Pianist Irving Fields Mixed Bagels and Bongos

By , August 2, 2017 9:52 am

Irving Fields-playing piano

Two weeks after his 101th birthday, pianist and composer Irving Fields passed away August 20, 2016 in Manhattan. He was perhaps the longest working musician in the world. At the age of hundred, he used to play the piano several nights a week at Nino’s Tuscany restaurant in Manhattan. Irving Fields became known by fusing Jewish tunes, jazz, and popular songs with Latin music.

Born as Isidore Schwartz in 1915 New York City to Jewish immigrants, Irving Fields started working as a pianist in the thirties during the years of the Great Depression. In this time of high unemployment, he started playing piano in resort hotels in the Catskills Mountains, and then he found work as a pianist on cruise ships sailing from New York to Havana, capital city of Cuba. In Havana, Irving Fields listened to the great Cuban orchestras, and developed his love for Latin music. Attracted by pictures from palm trees and beaches in travel magazines, Irving decided to settle in Miami Beach and performed in hotels playing dinner music, and did sessions with local orchestras.

After joining the army, he began the Irving Fields Trio, with a bass and a drummer, and started composing his own songs. In 1947, his song Miami Beach Rhumba became a big success by versions of Kay Kyser, Freddy Martin, Carmen Miranda, and even by the popular band leader Xavier Cugat. During the Latin craze trend in the 40s, Irving Fields was at the right time and place, and soon Miami Beach Rhumba was followed by the number one hit song Managua, Nicaragua (1947) recorded by big band leader Guy Lombardo, and ten years later by Chantez-Chantez (1957) by singer Dinah Shore.

Bagels and Bongos - Irving Fields TrioIn 1959, the Irving Fields Trio recorded the album Bagels and Bongos blending popular Jewish tunes with Latin rhythms such as Bei Mir Bist Du Schön as a mambo, Havannah Negila a paso doble, and I Love You Much Too Much a rhumba. The album became a big hit all over the world, and was followed by the albums More Bagels and Bongos (1960), Pizzas and Bongos (Italian traditionals), Champagne and Bongos (with French standards), and Bikinis and Bongos (with Hawaiian music). Every song was mixed with a Latin beat, which turned out to be a story of success.

After the success with his trio in the sixties, Irving Fields went back working as a solo pianist on cruise ships again, where he sailed the whole world, and finally settled as a music entertainer in restaurants, from 2004 six nights a week in Nino’s Tuscany, Manhattan. This would become the place, where he started his second career.

In the last decade, several films appeared about Fields playing piano on YouTube. These films form a good impression of his talent, wisdom, and humor. Although Irving Fields was not a user of a computer or the Internet, he did compose the YouTube theme song.

 

Regarding my research about the influence of Jewish tunes in American popular song, I contacted Irving Fields, and then I received several handwritten letters from him. At my birthday March 2010, I met Irving Fields and his lovely wife Ruth in person in Nino’s Tuscany restaurant, where he entertained the guests with his music. From my letters, he knew that I should visit him this special evening. To my surprise, he welcomed me with a newly composed personal anniversary song. When listening to his music and talking to him, I knew that I was close to one of the last persons, already in his nineties, who could tell me first-hand about the history of popular music in the Tin Pan Alley period before the second World War.

 

Irving Fields and Niels Falch at Nino's

Irving Fields and Niels Falch at Nino’s

Of course, I also asked him about his secret for longevity, and he replied with more than ten rules. The first three rules for longevity are; (1) Have a sense of humor (you’ll never get ulcers), (2) Think of these three magic letters before you make a decision: L.T.D. Look, Think and Do, and (3) Be the first to say “hello” with a smile on your face and a friendly glow. Following these rules during his life, Irving Fields became ultimately 101 years young.

Even U.S. President Donald J. Trump admired Irving Fields, and shared one of his secrets for longevity: “Irving has said that work is a blessing, especially when you like your work. He loves his work, and that love is evident in his music. Irving is a great pro.”

Irving Fields will be remembered as the pianist who blended bagels and bongos, although he never had a way to play a bagel…

You can listen to over 30 recordings by Irving Fields on the Recorded Sound Archives website by clicking here.

 

RSA Guest Blogger, Niels Falch, is a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and is currently writing a dissertation on the influence of Jewish music in American popular songs.

