Polish Jewish Cabaret: a library of wonderful but forgotten Yiddish songs of the 1920s - 1930s. Have a listen!

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4. List of the still lost songs. Do you know any of them?
5. Warszawa zumerkurs song links

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Shvayg mayn harts by Herman Yablokoff - was it really the source of the eden ahbez hit "Nature Boy" ?

I was asked to look into this song by a reader who wrote because he'd heard Nat King Cole's hit "Nature Boy" was plagiarized from Herman Yablokoff's Shvayg mayn harts and was frustrated not to be able to find a recording of Yablokoff's song.

As with many people who say they are dying for help, when I asked him to help defray the cost of buying the expensive sheet music from Florida Atlantic University, he never responded. I went ahead anyway.

So here's a condensed version of the story: After a concert in 1947, Nat King Cole’s valet gave Cole a song chart he'd been handed backstage by a stranger. Cole wanted to record it but needed permission.

His people found the composer, eden ahbez, living with his wife and child under the first "L" of the Hollywood Sign above Los Angeles. ahbez had long Jesus hair and wore white robes and ate only vegetables, fruits, and nuts; he was one of a gang calling themselves "Nature Boys." He claimed to live on three dollars per week.

He was born Alexander Aberle in 1908 in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish father and a Scottish-English mother, and spent his early years in the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York. He later changed his name to (lower case) eden ahbez.



Cole's recording of the ahbez song was #1 for seven weeks. It was subsequently recorded by many other famous singers.

ahbez was then sued by Herman Yablokoff, who claimed the melody came from Shvayg mayn harts. Ahbez often claimed to have "heard the tune in the mist of the California mountains" or "in the solitude of a cave." However, he paid Yablokoff $25,000.

Was the song stolen? ahbez lived in New York City in the 1930s, during or after the period when Herman Yablokoff's Yiddish show Papirosn was doing very well on Second Avenue. Yablokoff wrote about the lawsuit in a full chapter of his 1981 autobiography Der Payatz but I haven't seen the book. However, here's another opinion, from kuvo.org:
ahbez always said that the melody had come to him “as if an angel was singing it”; Yablokoff’s response was that if the angels were singing it they must have bought a copy of his song. The similarity of both to a portion of Antonin Dvorak’s 1887 “Piano Quintet No. 2”, based in part on Czechoslovakian folk music, suggests that either Dvorak’s music or Czech folk music had influenced both Yablokoff and ahbez.
Also probably in the mid-1930s Jack Rechtseit wrote a song by almost the same name and with a similar theme. I wrote about it and recorded it a while back, see Shvayg, hertsele!

Here is the recording Aviva Enoch and I made this week of Shvayg mayn harts. She played pretty much what was in the sheet music.



Here are the eden ahbez and Nat King Cole's versions:


Yiddish transliteration and English translation of Shvayg mayn harts after the jump:

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Vos kh'hob gevolt hob ikh oysgefirt: an Aaron Lebedeff yiddish show tune made over for a girl klezmer band

UPDATE: I just found this song (without the catchy chorus, though) in a 1920 book put out by Y. L. Cahan called Yudishe Folkslieder (Yidishe folkslider) or in English "Yiddish Folksongs with Their Original Airs Collected from Oral Tradition" - the sheet music is at the bottom of this post, after the jump. And it turns out this original folksong is from a woman's point of view!


cabaret dancer 1930
You'll find this song spelled: Wus hob gewalt, hob ich oysgefirt and it was recorded by Aaron Lebedeff, with the Abe Schwartz Orchestra, as Ay, ay, vos kh'hob gevolt, hob ikh oysgefirt. written by Herman Wohl and Louis Gilrod, the song was in Israel Rosenberg's show Yankele Litvak in 1924.

David Medoff recorded it in 1923 as Vos Ich Hob Gevolt Hob Ich Ausgefirt, translated there as "What I Wanted, I Found."

I heard the Lebedeff recording when I was at Florida Atlantic University. The words were hard to make out, but I didn't try very hard because it was all about a wife, so I decided to take snatches of what I heard and incorporate them into a new version suitable for a women's klezmer band. I couldn't do it justice as I was alone and didn't have a klezmer band with me - it deserves the whole nine yards. And drums.

