s no cursing, per se, on ‘Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos,’ an album of Yiddish tunes given full-on Latin dance treatment. But there’s some great cross-cultural electricity.”

Latina.com: “Ever tried dancing the cha cha to “Hava Nagila”? Well, now you can. Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos is a collection of traditional Hebrew melodies disguised as charangas, mambos, rumbas and other hip-shaking rhythms.”

The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation (www.idelsohnsociety.com), the acclaimed non-profit organization committed to exhuming lost music from America’s attics, is proud to announce it has acquired an extensive back catalog from Orrin Keepnews’ legendary Riverside Label, which featured some of the greatest names in Jazz from the 50s and 60s. Their first re-issue, MAZELTOV MIS AMIGOS (to be released August 11th) interprets classics from the Yiddish theater through the leading Latin dance styles of the 50s and 60s.

MAZELTOV MIS AMIGOS, digitally remastered for the first time by Fantasy Studio engineer Joe Tarintino, opens a time capsule to one of New York musical history’s great lost stories, the story of the Jewish Latin craze. When the entire country caught Mambo-mania in 1948, Jews religiously became the genre’s earliest adopters. Humorist Harry Golden once said that the history of Jews in America is the history of “sha sha”(Yiddish for hush hush) becoming “cha cha.” And he was onto something. This album comes on the heels of comic Irving Kaufman unleashing “Moe the Schmo Takes a Rhumba Lesson,” Irving Fields attacking with his “Havana Nagila,” bawdy balladeer Ruth Wallis declaring “It’s A Scream How Levine Does The Rhumba,” and Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente capturing the Jewish musical imagination at the Palladium, Grossingers and the Concord.

MAZELTOV MIS AMIGOS is the latest production from The Idelsohn Society, a team of 21st century music fiends turned musical archeologists, dedicated to digging up forgotten American Jewish pop. According to co-founder, Courtney Holt, “the track “O Momme” sounds like a a comparsa conga band setting out on a parade that turns into a Jewish wedding march.”

Among the other startling revelations on MAZELTOV MIS AMIGOS is “Papirossen,” Herman Yablokoff’s classic Yiddish Theater ode to an orphaned cigarette peddler, done here in pure dance floor frolic as a blazing, quick-step mambo. Says Idelsohn co-founder Josh Kun, “It’s a dramatic example of how Jewish and Latin musical traditions spoke to each other in the mix-up of American culture. This is the sound of the secret musical history that shows that the boundaries between communities we think are so rigid are actually porous.”

It’s all part of The Idelsohn Society mission. Founded by a quartet of academics and music industry veterans, the label’s goal is to incite a new conversation about the present by listening anew to the past. They do it by unearthing lost classics from the archive, sounds that are languishing in thrift-store crates across the nation, as well as by building an archive of the stories and musicians that accompany them, and producing a series of sold-out concerts across the nation featuring the original performers, many now in their eighties and nineties.
The relationship with Riverside will allow this mission to grow exponentially. According to co-founder David Katznelson, who brokered the deal with Riverside, “The ability to rescue a certain strain of releases from the label that brought us Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane is immense for us and highlights our overall mission. I am so thankful that we have found these recordings and the folks at Riverside/Concord (Concord owns the catalog) have been so generous to let us bring them to the public’s eye.”

MAZELTOV MIS AMIGOS is set for release August 11th (distributed by Nail and Ioda) it features 11 tracks, accompanied by Josh Kun’s extensive liner notes and a gallery of images from archives across the country which have to be seen to be believed.
The entire album will be replayed in in its entirety for ONE NIGHT ONLY at the Lincoln Center this summer, with an eclectic line-up including Arturo O’Farrill and His Afro-Cuban Sextet, Larry Harlow, The Antibalas Horns and others.

Liner Notes By Josh Kun

This 1961 Riverside Records album by Juan Calle and His Latin Lantzmen, Mazel Tov Mis Amigos, is one of the greatest ruses of 20th Century American pop music, a forgotten masterpiece of cross-cultural disguise and masquerade.

So let’s get the reveal out of the way. Neither Juan Calle nor his Latin Lantzmen were actually Lantzmen, and only some of them were actually Latin. Juan Calle was John Cali, an Italian-American banjo picker and radio veteran best known for his work with the Vincent Lopez Orchestra and a string of solo banjo outings. His Latin Lantzmen included some of the biggest names in 50s and 60s Latin music– conguero Ray Barretto, timbales guru Wilie Rodriguez, pianist Charlie Palmieri– playing alongside African-American jazz greats Clark Terry, Doc Cheatham, Lou Oles, and Wendell Marshall. The sole Lantzmen were Yiddish vocalist Ed Powell, who appeared in the 1957 Ziegfield Follies but whose credits mostly seem to point to steady work as Riverside’s in-house engineer, and reed multi-tasker Shelley Russell, such a Lantzmen that, as the original liner notes told it, his background included “playing at many a Jewish wedding.”