Please note, due to copyright some of these recordings may only play for 45 second snippet to give the user a taste of what this music sounded like back in the day, if you are interested in full access considering applying for Research Station Access. Access to Research Station is limited to educators, students and serious researchers.

Theodore Bikel, A Versatile Man

By , August 24, 2015 6:53 pm
Theodore Bikel on stage as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

Theodore Bikel on stage as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

With his grey beard, clear voice, and room filling performance, Theodore Bikel had so much in common with Tevye the Milkman. He was the fiddler on the roof, a versatile man.

Theodore Bikel, actor, activist and folk singer, passed away at the age of 91 last month on July 21, 2015 in Los Angeles. He played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof onstage in thousands of performances, created the role of Baron von Trapp in the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music, recorded as a singer and guitarist for many albums in different languages, and was involved in civil rights causes.

Bikel was born into a Jewish family in Vienna, and named after Zionist Theodore Herzl. They fled to Palestine in 1938. and according to his mother in his autobiography, he sang before he could talk. Theodore started acting at a young age and performed in the Habimah Theatre in Tel Aviv in 1943. Bikel moved to London in 1945 and next to the United States in 1954, where he started his acting career on Broadway.

Bikel released thirteen albums between 1955 to 1965. The most popular recordings were: Theodore Bikel Sings Jewish Folk Songs (1958), Songs of a Russian Gypsy (1958), Theodore Bikel Sings More Jewish Folk Songs (1959), A Harvest of Israel Folk Songs (1961), and Theodore Bikel Sings Yiddish Theatre and Folk Songs (1965). With this repertoire, he paved the way for a renewed interest in Yiddish folk songs, and ultimately for the klezmer revival in the late seventies.

Along with folk singer Pete Seeger, Bikel became one of the founders of the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. This festival is known for the performances of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan in 1963 and played a crucial role in the American folk music revival of the sixties.

Just recently, a documentary film was released about the intertwining of Theodore Bikel’s life with writer Sholom Aleichem, the great storyteller of Jewish life in Eastern Europe: Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem. In March this year, Record Sound Archives’ Alethea Perez wrote a blog about this portrait. click here to read more.

Listed below are some of his popular tunes.

 Dona Dona

Di Mame Iz Gegangen

Az Der Rebbe Zingt

Dodi Li

 Click here for more Theodore Bikel recordings.

Due to copyright concerns only snippets can be heard on the RSA public website. Full versions are available to users of the RSA Research Station.

If you enjoyed this guest blog post you may enjoy Gone but not forgotten – the Barry Sisters.

RSA Guest Blogger, Niels Falch, is a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and is currently writing a dissertation on the influence of Jewish music in American popular songs.

 

Gone but not forgotten – the Barry Sisters

By , January 5, 2015 8:50 pm
Bagelman Sisters/Barry Sisters

Bagelman Sisters/Barry Sisters early photo with Claire Barry on the right.

Yiddish music icons, Merna and Claire Barry, entertained generations of Jewish Americans with their jazzy versions of Yiddish songs.

For over 40 years the Bagelman Sisters, later known as the Barry Sisters, were the darlings of Jewish entertainment. Their recordings could be found in almost every Jewish household in the 1950s and 60s. The younger of the two sisters, Merna, passed away in 1976. The older sister, Claire Barry, died on November 22, 2014 in Hollywood, FL at 94. Click here for full NY Times obituary.

Who were the Barry Sisters?

Two beautiful girls, dressed in the latest fashion, hair  perfectly coiffed, singing with sultry voices that could make your heart leap.

Born in New York, the two sisters were originally known as the Bagelman Sisters. Many saw them as the Yiddish answer to the popular Andrews Sisters in the 1940s. They combined old Jewish folk songs and Yiddish Theater ditties with swing arrangements and perfect harmony. When Clara and Minnie changed their names to Claire and Merna The Bagelman Sisters became The Barry Sisters. They have often been credited with creating Yiddish Swing, a music genre which did not exist previously.

The glamorous Barry Sisters were regular guests at Yiddish radio programs like Yiddish Melodies in Swing. They toured with the Ed Sullivan Show to the Soviet Union and performed in Israel in October 1962.

The popularity of their catchy and jazzy tunes may have paved the way for the Broadway hit, Fiddler on the Roof, and the klezmer revival of the late 70s.

