A non-for-profit organization comprised of music-loving Jews, The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation illuminates the forgotten corners of Jewish music in America. The Society is perhaps best known for “Jewface,” a collection of vaudeville-era minstrelrsy like “Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars” — songs that strike present-day listeners as the Jewish version of Uncle Tomming. Other compilations suggest that for Idelsohn’s curators, history is synonymous with crossover kitchiness — black and Latin artists interpreting Jewish classics, or the legendary Barry Sisters singing Yiddish versions of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” or “My Way.”
Such compilations have their appeal but they strike me as self-limiting — how many times can one listen to “I’m a Yiddish Cowboy?” At least that’s what I thought before I actually listened to an Idelsohn CD. But after keeping its latest on heavy rotation in my car for the last few days, I’m happy to report that although it is a little uneven, the album does exactly what you’d want — it entertains, instructs, and even gets you thinking,
“Songs for the Jewish-American Jet Set: The Tikva Records Story” is, as its title suggests, selections from the catalogue of Tikva Records, a now-defunct New York-based company that was active from the late 1940s to the early ’70s. In addition to the CD, Idelsohn is also launching a “pop-up” Tikva Records store in San Francisco’s Mission District throughout December to promote the project and to host a series of concerts, film screenings, lectures, and other events.