Sunday, July 26, 2009

Proof that you can't tell a book by its cover

We read this book over the weekend and it was impossible to put down. Popular Music and National Culture in Israel by the amazing Motti Regev. It tells the story of the evolution of Israeli ideology via the development of the nation's music scene. Enjoy this classic from the High Windows, pioneers of Israel's pyschedelic scene. If any one has any albums from this era, we would love to hear about them.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Our Take On Poland Runs In Tablet

As promised, a bit about our Krakow experience with the remarkable Seymour Stein, from Tablet, which is one of the smartest web sites we have come across in a long, long time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

We Salute the Career of Jo Amar. Another Legend Lost.

Jo Amar, Genre-Bending Jewish Singer, Dies at 79

By Bruce Weber (from the New York Times)

Jo Amar, a Moroccan-born Jewish singer whose melding of Andalusian and Israeli musical influences made him a star in Israel and a popular performer in Jewish communities around the world, died on June 29 at the home of his son Ouri in Woodmere, N.Y. He was 79 and lived in Jerusalem.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, his son David said. Mr. Amar had been in failing health for several months, and he came to the United States in February to be with his children and grandchildren, all of whom live in the New York metropolitan area.

Mr. Amar’s music was a hybrid, fusing Sephardic and North African-Arab songs, Jewish liturgical vocal styles and even Western-style harmonies into a kind of Middle Eastern pop. He sang in a bright, engaging tenor, recording about 20 albums, and with his crowd-pleasing manner, he performed not only in large performance halls with full orchestras but also in cabarets and at weddings and other private functions. He was often asked to be the guest cantor on Jewish High Holy Days, invitations he accepted selectively, in cities including Paris and Casablanca.

A composer of songs as well, he performed for Jewish audiences throughout the diaspora, in places like Brazil and South Africa; in 1963 he even toured in Iran, performing before mixed Jewish and Muslim audiences and appearing on Iranian television.

Yosef Amar, who was known as Jo from an early age, was born on June 1, 1930, in Settat, Morocco, where his grandfather had been the chief rabbi. He studied at a yeshiva in Meknes, Morocco, and planned to become a Hebrew language teacher, but his affinity for music directed his life. During a visit to Israel, before moving there in 1956, he persuaded a radio station to listen to his music by gathering an impromptu choir on the street outside to perform one of his songs. He became popular in Israel, especially among immigrants from northern Africa and the Middle East, his hybrid music helping to open European Jewish ears to new, exotic sounds.

Mr. Amar came to the United States in 1965 to perform at Carnegie Hall, in a well-received concert that eventually persuaded him to move to New York with his family in 1970.

“In a variety of Oriental-flavored popular songs he displayed a broad range of feeling, a penetrating projection, regionally nasalized intonation and strong rhythmic sense that communicated warmly with the audience,” the music critic Robert Shelton wrote in The New York Times.

In the late 1980s Mr. Amar returned to Israel with his wife, Raymonde. She died in 1997.

Besides his sons David, of Fresh Meadows, Queens, and Ouri, Mr. Amar is survived by two daughters, Esther Umanoff of Tenafly, N.J., and Madeleine Labovitz of Highland Park, N.J.; 11 grandchildren; 5 great-grandchildren; and 7 siblings, who live in Belgium and Israel.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Back in one piece...

We are back... full report to come... but here are some images...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We are going to Polska

The Idelsohn Society has been invited to participate in the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Poland which is a big honor. If you are in the vicinity, come see us speak about our work on Friday July 3rd at midday. We are excited to attend the festival which is one of the world's greatest, and to track down many of the musicians and sounds from Eastern Europe who have influenced much of the music we are tracking down with such passion over here. We will be blogging from Poland, but if you are going to be there, be in touch.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Idelsohn Showcase rocks San Francisco

Part of the reason we formed the Idelsohn Society For Musical Preservation was to change the legacy of the performers we meet. Over the past five years we have uncovered a lost world of Jewish Music replete with performers whose careers have been in danger of being written out of history. A core part of our strategy is getting them back on stage to rock a young audience. A little like the Buena Vista Social Club but a little less Cuban. We were elated to sell-out the CJM in San Francisco on April 30th with an Idelsohn showcase that saw 93 year-old Irving Fields play the city for the first time, Jonny Yune, the Korean master of Jewish melody, and a special guest return to the stage by Lynn Burton of the Burton Sisters who were re-found thanks to readers of this site.