Listed below are some of their most popular tunes. The Judaica Sound Archives has 41 recordings by this dynamic duo of Yiddish music.

Abi Gezunt (Stay healthy)

In Meine Oigen Bistie Shain (To me you are beautiful)

Channah from Havannah (A Gala Concert with Moishe Oysher album, no. 3).

Bublitchki (About the last bagel)

Dem Neyem Sher (At Home With album, no. 2).

Roumania

Click here for more Barry Sisters recordings. Due to copyright concerns only snippets can be heard on our public website.  Full versions are available to users of the RSA Research Station.

 

RSA guest blogger, Niels Falch, is a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and is currently writing a dissertation on the influence of Jewish music in American popular songs.

Leo Fuld: A forgotten man?

By , October 30, 2014 1:42 pm

Leo FuchsDo you know this person?

Clue: He is a Dutch man who was once called the King of Yiddish Music.

Leo Fuld was one of the premier Yiddish performers in America during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Audiences loved to hear him sing Yiddish favorites in a combination of Yiddish and English. They loved his music which evoked the emotions and hardships of the Jewish people. Simply put, audiences loved the truth in his music.

One of his most famous compositions “Vi Ahin Zol lch Geyn? (Where Can I Go?), can still wrench the heart. It sold over one and a half million copies worldwide. Leo Fuld not only composed Yiddish songs, he also performed them with great success.  His list of recorded hits include: Ich Hab Dich Zu Viel Lieb (I Love You Much Too Much), Wus Geween Ist Geween, My Yiddishe Mama, Zigany Melody. The lyrics to his song, Mazzel, tells us something that we all know….a little luck can make a big difference!

Lyrics:

You gotta have a little mazzel,Leo Fuld
Mazzel means good luck,
‘Cause with a little mazzel,
You always make a buck.
And if you have no mazzel,
Although you’re on the ball,
You try and try and can’t get by,
You beat your head against the wall.
Don’t ever try to figure, why you seem to be to blame,
That some folks have a million, and can’t even write their name!

Fuld was born into a large family (the third of ten) in Rotterdam, Netherlands. He served as a cantor in the synagogue when only 16 years old. Like other young men of the time, however, he was also attracted to popular music. Just before the outbreak of World War II, he left for America, established himself as a singer of Yiddish songs and became a well-known and successful performer.

Returning home after the war, Fuld was devastated to find his beloved Rotterdam bombed beyond recognition and his entire family murdered.  With his red-hair and European accent he became a very recognizable Jewish performer when he returned to the USA. Combining Yiddish songs with swing music, and using both Yiddish and English lyrics he achieved stardom among Jewish audiences in the 1950s and 1960s. Performing with super-stars like Frank Sinatra and Edith Piaf his admirers ran the gamut and included such luminaries as Frankie Laine, Billie Holiday, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye and even Albert Einstein.

Click here for more songs by Leo Fuld.

This blog was written by RSA guest blogger, Niels Falch. An independent researcher, Mr. Falch is especially interested in the influence of Jewish music on American popular songs. He lives near Amsterdam in Holland. Additional material supplied by Maxine Schackman, Director of the Recorded Sound Archives at FAU Libraries in Boca Raton, FL.

L’dor vador: From generation to generation

By , August 14, 2013 3:28 pm

One family’s ancestor remembered…a shared culture preserved.

The music of the traditional synagogue in America has strong roots in the culture and shtetls of 19th and early 20th century Eastern Europe. Like many of the greats of the Golden Era of Hazzanut Cantor Gedalie Bargad was a gifted hazzan who grew out of the chassidic environment.

Born in 1898 on Kol Nidre evening in the small town of Slavuta (Volhynia Province, Russia), his promising career as a cantor was disrupted by war, civil strife and his family’s struggle for survival. Eventually Bargad and his bride were able obtain travel documents and arrived in Boston on May 25, 1921.

He found work in the shul in Lynn, MA almost immediately, and by 1926 he was officiating at the Elm Street Synagogue in Chelsea, MA. where he sang until 1963. His son, Dr. Warren Bargad, former director of the Center for Jewish Studies, University of Florida – Gainesville, reminisced about those days. “As a youth I remember the shul packed with people – about 500 – 600. . . My father was a commanding presence on the bima. When he sang he would often send shockwaves through the eardrums of the choirboys who stood near him. . . There was a bit of the actor in him. . . [but] he was also down-to-earth, a great story-teller, and often quite comic (album liner notes, 1980).”