It’s become something of a truism that the history of Jews in American popular music is a history of masquerade. From Leiber and Stoller writing songs as if they were black men and women to Bob Dylan’s Woody Guthrie and born-again-Christian masks, from black-face minstresly to gentile- face minstresly, from Milton Mesirow becoming Mezz Mezzrow to Alfred Levy becoming Alfredito, from Irving Berlin and George Gershwin dreaming up plantation fantasies of a mythical South or urban romance on Catfish Row, passing and disguise have long been key aesthetic weapons of the Jewish musical arsenal. It’s safe to be like the others,” Woody Allen’s big screen uber-chameleon Leonard Zelig famously said on his therapist’s couch, “I want to be liked.” Without Jews playing non-Jewish music, without Jews assimilating into the sound cultures of Latino and African American life, without Jews becoming musical Zeligs, it’s hard to imagine what American pop would sound like.

Which is why Mazel Tov Mis Amigos is such an anomaly. On this session, it was African-Americans and Latinos masquerading as Jews, coming together at New York’s Plaza Sound Studios in the name of an only-in-America brand of Yiddish fusion, eleven “Yiddish favorites in Latin tempo.” If you believe the original liner notes, the impetus was purely economic, the Yiddish-Latin fusion album as guaranteed hit-maker:

If a vote were taken to determine the two varieties of music with the deepest and widest appeal of all, the chances certainly are that it would result in a landslide victory for the infectious rhythms of the Latin beat and the heart-warming melodies of Jewish popular and folk song. Many Yiddish songs have become not only hits but long-lived favorites of the entire American public…And by now it is taken for granted that every few years another South American dance craze will sweep the United States.

It’s easy to understand Riverside’s logic. Yiddish tunes had certainly found their way onto Swing bandstands and the dollar-sign rich Hit Parade before (the Andrews Sisters antiseptic version of “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” was a national smash in the thirties) and while the audience for anything Yiddish was dealt a drastic blow by the Holocaust, there were still plenty of people—young and old—eager to connect and re-visit a once thriving language and culture (witness the slew of 60s Yiddish instructional LPs). The ongoing appeal of Latin music was easier to measure. You could nearly chart the history of the 20th century according to new Latin Crazes– rumba and tango in the 30s, mambo in the 40s, pachanga in the 50s, boogaloo in the 60s.

Which is to say nothing of the long history of the Latin-Jewish mergers that Mazel Tov was indirectly echoing, a tradition that dates back at least to the 1920s. Humorist Harry Golden once said that the history of Jews in America is the history of “sha sha” (Yiddish for hush hush) becoming “cha cha.” And he was onto something. Dialect comic Irving Kaufman unleashed “Moe the Schmo Takes a Rhumba Lesson,” bawdy balladeer Ruth Wallis declared “It’s A Scream How Levine Does The Rhumba,” and Yiddish comic Willie Howard put on a sombrero to become “Tyrone Shapiro The Bronx Caballero” in the 1935 film Rose of the Rancho.

In the 40s and 50s Latin music of all stripes became the preferred soundtrack to Jewish-American leisure time, when Irving Fields turned “Autumn leaves” into “Miami Beach Rhumba” during a live gig at Miami’s Fountainbleau Hotel, and New York’s Palladium nightclub became a Jewish “mambonik” paradise when it instituted an all-mambo policy in 1949. Jewish Latinphilia was so widespread that Mickey Katz sang about his grandmother being on “an Afro-Cuban kick” and Sy Menchin and His Steven Scott Orchestra could imagine Jewish seniors grabbing for their maracas when they released My Bubba and Zaedas Cha Cha Cha.

As the capital of Jewish leisure, the Catskills hotels and their “Borsht Belt” entertainment circuit became key laboratories of the Jewish-Latin mash-up. It was here that cigar-smoking ragmen napped poolside while their wives took mambo lessons from Latino dance instructors, and ballrooms were lit up by top Latin dance bands. Puerto Rican pianist Johnny Conquet memorialized the scene on his 1958 album, Raisins and Almonds Cha Cha Cha and Merengues, set at a fictional Catskills show at the “Merengue Manor” resort, as did timbale king Tito Puente, who released an actual live set that same year straight from the headquarters of the Sour Cream Sierras, Cha Cha With Tito Puente at Grossinger’s.

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