sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

February 7, 2013

Canto Talk!

Filed under: Jewishness, music, politics — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 3:42 pm

UPDATE: Here is the podcast.

I’m going to appear on Canto Talk radio tonight at 7:15 Pacific.  I will be talking with the executive producer Leslie Eastman and the host Silvio Canto about parenting, politics and life around here as well as Michelle Obama’s fashion sense or lack of thereof.  I want to thank both Leslie and Dr. Canto for the opportunity.

Canto Talk is mostly a political show, but last week Dr. Canto mentioned that Patty Andrews, the last surviving member of the seminal swing band Andrews Sisters, had passed away at age 94.  Being a fan of mid-century American pop, I’d like to celebrate Patty’s life with one of the Sisters’ greatest hits, Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen:

It was one of the songs we played at our wedding, and it has an interesting history:

The story of this tune’s stratospheric rise is as unlikely as that of Yiddish swing itself. “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” was composed by Sholom Secunda for a 1932 Yiddish musical that opened and closed in one season. Fast-forward to 1937. Lyricist Sammy Cahn and pianist Lou Levy were catching a show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem when two black performers called Johnnie and George took the stage singing “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” — in Yiddish. The crowd went wild. Cahn and Levy couldn’t believe their ears. Sensing a hit, Cahn convinced his employer at Warner Music to purchase the rights to the song from the Kammen Brothers, the twin-team music entrepreneurs who had bought the tune from Secunda a few years back for the munificent sum of $30.

Cahn gave “Bei Mir” a set of fresh English lyrics and presented it to a trio of Lutheran sisters whose orchestra leader, oddly enough named Vic Schoen, had a notion of how to swing it. The Andrews Sisters’ debut 78 rpm for the Decca label hit almost immediately.

The song became a hit not only in America, but Europe as well, and that included Germany.  The Nazis initially thought the title lyric was in a South German dialect, but when they discovered that they were dealing with a Yiddish tune, they had to ban it.

Bei Mir was translated into many languages.  During World War Two, Soviet jazzman Leonid Utesov recorded an anti-Nazi Russian version Baron Fon Der Pshik:

Utesov was also Jewish, born 1895.  Many American popular musicians of early/mid 20th century hail from the Russian Empire.  Utesov stayed in Russia where he fell in love with jazz.  He was one of the few entertainers who, during the Stalin years, was allowed to perform American-inspired music.

Speaking of Jews and mid-century American music, here is a video of the funeral of New York Mayor Ed Koch’s (via The Last Tradition).  His casket is carried through Temple Emanu-El to the tune of New York, New York.  Way to go, Mr. Mayor:


June 10, 2012

The Sabre Dance Swing

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:32 am

As my readers probably noticed, I don’t post music videos often, but Andrew’s Sister take on The Sabre Dance by the great Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian is practically begging to be blogged:

Why, I didn’t know Sabre Dance had lyrics!  Granted, this is not the best lyrics in the history of popular music, but they’ll do.

I have a soft spot for artists that take a music piece out of context and make it work within a completely different aesthetic — just like the video above.  Khachaturian’s piece is rhythmic and has a lot of character, so I suppose it lends itself easily to a pop cover.  And while in theory any catchy upbeat 4/4 beat can be made into a swell swing number, and it takes a band of Andrews Sisters caliber to do it right.  The video is a bit goofy with the ladies obviously lip-syncing, but I love the choreography.

Andrews Sisters recorded their version of The Sabre Dance in 1947, at the tail end of the  Swing era.  Their harmonies are beautiful, voices serene and it’s curious note that the Khachaturian’s score, if we are to remain faithful to his aesthetic, calls for a much noisier performance.  Here is an undated nameless version I found on Youtube:

It was a part of Gayaneh ballet, and I suspect the performance was recorded in the Soviet days.  It’s amazing to see how much more abstract the [probably] Soviet version feels.  DH likes to say that pop music is several decades behind classical.  Gayaneh was composed 1939-41, and in the Soviet Union of all places. It took your average Western consumer of pop culture half a century to catch up.

06/11/2012 CORRECTIONS:

1. The Khachaturian ballet recording that I judged to be from the Soviet days is actually a 2010 Vaganova Ballet School graduation performance.

2. DH is known to say that rock-n-roll, not pop culture is several decades behind classical.  Shame on me for misquoting my own husband.

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