Thanks to Connie Wolf and the board and staff at the CJM in San Francisco
for giving them the opportunity to take the stage again, so a young audience can rock out to their sound and appreciate their legacy. Next stop, the Lincoln Center on August 23rd.
Sold Out crowd at the CJMIdelsohn Society co-founder David Katznelson welcomes Lynn Burton of the Burton Sisters onto the stage for the first time in 50 years.
The sell-out audience mobs Irving Fields, Lynn Burton, and Jonny Yune. Scenes not enacted since Beatlemania.

Irving Fields, 93, rocks the kids.

Jonny Yune closes the show with a sterling version of Ose Shalom.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Gavin Newsom Should be Governor...

Irving Fields played in our showcase Thursday night with the Korean Master of Jewish melody, Mr. Jonny Yune, and Newsom made April 30th officially, Irving Fields Day in San Francisco. This was the first time Irv had played the city in his 93 years, proving that it is never too late to try something new. More photos from the magnificent gig, which also saw the return to teh stage for the Burton Sisters for hte first tiem in 50 years, to follow.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Legendary Lionel Ziprin: Our Friend

From today's New York Times about our dear friend, the remarkable Lionel Ziprin. May his name be a blessing, and may his family have a long life.

Lionel Ziprin, Mystic of the Lower East Side, Dies at 84

“We are not after all intended to be consumed.”

So begins Lionel Ziprin’s “Sentential Metaphrastic,” a “poem in progress” of more than a thousand pages. “I reduced it to 785 pages,” Mr. Ziprin told The Jewish Quarterly in 2006. “I call it the longest and most boring poem since Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost.’ ”

Many more poems by Mr. Ziprin remain to be discovered, inscribed on spiral-bound notebooks and stuffed into a closet in his apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And that is nowhere near the half of it. Also in the apartment are the Jewish liturgical chants intoned by Mr. Ziprin’s grandfather, untold hours of sacred music that Mr. Ziprin tried for more than half a century to bring to the wider world.

This legacy now passes to his family — whether to delight or puzzle posterity, no one knows. Mr. Ziprin, a brilliant, baffling, beguiling voice of the Lower East Side and the East Village in all its phases — Jewish, hipster and hippie — died last Sunday in Manhattan. He was 84. The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his daughter Zia Ziprin said.

For decades, Mr. Ziprin, a self-created planet, exerted a powerful gravitational attraction for poets, artists, experimental filmmakers, would-be philosophers and spiritual seekers.

He ran his apartment, on Seventh Street in the East Village, as a bohemian salon, attracting a loose collective that included the ethnomusicologist Harry Smith, the photographer Robert Frank and the jazz musicia Thelonius Monk, who would drop by for meals between sets at the Five Spot. Bob Dylan paid the occasional visit.

There the art of conversation took a backseat to the art of listening to Mr. Ziprin hold forth for hours at a stretch on magic, interplanetary rhythms, angels, apparitions and Jewish history.

“He was larger than life and so far beyond a certain kind of description that I am bamboozled,” said Ira Cohen, a longtime friend. “He was much larger than a poet, though that’s hard for me to say, as a poet. He was one of the big secret heroes of the time.”

Often categorized as a beatnik, he created an artistic circle that overlapped with the worlds of jazz and beat poetry but remained distinct and apart. A poet prey to visions and hallucinations, a philosopher, a Jewish mystic with a deep understanding of the kabbalah, an enthusiastic consumer of amphetamines (legal at the time) and peyote (also legal) — he was all of these, and something else besides.

“He combined Old World mysticism and New World craziness,” said the poet Janine Vega. “He really was one of the great white magicians of the era.”

