Well, it's been nigh on a year-and-a-half since I posted something. Why? Hmm... Let's just go with that old cliched chestnut, "Life got in the way."
But feeling newly-invigorated (& finally having some free time), I now return to posting lost gems - starting with this life-affirming volume of songs for swingin' Jews.
Yes, you read that correctly. Bet you didn't think they existed, just like Jewish sports heroes, Jewish astronauts, or Jewish country club members. In fact, the thirteen ditties on Jewish-American Songs For The Jet Set [Tikva T101, 1965] are mostly originals by the songwriting team of Moe Jaffe & Henry Tobias, and have a solid lounge pedigree. Tobias got his start as a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, providing music to his brother Charlie's lyrics. Although they never quite hit the sophisticated stride of other brother acts, the Tobias' sub-Gershwin-styled numbers did well, and their early hits were sung by Bing Crosby, Jimmy Dorsey, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and even Lou Rawls. Among the most famous of the Tobias tunes are "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree" and "If I Had My Life To Live Over". Although Tobias made his name in New York, he was originally from Worcester, Mass - but don't worry, as the son of a struggling tailor, he came by his Jewish bona fides naturally. His autobiography, "Music In My Heart, Borscht In My Blood" is out of print but you can still snag a copy if you try.
Moe Jaffe, similarly, emigrated to the NYC metropolitan area - from Vilnius, Lithuania. Jaffe put himself through college at UPenn's Wharton Business and then Law Schools (Jewish Ivy League students, too!), playing with his own combo. He eventually wrote the minor hit "Collegians", which schmaltz-meister extraordinaire Fred Waring made a huge hit. Jaffe continued on as a songwriter, crafting “If You Are But a Dream" with his old college partner Nat Bonx - "Dream" was picked up by Jimmy Dorsey, who introduced it into the early Sinatra canon, making it consistent number for Ol' Blue Eyes even in his later years. In 1948, Jaffe wrote the unforgettable "I'm My Own Grandma".
By the time Jaffe & Tobias collaborated on the music herein, which was also the premiere release for the short-lived Jewish music label Tikva, the former was subsisting on royalties from his publishing company's ownership of Tony Bennett's hit "I Left My Heart In San Francisco". They found a less memorable vocalist in Bernie Knee, who has about as much personality as an armchair. Musical accompaniment was by Irving Fields & his orchestra. Fields had an array of exploito-exotica "bongos" records in in the mid-20th century (Bagels & Bongos being my obvious favorite), and subsequently went on to write campaign songs for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Rudy Giuliani and even George Pataki. My dismay at this tangent aside, Fields' playing is pleasant enough, but gets repetitive - his right hand apparently never met a melodic minor trill it didn't like.
The messages of the songs, sprinkled here & there with Yiddish (despite the "All Vocals Sung In English" disclaimer on the front cover), are positive, community-building and, as with all great Jewish things, occasionally mildly self-effacing. The English-only "Dayenu" isn't a translation, but rather has new lyrics that benefit from a secular optimism; "Alef Beiz" is a counting-style song that also introduces listeners to the Hebrew alphabet; "Passover Time On The Range" indulges in the everlasting wish of Jews to join that one group they never really could - cowboys; and "Orthodox, Conservative or Reform" posits that love trumps all (as long as she's Jewish).
Best enjoyed while sipping a chocolate egg cream.
[The non-profit Idelsohn Society has put together a great CD comp of Tikva's material, available here, along with some other smart, quality releases. Generally, that means that I'd steer clear of posting what can be bought, but since a) this blog is also non-profit (or, really, reverse-profit), b) there are only two "Jet Set" songs on Idelsohn's comp and c) my vinyl copy is so beat that there's no way you wouldn't rather get this music nice & cleaned up if you could, I'm just posting the damn thing anyway.]