Mozel Tov Mis Amigos Reaches Top 10 on Amazon

Out Now On The Idelsohn Society For Musical Preservation



“After nearly 50 years hiding away in a vault, it is a real testament to the power of music and the story behind it that this album can still power up the charts.” Exclaims Co-Founder Roger Bennett


MTVu “The Feed”

Jewish Weekly

Time Out New York


New York Post


MAZELTOV MIS AMIGOS distributed by Nail and Ioda) 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 Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation (, 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.

On the more popular of the Jewish Latin Craze records– The Irving Fields Trio’s full-length Bagels and Bongos album being probably the most egregious example– the formula was usually the same: take a Yiddish or Hebrew chestnut and re-think it according to the tempos and rhythms of Latin dance music. Latin-Jewish records were not about the loss of Jewish tradition and the adoption of something else; they were about the preservation of Jewish tradition through the encounter with something else, through the open and eager adaptation of new styles and languages–the past enthusiastically re-shaped to fit the contours of the present.

Mazel Tov Mis Amigos followed suit, but because of the Lantzmen’s all-star lineup of leading jazz and Latin players, the results were far more musically vivid than many of its Latin-Jewish ancestors, laced with flashes of jazz improvisation and montuno vamping. “Papirossen,” an ode to cigarettes that usually sounds mournful no matter how it’s played, is pure dance floor frolic here, done as a blazing, quick-step mambo that even sneaks in a lute solo from Cali. “Yossel, Yossel” had already become popular as “Joseph! Joseph!,” a crossover swing era hit for the Andrews Sisters and Glen Miller, but the Lantzmen stick with the original Yiddish version only to turn it into a cha-cha. “Havah Nagila,” a Hebrew favorite more than a Yiddish one, also gets the cha-cha treatment, and “Die Greene Koseene,” the classic 1920s Abe Schwartz ode to a greenhorn cousin on the Lower East Side, conjures different 1960s New York immigrant worlds with its makeover as a Dominican merengue.

The only Mazel Tov song that doesn’t re-invent the glory days of the Yiddish Theater is Russell’s stand-out original composition, “Freilach-a-Nacht,” a seemingly standard clarinet-driven Eastern European dance number that is quickly exploded by conga breakdowns, a meditative trumpet solo, and a Palmieri piano run that sounds like it was directly lifted from his pioneering charanga-and-beyond 60s sides for the Alegre label.

By 1961, idiosyncratic concept albums like Mazel Tov were common for Riverside, a label once known strictly for its commitment to showcasing the best in American jazz. Founded by Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer in 1952, Riverside launched its catalog with albums by Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodd and quickly earned a solid reputation as a home for some of the most trusted and adventurous names in the post-bop cosmos, from Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans to Wes Montgomery and Thelonious Monk. By the end of the decade however, the label began to expand in the face of mounting commercial pressures and launched the Riverside 7500 Popular Series, which instead of Monk navigating “Brilliant Corners” or Randy Weston conjuring “Zulu,” was mostly the home to a grab-bag of niche titles that included The First Cuban at the U.N., Sam Makia and His Islanders’ Lure of Hawaii, Vic Obeck’s pre-aerobics outing Isometric Exercising, and a recording of the U.S. Merchant Marine Glee Club.

The series’ crazy quilt roster was a perfect home for Mazel Tov, even though label co-founder Orrin Keepnews has no recollection of ever putting it out. “I know I had nothing to do with its creation,” he recently wrote in an e-mail. “There were occasionally some pretty whimsical projects on the quite eclectic and pretty occasional Riverside pop music series.”

On its jazz titles, the label often relied on what Keepnews has called the “Riverside Repertory Company,” a rotating stock of players hired by session to sit in on each other’s records. Many of Mazel Tov’s key participants were part of this go-to bench of musical contractors. Willie Rodriguez was a Riverside regular, as was Clark Terry, who was the label’s lead jazz contractor in charge of signing up musicians for many of the label’s most memorable orchestral session dates. Barretto had already released his own Riverside album, Pachanga With Barretto, as had Cali, a collection of polkas for banjo that he called Hoopla!

How the rest of the Lantzmen were assembled, though, is hard to say. The Riverside vaults offer little clue to the session’s history and memories of the 1961 recording session are few and far between. All that’s really left is the album itself, which might have begun as a marketing goof, but lives on as a playful invitation to blur the lines between jazz, Latin, and Yiddish, to hear Jewishness in a cha cha, merengue in a jazz solo, an entire lost world of Yiddish culture re-born on a pachanga dancefloor. Or in the words of the original notes,

So, amigo, whether you be a lover of Latin rhythms or Jewish melodies or merely partial to unusual and irresistibly danceable music, may we say: mazel tov-and happy listening.

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