Music is the Most Beautiful Language in the World – Yiddisher
Jazz in London’s East end 1920s-1950s
(JWM Records. JWMCD001. CD Review by Olie Brice)
I can’t think of another release in a long time that has made me grin as wide as this one! A delightful collection of recordings from the Jewish community that lived for decades around Brick Lane in Whitechapel.
While this CD is subtitled ‘Yiddisher Jazz’, you won’t find London’s answer to Lee Konitz and Steve Lacy here – or Willie ‘the Lion’ Smith for that matter. It’s jazz in the sense that popular bands of the time were swing bands, and the music draws on big band swing, mambos, rhumbas and klezmer.
In a sense, these are novelty recordings – although I mean nothing derogatory by the term. Often humorous, sometimes sentimental songs about aspects of Jewish culture, food, and daily life. Sung in a mixture of Yiddish, English and Hebrew, sometimes making fun of ‘goyisher’ English accents, several of the rhymes and turns of phrase make me laugh out loud. My favourite tracks are probably the joyous, funny ones – Max Bacon’s Beigels, Johnny Franks and his Kosher Ragtimers’ Wilhelmina, and Baker & Willie’s A Day in the Lane – but there are also some very beautiful pieces, especially Leo Fuld’s gorgeous Hebrew Chant, which draws heavily on the cantorial tradition of liturgical singing, and Chaim Towber’s Yiddish ballad Whitechapel.
This is music from my grandparents’ community, and I grew up hearing these accents and eating this food. It’s hard for me to hear the music without all that sense of history and nostalgia, and know how it would come across to a jazz fan from a different background. But the music is all well played and beautifully sung, and as a record of one London community’s cultural adaption it sits comfortably alongside the likes of Lord Kitchener’s London is the Place for Me. And London Yidden – you need to hear this! Finally, but not unimportantly, the very first track, Max Bacon’s Beigels, proves once-and-for-all how we should pronounce beigels in this country – they’re beigels not bagels!!!