Tanz! and other great Klezmer Reissues
by Matt Temkin
Every year, hundreds of albums see the light of day, some of them become great hits; some of them are complete schlock, and a couple of really great albums get buried between the schlock and the hits. In 1956 one of the albums that got buried was the Epic label release Tantz! Epic was the brand new budget imprint of CBS (Which was part of Columbia), which today is part of Sony Music. And now, Tantz! is on the Legacy label, Sony's budget imprint for rereleases. Confused, don't worry this is not of that much importance, just a tidbit that may be important to a few.
In Henry Sapoznik's liner notes to the rerelease, he mentions that the album tanked the first time around as a result of sour promotion, and while we hope that the promotion will be better, it does have the same great cover that Henry kvetchs about. I happen to like the cover, I have no idea what it has to do with the music on the album, but as record covers go, it has a nice theme. The cover depicts people dancing, and this makes sense because the album is called Tantz! (dance). The figures do appear to be doing Israeli folk dancing, which has very little to do with the music on the album. As for the dancing couple, Henry calls them "Presbyterian-looking dancers. The other side of the cover isn't free of Henry's sharp witted comments either. The liner notes by Ivan Fiedel (son of the great Klezmer cornetist Alex Fiedel), "read as if they were written for someone who was not only not a Jew but had never met one." It is interesting to read the original liner notes and compare them with the new ones. Unless your vision is amazing though, you are going to need a magnifying glass to read them.
This cardboard enclosure helped lead to, as Henry says, "CBS didn't release this record so much as allow it to escape." And I personally see no reason that Sony won't let this happen again. So, before you finish reading this review, run to your local record store and either pick up or order a copy right away.
Tantz! is the brainchild of the musical genius Sam Musiker, and features himself and his father in-law, Dave Tarras. Now, Dave Tarras is well known, however, Sam Musiker is not quite so well known today. The story of Sam Musiker goes a little bit like this. After Benny Goodman left the Gene Krupa band, the guy who held the featured clarinet chair for a while was Sam Musiker. There, he picked up some great Jazz chops, both playing and arranging. These chops are clearly being shown off on Tantz! If you want to know more about Sam's history, you're going to have to buy the album so you can read the notes.
The music on the album draws from a mix of theater tunes, traditional tunes, and new tunes by both Dave Tarras and Sam Musiker. While the album was recorded in 1955 and released in 1956, the album itself is not dated at all. The music is still fresh enough to sound hip. The Jazz influences can be heard both in the new tunes by Sam Musiker and the background parts of the entire album.
One of the advantages in regard to re-issues is the addition of bonus tracks that come on a lot of albums. These add to the value of the release showing us some of the alternate takes that were kept off of the original release. Another aspect of the re-releases is that of the track markings get remarked. Medleys that might have existed on the original release have been divided up, and the time when you have to flip the record over is gone. This album is thus affected, but the label from the A side is on the inside of the back cover, and from that information, it is pretty easy to figure out where the track divisions go on the second side.
The bonus tracks more than make up for the changes in track markings. For this release, they were able to go back to the original studio tracks, and this shows off on the bonus tracks. It says that there are two bonus tracks, but we actually get three and a half new versions of the two tunes. These are worth the price of admission, by themselves, so if you haven't purchased your copy of Tantz! go get it.
Now, if they would only tell us who the other percussionist is on Der Yemenite Tantz?
Two other collections were released at the same by Legacy, Abe Schwartz, "The Klezmer King" and "From Avenue A to the Great White Way; Yiddish & American Popular Songs from 1914 -1950." The Abe Schwartz disk has 25 classic recordings of Abe Schwartz both as band leader and sideman. "From Avenue A to the Great White Way" is a double disk of 50 sides, 9 of which were never before released. The premise of this disk is to show the many ways in which Yiddish music was used in America. The recordings start with straight ethnic "Jewish" recordings and continue through Pop, Jazz, and Latin. They feature musicians such as Al Jolson, Cab Calloway, Xavier Cugat, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa. The second disk opens with recordings by Irving Berlin (singing) and Fanny Brice, not exactly the artists that one can go into their local record store and find at the top of the bin. This collection is a amazing window into recorded music history.
These are some of the best reissues to come out, not only is the selection of recordings amazing but the source material is generations better than every available before. Somehow the Metal Stampers for these 75 sides managed to survive both the depression and World War II scrap drives. The result is these recordings are as free from noise as the day that they are recorded, and improvements in technology allow the recording to play back better than the equipment of the time would have allowed. What this means to your ears, is that recording sounds just like the musicians where in the studio yesterday. These are recordings that should be on the shelf of anyone who loves Jewish Music, not only are they a great survey of the music recorded in the first half of the 20th century, but they have some of the best liner notes written about Jewish music in the past 20 years.
One last note, if you have never had the opportunity to see what the labels on 78's looked like this is your chance. The Sony art department has done a wonderful job recreating the feel of the old 78 labels, and on the Tantz! disk the label to the disk as the graphic and texts on the CD's themselves.
by Matt Temkin, 11 Jun 2002.