Re-creation of ‘Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos’

In 1961, Riverside Records released the album “Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos,” recorded by a band of Latin and African American jazz superstars under fake names to try to make a buck in the Jewish record market. Juan Calle and the Latin Lantzmen played to American Jews who had caught the mambo craze and could appreciate a cha-cha interpretation of “Hava Nagila.”

Fast-forward four decades. David Katznelson and Roger Bennett, co-founders of the Idelsohn Society of Musical Preservation, were browsing a record store bin and came across the album.

“When I saw it, I could not believe it,” Katznelson remembers. “A crazy Latino Jewish record on one of the greatest record labels of all time. How could this be? How was it that I had not heard of it?”

Odder still, when the two went to Concord, the company that owns the Riverside catalog, no one knew a thing about it. “It was an orphan waiting to be rediscovered,” Katznelson says.

Bennett calls the album “one of the greatest ruses of 20th century American pop music. Neither Juan nor his Latin Lantzmen were actually lantzmen (Jews), and only some were actually Latin. Juan was John Cali, an Italian American banjo picker and radio veteran best known for his work with the Vincent Lopez Orchestra. His Latin Lantzmen included some of the biggest names in ’50s and ’60s Latin music: conguero Ray Barretto, timbales guru Willie Rodriguez, pianist Charlie Palmieri playing alongside African American jazz greats Clark Terry, Doc Cheatham, Lou Oles and Wendell Marshall. The sole lantzman was Yiddish vocalist Ed Powell.”

The label gave Katznelson and Bennett the rights to rerelease the album, and they re-created the whole thing last summer – from the samba version of “O, Momme! Bin Ich Farliebt” to a merengue “Die Greene Koseene” – at Lincoln Center before an audience of 5,000. The next day the record hit the top 10 general Amazon music chart, ahead of Michael Jackson.

Monday at 8 and 10 p.m., the gig comes to Yoshi’s San Francisco with an outrageous cast of musicians: Latin bassist Wil-Dog (Ozomatli), Grammy Award winner Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro-Latin Orchestra, Larry “El Judeo Maravilloso” Harlow and Ceci Bastida join Jewish musicians Jeremiah Lockwood (Balkan Beat Box), Ethan Miller (Howlin Rain) and the Burton Sisters, the latter of whom, Katznelson says, hail from the 1950s Catskills circuit and “found us when one of their son-in-laws contacted us through our wiki page.” Katznelson also has been busy curating the exhibition “Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations,” which opens today at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
Symphony closing Mahler salute

The San Francisco Symphony’s Grammy-winning Mahler recording cycle, launched in 2001, comes to a close this season with the release of Mahler’s “Songs With Orchestra” on CD Sept. 14 and by download from iTunes on Tuesday. “Songs With Orchestra” features Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and Susan Graham performing Mahler’s “Rückert-Lieder.” Thomas Hampson and the Symphony contribute performances of “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer)” and selections from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.” The release coincides with the 150th anniversary of Mahler’s birth and with the Symphony’s fall tour of Europe from Sept. 11 to 16. And in May 2011, The orchestra is planning a four-concert engagement at the Vienna Konzerthaus during the city’s Mahler festivities.

The S.F. Symphony Mahler cycle has won seven Grammy Awards, including three for best classical album. In January, its September 2009 release of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 and the Adagio from Symphony No. 10 garnered three Grammys in the categories of best classical album, best choral performance and best engineered classical album. The cycle has sold more than 140,000 recordings.
Cubans a step ahead

Former Chronicle Dance Critic Octavio Roca is publishing a book on Cuba’s outsize contribution to contemporary ballet on Wednesday. Mikhail Baryshnikov writes in the foreword, “It’s impossible not to notice when a Cuban dancer walks into the studio.” Indeed, as the Havana-born Roca describes in “Cuban Ballet,” wave after wave of Cuban dancers and teachers is exerting a powerful influence on American and world dance.

“Latins are the new Russians,” Roca says. “Their impact is comparable to that of the Soviet defectors who changed the face of dance in the 1970s and ’80s, and their incomparable style and sabor also is adding new flavors to the dazzling work in progress that is American culture.”

The product of years of research and a lifetime of commitment to Cuban arts and culture, Roca’s book explores the history of Cuban ballet, starting with the life and career of the indomitable Alicia Alonso, founder of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Her voice resounds in the book, as do such famed Cuban dancers as Lorena Feijóo and her sister, Lorna, Joan Boada, José Manuel Carreño, Taras Domitro, Rolando Sarabia and Carlos Acosta (along with great pictures of them at work – Lorena Feijoo and Boada dance with San Francisco Ballet).

Roca is quick to point out that the Cuban dance diaspora is giving the island a cultural importance that is disproportionate to its size. (The entire Cuban population of 11 million, he notes, could fit comfortably in greater Moscow, London or New York.) Yet these Cubans are retaining their cultural heritage. He believes they say with every step, “No, you will not take Cuba away from me.”

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