Cantor Bargad went on to serve at Temple Emanuel in Chelsea, MA until his death in 1968. His grandson, Robert Bargad (Professor of Jazz piano at Karntnerlandeskonservatorium in Austria) remembers his grandfather “leading the congregation in the singing of prayers with very beautiful melodies, many of which he himself had composed and arranged.  I recall how sometimes his voice would suddenly swell and sustain such a great and mournful note, causing the entire congregation to wait for his release before continuing. . .  In those moments I was completely overcome and I remember thinking that the walls of the temple were shaking from the emotional power of his voice and the pure magic in his performance. I believe the impact of Gedalie’s singing has influenced me to this day – as I try to infuse my own compositions and performances with that kind of tradition and soulfulness.” (Personal communication, 2013).”

A recording of the September 23, 1962 service at the Elm Street Synagogue was preserved and then meticulously restored by Chicago record producer, Barry Serota in 1980. The Judaica Sound Archives at FAU Libraries is proud to follow in the footsteps of Barry Serota who devoted his life to the preservation of great Cantorial music. Streaming audio of this album is available only on our website.

 

Robert Bargad

RSA Guest Blogger, Robert Bargad, is a Professor of Jazz Piano at Karntner Landeskonservatorium in Austria, he is the grandson of Cantor Gedalie Bargad. 

Jewish music rocks like Bon Jovi

By , July 22, 2010 1:51 pm

Listen for yourself. Click to hear Rocky Zweig singing “Boris” from his Legacy album (Aderet Music Corp.)

Hear it. The first five seconds. A keyboard…drums…it sounds like rock. These are the familiar sounds of a song that is going to tell a story. It sounds like the introduction to the Bon Jovi song, “Livin on a Prayer.”  Then Rocky Zweig begins to sing.

His story is about a boy named Boris. Boris is upset because he is persecuted for being Jewish. The story ends with Boris dying. In “Livin on a Prayer,” the pseudo couple, Tommy and Gina, live on little money and try to make their relationship work.

In the lyrics of “Boris,” it says “…you must strive now, to keep your religion alive within your heart…” This part is not just about religion. It goes deeper. It also means fighting for respect and staying true to oneself is vital. Just because other people don’t like you, you should not let them break you. In life, there will always be people who try to bring you down. Instead of allowing it, become empowered to rise above it.

As the story of “Boris” progresses, it becomes clear that he is viewed as an outcast. The persecution was so much that he planned on killing himself and others on a plane. Instead, Boris was killed and his life became a mere memory.

In “Livin on a Prayer,” the words work so well together.  Tommy has been laid off and Gina gives all of her earnings to him. Of the little money they do have, they must have faith that times will get better.

In the lyrics of “Livin on a Prayer,” it says “…we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got. Cause it doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not…” What I get from this is no matter what hardship we face, it is possible to break the cycle. As long as someone believes in you, anything can happen. In this song, Tommy and Gina have each other and they push through the odds.

Although these are two different stories, they have similar musicality and both songs use rock instrumentation. Both songs are stories of hardship. I think the reason I find stories of hardship so fascinating is because people are fascinating. Every person is different and unique. Songs like these that explore hardship are real.

While “Boris” is technically Jewish music, I think it would appeal to anyone. It sounds current and isn’t just for Jewish people to enjoy. On the album, “Legacy,” Rocky Zweig sings 10 songs, all of which sound like popular rock music and ballads of today. His voice has a tone that works well for rock. This album makes singing about religion cool and it makes Jewish music more relevant for today’s world.

It might seem unusual that there is such similarity between the songs “Boris” and “Livin on a Prayer.” Hardship, however, is a theme found at the heart of many songs and is fuel for creativity. A hard life lived with passion is more valuable than an easy life lived with indifference.

Submitted by Jackie Rosansky

RSA Guest Blogger, Jackie Rosansky is a summer volunteer intern at the Judaica Sound Archives. This blog contains her original thoughts and opinions about the musicians and music she is researching. She is 24 years old, and is majoring in journalism with a minor in photography at FAU.

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