CD Review: Mazel Tov Mis Amigos

Here’s a tidbit for Jewish and Latin music lovers. A group of young Latinos did a little genre bending back in the ’60 when they recorded traditional Yiddish and Hebrew music as chachachas, merengues and other Latin dance rhythms. The finished product was called “Mazel Tov Mis Amigos” and two of its authors, percussionist Ray Barreto and pianist Charlie Palmieri, would go on to become Latin music legends.

This hybrid might sound a little odd, but Latin dance music, particularly the mambo, was huge among Jewish Americans in the 1950s and Palmieri and Barreto, among others, were returning the favor. Mazel Tov en español was largely forgotten until the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation decided to remaster “Mazeltov Mis Amigos” and release it on Aug. 11. Idelsohn, a non-profit group, has also announced an Aug. 23 CD release event at New York’s Lincoln Center Plaza. The free outdoors evening concert will be led by Grammy winner Arturo O’Farrill and His Afro-Cuban Sextet, recreating Mazeltov in its entirety, with guest musicians, among them Fania legend Larry Harlow and the Fort Apache Band.

Read the rest of this story in the press release below the fold.

In 1961, Latin and Jazz star Ray BARRETTO, WILLIE RODRIGUEZ, CHARLIE PALMIERI, CLARK TERRY AND DOC CHEATHAM entered a New York City studio and recorded a legendary album, MAZELTOV MIS AMIGOS, under the fictitious band name, JUAN CALLE AND HIS LATIN LANZTMEN. The album magically resounded Jewish standards in Latin time, translating somber, traditional Yiddish and Hebrew melodies into the energy-laden Latin rumbas, cha-chas, and meringues the whole world was rocking to.

On August 23rd, at the LINCOLN CENTER the process will be repeated for one night only, as the Idelsohn Society for Musical preservation will celebrate its re-release of MAZELTOV MIS AMIGOS as a newly remastered album by recreating it in its entirety from start to finish under the musical direction of Grammy award winning Arturo O’Farrill and His Afro-Cuban Sextet. They will be joined by a star-studded line up of legends and newcomers including Fania recording giant Larry “El Judeo Maravilliso” Harlow, The Antibalas Horns, The Fort Apache Band’s Andy Gonzalez, Sandra Valasquez of Pistolera, Jeremiah Lockwood of The Sway Machinery, Brave Old World’s Michael Alpert, and 94 year old Bagels and Bongos pioneer, Irving Fields.

At the helm of Mazel Tov’s re-animation is ARTURO O’FARRILL, an internationally acclaimed pianist, composer, jazz educator and creator of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra for Jazz at Lincoln Center. His debut album with the Orchestra “Una Noche Inolvidable” earned a GRAMMY award nomination in 2006. The son of Latin jazz legend Chico O’Farrill, Arturo has recorded eight albums as a leader and played with Carla Bley, Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Turre, Freddy Cole, The Fort Apache Band, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, and Harry Belafonte. O’Farrill is the man responsible for overseeing this 2009 reinterpretation of the 1961 album which was itself, a muscial reinvention, re-crafting each song for the Lincoln Center debut — for instance working with Latin vocalist Sandra Valsquez to translate the classic Yiddish “Yossele, Yossele” into Spanish so it can be performed as “Jose, Jose.” In O’Farril’s words, “The relationship between the Latino and Jewish people is long and incredibly important as regards music. Mazel Tov Mis Amigos is a golden opportunity to highlight the mutual respect. The Borscht Belt was a source of much employment for many a Latin giant. My challenge is to bring the spirit of the original record without replicating it. To bring the vibrancy of the original masters and realize it through the hands of a new generation of master musicians is going to be tremendously fun and rewarding on so many levels!”

The MAZELTOV MIS AMIGOS album is being released to coincide with the concert and 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. The album, which was generously licensed to The Idelsohn Society by The Concorde Music Group, features refashioned songs such as “O Momme” remade into a comparsa conga band parade, and “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. Digitally remastered for the first time by Fantasy Studio engineer Joe Tarintino, it 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. Says co-founder Courtney Holt, “this concert is what our work is all about – bringing a lost classic back to life and proving that history really does sounds different when you know where to start listening.”

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 Riverside 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.
Arturo O’Farrill is a world-renowned pianist and composer, born in Mexico, and raised in New York City where he was exposed to Afro-Latin music at an early age: He’s the son of Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill, who helped popularize the genre. The younger O’Farrill received formal training at the Manhattan School of Music, the Brooklyn College Conservatory and the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and has performed with greats like Wynton Marsalis, Harry Belafonte and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1995 he began directing Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, a group dedicated to preserving the musical legacy of his father. The band had a residency at Birdland for more than a decade and has toured around the world; its recent release “Song for Chico” won the 2008 GRAMMY for Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year.

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.


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