If you want to write your own words too, I suggest you get a copy of Stutchkoff's Yiddish thesaurus and his Yiddish rhyming dictionary (Yidisher gramen-lexicon) and then have at it!

Continuing experiment with green screen. The glasses I wore today had a lot of glare. You live and learn.



Here's the English translation of the Yiddish lyrics I sang:

What I wanted, I succeeded in, let me go on that way.
I wanted good luck and God gave it to me.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mazl mazl vi bistu mazl? Luck, where are you? Joseph Feldman writes a Yiddish folk song.

This song was printed by Joseph Feldman in an issue (was it the only one?) of his "Yiddish Theatrical Magazine," shared with me by Steven Lasky. This melody sounds like a folk song and the words have that feel as well, but Feldman copyrighted the song (or at least he wrote here that he did).

Note the transliteration, Mazel, we bisty mazel, and on the lyrics page it says Mazel, mazel, wie bisty mazel? In standard (klal) Yiddish this would probably be Mazl mazl vu bistu mazl? (Luck, luck, where are you, luck?) but in the first verse it says: Wie bisty fun mir antrinen? In which case I like vi (how) rather than vu (where). YMMV I guess.



Here's my recording from half an hour ago:



Words and translation after the jump.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Chort vozmi, a variant by Joseph Feldman

In 2014 I posted a folk song called Dos Fleshele (Chort voz'mi) which was found in the Itzik Zhelonek collection of Yiddish theater songs beloved in Warsaw between the wars. I transcribed the tune from a cassette made by Itzik Gottesman when Jacob Gorelick sang the song in his living room in the 1980s. Gorelick said the melody was borrowed from the Russian folksong карие глазки (Karie glazki).

Recently Steven Lasky, proprietor of the Museum of the Yiddish Theatre, posted this lovely issue of Joseph Feldman's "Yiddish Theatrical Magazine" on Facebook. It contained lyrics and even a few bits of written music. One of the songs is this one, Chort vozmi.

The tune is very similar to the earlier one, but different enough I suppose that Feldman felt he could copyright it. While the other song's lyrics focus on how rotten it is to be a drunk, this version focuses on how rotten it is that a woman dumps you and forces you to become an alcoholic.

Earlier today the helpful band of Facebook yids (Marek Tuszewicki, Shane Baker, Michael Alpert, Eli Rosen, and Paula Teitelbaum) helped me with the word bridiage: it means vagabond or bum in Russian. Eleanor Reissa said she loved the words and would like to hear the song, so I decided to just jump in and record it.


Here are the words as transcribed in Feldman's magazine. Once again I want you to feast your eyes on the extremely non-standard transliteration. I would not have ever guessed a spelling like TSORT WAS MIE and as I've said many times before, if you can't guess the spelling you can't find it.

Words and translation after the jump.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Kadish nokh a yidishn zelner, aka Durkhn Dorf Geyt A Geshrey

UPDATE: I just realized the chorus of this Kaddish nokh a yidishn soldat is from a hearty Polish drinking song, Więc pijmy wino, szwoleżerowie (Let's Drink, Cavalrymen) - there are several versions on youtube.

Here's an Instagram 60-second video of the last verse:



Or click the image to listen to and/or buy this track from our Lebedik Yankel cd.




Zhelonek credited Pinkezon as the singer of this song. I wonder if that's a pseudonym for Pinchus Lavenda (right), whose version - found at the Robert & Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive - I transcribed for my sheet music version. There is a Polish version of this melody, words by Julian Tuwim, called Szwolezerowie (The Regiment).

Some of the lost Zhelonek songs turned under different names. Lorin Sklamberg, tenor extraordinaire and sound archivist at YIVO, sent me this information via the Jewish Music list:

"This song was originally written in German, and appears in both the Yiddish and German versions in the cd collection Vorbei: Beyond Recall, the catalyst for a concert program developed over the summer by Alan Bern under the title Semer Reloaded and premiered at Berlin's Jewish Museum.

"There were two vintage recordings made in Yiddish by Pinchus Lavenda - one for the German Semer label and one for American Vocalion (though I'm not sure that this is the same song, since I haven't heard the recording). We're not sure who made the Yiddish translation. There was also a recording by Martha Schlamme using a translation she made with a Yiddish poet. I believe there is a third verse that fills in the story between the other two verses."

Yiddish text (about the same as my transcription except it fills in the end of the first verse) and translation after the jump.
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