Mr. Ziprin was born on the Lower East Side and, after his parents separated when he was a small child, lived with his mother and her parents. The decisive influence on his life was his maternal grandfather, the rabbi Naftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, an immigrant from Galilee who founded the Home of the Sages of Israel, a yeshiva on the Lower East Side.

The home atmosphere was devout.

“I thought I was living in the Bible,” Mr. Ziprin said in a documentary produced by Jon Kalish for public radio in 2006. “ My grandparents were like biblical people. The only problem I had as a child, I looked outside, and there were automobiles. There’s a big contradiction.”

While undergoing a tonsillectomy, young Lionel — called Leibel or Leibele by his family — was badly overanesthetized. After emerging from a 10-day coma he developed St. Vitus’s Dance and epilepsy. He was seized by fits of uncontrollable laughter and experienced hallucinations. For the rest of his life, he saw visions and conversed with the spirit world.

Physically unfit for military duty, Mr. Ziprin began writing poetry after attending Brooklyn College and worked at an assortment of extremely odd jobs. He helped create a short-lived puppet show called “Kabbalah the Cook” for television. For $10 apiece, he wrote the text for a series of war comic books published by Dell.

In 1950 he married Joanna Eashe, a dancer who made a living as a hand and foot model. In the early 1950s the couple started a totally unsuccessful greeting card company, Ink Weed Arts. She died in 1994.

In addition to his daughter Zia, of Manhattan, he is survived by a brother, Jordan, of Phoenix; another daughter, Dana Ziprin of Richmond, Calif.; two sons, Leigh and Noah, both of Berkeley, Calif; and three grandchildren.

Mr. Ziprin’s poems, including “Math Glass” and “What This Abacus Was,” appeared here and there in magazines like Zero, but he barely bothered to pursue a career. A poet in the prophetic tradition, he did not so much write as open himself up to otherworldly voices.

“He would read the stuff we published and would have no idea that he’d written it,” said Judy Upjohn, who, with Sandy Rower, published a selection of Mr. Ziprin’s verse in “Almost All Lies Are Pocket Size” (Flockaphobic Press, 1990).

Clayton Patterson, who is writing a history of the Lower East Side, filmed Mr. Ziprin reading his “Book of Logic ” and organized a screening of 10 two-hour installments at Anthology Film Archives in 1989. “The first night there was a full house,” he said. “By the third night there were three people, besides Lionel and myself. That ended the series.”

Mr. Smith, the ethnomusicologist who produced the seminal Anthology of American Folk Music for Folkways Records, heard Mr. Ziprin’s grandfather chanting at a public celebration and became obsessed. Setting up sound equipment in the rabbi’s yeshiva, he spent two years recording hundreds of hours of Hebrew liturgical chants, along with Arabic songs and Yiddish stories, which were distilled into 15 long-playing records.

Shortly before his death in 1955, the rabbi begged his grandson to bring the records to a wider audience, inspiring a half-century quest whose end remains uncertain. Folkways released one album from the set, but for religious reasons, family members objected to further distribution of the material.

In the late 1960s Mr. Ziprin’s wife took the children and moved to Berkeley, Calif., plunging Mr. Ziprin into a spiritual crisis. It was resolved when, acting on instructions from his grandfather in a dream, he returned to the Judaism of his youth and to the Lower East Side, moving into his mother’s apartment on East Broadway to care for her until her death in the late 1980s.

From the mid-1970s until his death, Mr. Ziprin spent his days studying the Torah and other texts at what was once his grandfather’s yeshiva. He held court at his apartment. He scribbled thoughts on postcards and sent them to just about anyone.

He also searched for someone willing to produce his grandfather’s records. As the years went on, and some of the tapes were lost to fire, flood and theft, the mercurial and often cantankerous Mr. Ziprin often seemed to be sabotaging his own cause, eager to disseminate his grandfather’s legacy but reluctant to let it go.

Briefly it looked as if the composer John Zorn had secured the rights to release the records, but Mr. Ziprin could not let go. At his death, the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation had made a compilation CD from the material that seemed to please Mr. Ziprin, clearing the way for the production of a full boxed set.

A man of many words, he managed to write his self-portrait in just a few:

I have never been arrested. I

have never been institutionalized.

