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, Mazel Tov, 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.
Digitally remastered for the first time by Fantasy Studio engineer Joe Tarantino, this album 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, Grossinger’s and the Concord.
According to co-founder Courtney Holt, “the track ‘O Momme’ sounds like a a comparsa conga band setting out on a parade that turns into a Jewish wedding march.”
Among the other startling revelations on Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos is “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. Says Idelsohn co-founder Josh Kun, “It’s a dramatic example of how Jewish and Latin musical traditions spoke to each other in the mix-up of American culture. This is the sound of the secret musical history that shows that the boundaries between communities we think are so rigid are actually porous.”