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Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish

How Yiddish Songs and Synagogue Melodies Influenced Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood

Jack Gottlieb

Publication Year: 2004

Documents the influence of Jewish music on American popular song.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture

Title Page

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pp. iii


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pp. iv


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pp. vii-ix


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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xxi

While I was feeding the computer the final music example that I was to input for this book (see Ex. 11-9a), it suddenly dawned on me why I had subconsciously saved this one for last. Called “Dovid un Ester,” it comes from the title song of the very first Yiddish musical my father took me to...

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pp. 1-10

Investigations of American popular music often begin with the historical approach of “up the river from New Orleans,”1 and while the influence of jazz and its offshoots on popular song is indisputable, my book contends that within the chronicle of popular songs there was a concurrent passage “from the East...

PART I: Secular Roots

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Chapter 1: Slices of History

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pp. 12-38

Ever since music of the Ashkenaz tradition was first published in the early sixteenth century there have been unresolved questions as to what constitutes Jewish musical practice. But just as the question, “Who is a Jew?” is problematic, so answers to the question, “What is Jewish music?” are no less fragile...

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Chapter 2: The Lullaby of Brody—Childhood Experiences

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pp. 39-53

There is more than sardonic humor in the above exchange, even though the citizen’s last wish could have been fulfilled in 1991.1 For the Russian-Jewish musician of the early twentieth century, St. Petersburg was the gateway to freedom. Five million Jews had been corralled within the Pale of Settlement2 as a...

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Chapter 3: Pathways of Americanization

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pp. 54-73

The inroads made by Jewish song idioms into American popular music were mapped out by four different “A” routes: Adaptation, Adoption, Absorption, and Acculturation. Both Adaptation and Adoption function out in the open as conscious procedures on the part of authors. Absorption and...

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Chapter 4: “Writes” of Passage

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pp. 74-87

Thus far the examples of adaptation, adoption, and absorption have been loaded. Jewish material has not been so much converted as it has been recycled. 1 Although stylized for Yankee audiences, these selections retain a recognizably Jewish inflection. But it’s equally possible to adapt, adopt, and absorb...

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Chapter 5: The Wandering Gypsy

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pp. 88-100

Lola’s siren song from Damn Yankees (see Ex. 4-16c) contains a cluster of notes that rotate on the dominant axis of the key—that is, on the fifth note: “Whatever Lola wants Lo. . . .” This inverted S turn () is a seductive swivel, and, in fact, is...

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Chapter 6: “Yingish” Songs

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pp. 101-120

One of the glorious mysteries of music is how motives modify their appearance like chameleons, depending on their environs. Recall the song “My One and Only” (see Ex. 2-5), shorten its third and fourth bars (Ex.6-1a), and out wiggles a tune from the show Gypsy (Ex.6-1b). Or go back to the first bar...

PART II: Sacred Roots

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Chapter 7: The Mood of Modes

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pp. 122-144

The definition of modes in Jewish music is ambiguous. In an attempt to codify a vast repertoire of synagogue chants, late nineteenth-century cantortheorists, notably the Viennese Josef Singer (1841-1911), the Russian Pinchos [Phineas] Minkowski (1859-1924), and the Lithuanian Aaron Friedman...

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Chapter 8: Bits and Pieces

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pp. 145-153

A melody’s opening, like first impressions of people, is often the most memorable part of a tune. The motive that introduces the main theme of the background score to the 1960 film The Apartment (Ex. 8-1a) is a case in point. But this same motive can also be found inside a tune. For example, in a...

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Chapter 9: Sons of Cantors

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pp. 154-177

Although a few Russian fathers in their homeland were sanguine about musical careers for their sons—Jascha Heifetz’s father, for one—many were not. Nevertheless, in much the same way that repressive conditions plus talent could engender impressive results within Russia, so conflict between an intransigent...

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Chapter 10: Symbols of Faith in the Music of Leonard Bernstein

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pp. 178-185

Career decisions in music may have been blessed by some fathers—and apparently that was the case with cantor-fathers—but relationships between other pere-fils pairs were considerably more strained when such determinations came to the fore. As previously noted, this was not unique to Jewish...

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Chapter 11: Porter’s Trunk

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pp. 186-192

American-Jewish composers of popular music have infrequently used the indigenous augmented 2nd interval of the Ahava raba mode—fleetingly, if at all—as if they want to get away from its ghettolike connotations. It is simply too much of an eastern wail within their western...

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Chapter 12: Affinities Between Jewish Americans and African Americans

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pp. 193-223

Sixty-five years separate the first epigraph above (1934) from the second one (1999), but there is a big difference in how these accusations are presented. Constant Lambert is rightly condemned, even by Jeffrey Melnick, as an arrant anti-Semite; and he remained unrepentant as late as 1948—post war, post...

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Chapter 13: Afterword—Society and Musical Politics

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pp. 224-230

Creativity often arises out of adversity; and, paradoxically, humor flourishes in times of struggle. Only during eras of comparative tranquility and affluence does the comic muse become less vital. Indeed, since the enormity of the September 11, 2001 events in the United States, there are signs that musical...

Photo Gallery of Yiddish Songwriters and Poets

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pp. 231-235


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pp. 236-245


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pp. 246-258


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pp. 259-263

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pp. 264-266

Access to a wide-ranging, multifaceted set of disciplines was needed to spank this book into existence: knowledge of the Yiddish and Hebrew languages, as well as Russian and other tongues; familiarity with Broadway, Hollywood, and Yiddish theater musical history, along with the pop song literature of Tin Pan Alley; an understanding of Yiddish...


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pp. 267-276

Permission Credits for Musical Examples

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pp. 277-285

CD Tracks

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pp. 286-293


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pp. 294-306

Image Plates

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pp. 307-328

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485026
E-ISBN-10: 0791485021
Print-ISBN-13: 9780844411309
Print-ISBN-10: 0844411302

Page Count: 306
Illustrations: NO BACK AD?
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture

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