I have four children. I am in

receipt of social security benefits.

I am not an artist. I am not an

outsider. I am a citizen of the

republic and I have remained

anonymous all the time by choice.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mordechai Kaplan Rocks Out

When the great Jewish theologian wanted to bring his Reconstructionist thinking to the attention of Jews across the country, going into the studio to record an album was the natural thing to do. This six-disc box set dropped in 1963, the same year as the Beatles' Please, Please Me, and it is a masterpiece of creative thinking. Somewhat of a concept album, actors take it in turns to cue up questions that the great rabbi methodically answers. Some he swats away quickly. Others he chooses to unravel deliciously long responses. Our favorite? "Is there any warrant for the general apathy on the part of Jews to the fact that a large number among them are involved in all kinds of rackets and shady deals?" Listen to that here and wonder how many Rabbis today are dropping such masterworks...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Israeli Army Songs

This album, replete with rusty looking grenade and handful of bullets was sent to us by Dave in San Francisco. We love the headlines especially, Hagannah Blows up Gang Nest. The album and the other we have collected over the past couple of years spring from an era in which the military side of Israel was the catalyst for a whole genre of albums. When we see the Six Day War Recorded Live! as if it was The Who: Live in Leeds, we begin to wonder. What role did these albums play in the life of those who bought them? Were they purchased as symbols of pride and identity alone after the Six Day War? Or were they really listened to as if they were musical magic? Here is a track from Chaim Herzog's The Six Day War Original Radio Broadcasts. Click here to listen. And if you once owned any of these albums, we would LOVE to hear the story of what compelled you to buy it and how you experienced the recording.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Burton Sisters... in glorious technicolor

Two weeks ago we did not know the story of The Burton Sisters. Now we have received this stunning story in glorious technicolor which takes us on a whirlwind tour from the stock rooms of Philly to the recording of "Doin' the French Can-Can." Check out Mickey Katz wowing "America's best known singing sister team" with his cowboy antics. (click on any image to expand)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Burton Sisters... Case Closed!

We were delighted to receive this definitive history of the Burton Sisters by a man in the know, Jim Shipley. His email began with the declarative statement, "O.K., I married one." And if you read the below, Mr. Shipley became the Burton Sisters equivalent of a Yoko Ono. It is a riveting read. If anyone has more images, albums, memories, or ephemera, we would LOVE to see/hear them...

The Burton Sisters are from Logan, in North Philadelphia. Their dad was a "Song and Dance Man" - even a singing waiter at one time. No matter the hardships of the depression, there was always a piano in the house. Moe Jaffe who wrote such hits as "Gypsy in My Soul", "Chanukah Candles", "If you are But a Dream" and "If I had My Life to Live Over" among others was a friend of the family.

From this background, the eldest sister, Rae became a singer and a local star in Philadelphia. The two younger sisters, Rose and Evelyn then followed by harmonizing their way to gigs at bar mitzvahs, lodge meetings and the like. Rose (who became Carol in the act) and Evelyn (shortened to Lynn) finally were signed by the Stan Zucker agency in New York.

This took them from Fall River Massachusetts to Dothan, Alabama, to six month stints in French Canada where they performed in French. From there to the Borscht Belt, Grossingers, the Concord and the like where they appeared with stars of the day like Eddie Fisher, Buddy Hackett and others. They toured with a USO troupe and were regulars on the radio program "Jewish Cavalcade of Stars" on WMGM in New York.

During one of their nightclub appearances they were heard by song writer Bob Merrill who wrote among other things, the show "Funny Girl" and "How Much is that Doggie in the Window". He signed them to a contract along with his partner, Murray Kaufman, known as "Murray the K" a New York disc jockey.

Bob got them a contract with RCA Victor. They had been recorded on Banner Records, the all Yiddish label founded by Yiddish star Seymour Reichseit.

With RCA they recorded "French Can-Can", "Divided Love," "Please Don't Touch" and "Let Me Go Lover". Rose, nee Carol, met the RCA Distributor in Cleveland on a disc jockey tour and the two became Mr. and Mrs. Jim Shipley, bringing to an end the career of the Burton Sisters.

Sister Evelyn continued in show business, touring with the show "Fiorello" and making night club appearances until she married Dr. Manny Fertman and moved to San Francisco.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Burton Sisters... tell us more...

Russ in San Francisco sent in these beauties... The Burton Sisters, Barry Sisters predecessors... about whom we know little but would love to hear more. The covers are intriguing. Those square jaws. The poodles floating overhead. The tag line, "They're Double Dynamite." If anyone knows anything about this handsome duo, we would LOVE to hear it.

Jews on Vinyl ads

We had a blast last week in San Francisco. More images of the exhibit launch to come... for now, let it be known we have achieved a long held ambition... to have our project promoted on the backside of a public lavatory. The CJM is one of the most creative museums in the country and they have taken our vinyl collection to places we have only dreamed of...

Excellent article here in the San Francisco Chronicle. Delfin Vigil is an amazing gent.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Idelsohn Society takes on San Francisco

We are honored to announce that an exhibit showcasing the album covers from the book and featuring many of the artists tracked down by the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation is opening February 6th at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in good old San Francisco.

We have had a blast curating this exhibit which will be housed in a reconstructed 1950's living room, showcasing hundreds of album covers and playing a couple of handpicked playlists which are absolutely swinging. If you are in town, we would LOVE to hear what you think...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Yiddishe, American, Spanish Mama

My Yiddishe Mama was the legendary Sophie Tucker's signature song. One she started to rock in 1925 after the death of her own mother. She originally released it in English with a Yiddish version as the B-side and it became a smash hit, despite the heaviness of its lyrics:

"She would have leaped into the fire
and water for her children.
Not cherishing her is certainly the greatest sin."

Every Jewish stereotype of the Jewish mother-child stereotype succinctly captured in just three lines. Brilliant craftsmanship that perhaps has contributed to its longevity. It has been recorded by everyone from Itzhak Perlman to the Barry Sisters... and here are four of our favorites. The original and arguably still the best, by Sophie Tucker. Yossele Rosenblatt, the greatest cantor of his generation lending his signature sobbing sound to the Yiddish. Tom Jones leading Australian singing sensation John Farnham in a duet. Jones was want to introduce the song in concert by saying, "This is a song I learned, from my father, when I was a boy." And then romantic balladeer, the late, great Spaniard Nino Bravo takes it to a new level with his version, My Querida Mama, My Beloved Mama. If you have a favorite, we would love to hear about it.

Sophie Tucker

Yossele Rosenblatt

Tom Jones and John Farnham

Nino Bravo

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Little Eva Mystery

Many of you will no doubt remember Little Eva, who made it big with the smash sensation, The Locomotiion, after landing the prime job as Carole King's baby sitter. But does anyone know why this song about a gorilla was named Magilla -- as in, "the whole Magilla..."?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yodelling Ahroni

This website has sung Hanna Ahroni's praises before... and so we were delighted to receive this track from Lorne in New York, Hannah's Hora. Part haimishe, part yodel, where the Semitic meets the Alpine. Listen and be enthralled...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

And you shall know us, by the trail of our radio clips...

Happy New Year to everyone, and a massive thanks to all those who have been in touch to discuss the albums and artists featured in our book, as well as those of you who have kept sending your vinyl finds our way.

Our project has garnered some gorgeous coverage over the past few weeks. In the wake of our All Things Considered feature, the amazing Michael Raphael did this piece on the (deeply lamented) Weekend America focusing on the magical and evolving world of cantorial sound.

Very Short List gave us a great hit -- as well as placed the great Sol Zim on their banner, which is where he surely belongs.

The iconic Irving Fields took news of our project to the salacious territory of New York Post's Page Six.

And WNYC's Soundcheck did a great piece here. The kicker to this feature was that Soundcheck invited Conrad Keely of the band whose name inspired us, And You Will Know Us by the Trail of our Dead on the show the next week for an interview and live performance and Joel Meyer, the show's brilliant producer, sent us the above snap, which kind of brings the whole project together in a rather surreal way. Conrad. You rock.