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Bagels and Bongos, an album of traditional Jewish tunes adapted to sultry Latin rhythms that sold more than 2 million copies worldwide when it was released in 1959, was re-released by Reboot Stereophonic in 2006. The long coveted but rarely heard 1959 gem from the Irving Fields Trio, is a window into another world.جخج‌جخجصimmigrant hustlers with bongos on the brain, music fiends tuned into ethnic radio and finding Spanish and Yiddish fading into each other. A story of the classic American criss-cross culture swap, Bagels and Bongos was the crown jewel of the Jewish-Latin craze.

To read more about Irving Fields and Bagels and Bongos click "more".
From Stereophonic Records:

Mr. Field’s world is a slice of Old New York, a city that still gathers in cocktail lounges and hotel bars and orders highballs and whose familiarity with the great American songbook extends beyond Rod Stewart renditions." -- New York Times 12/25/04

In the 40s and 50s Irving Fields was the king of the Jewish-Latin craze, holding court at elegant spots like the Waldorf’s Crest Room. After hitting it hard with “Miami Beach Rhumba” (Cugat covered it, then Tito Puente), Fields struck gold with a full-length experiment he dubbed Bagels & Bongos. Jewish gems re-tooled in Latin tempos.

Born in 1915 on New York's Lower East Side, Irving started playing piano when he was 8, wrote his first song when he was 9, and his stylistic leanings would change forever when, at 17, he landed his first major gig as the resident pianist for a local cruise ship line bound for Cuba and Puerto Rico. It was the height of Caribbean nightclub elegance, and Fields fell in love with the music he heard percolating from the sultry bandstands of San Juan and Havana. “I went crazy for Latin music,” he recalls, “I just loved it. I brought Latin music back to New York and I featured the rhythms, tempos, and selections in my repertoire. The rhythms were exciting because you had the rumba, the merengue, the cha cha cha, the mambo, the cumbia, tango, paso doble-an assortment of wonderful rhythms.”

Bagels and Bongos was recorded in Boston, over two days in 1959, but its mix of Jewish melodies and Latin American rhythms was born over a decade earlier in Miami Beach. Fields was in the middle of waltzing through French favorite “Autumn Leaves” during a show at the Versailles Hotel when the crowd-mostly Jewish-demanded Fields' trademark Latin sound. So mid-song, a waltz became a rumba and “Autumn Leaves” became “Miami Beach Rumba.” It would be Fields/Campos' first official purple-label single for RCA Victor in 1946, complete with bi-lingual Spanish and English lyrics from Johnnie Camacho and Albert Gamse.

Clearly, it was time for a full-scale Latin-Jewish experiment, and Fields was just the man for the job. He recorded a bunch of Jewish songs in Latin Tempo, Milt Gabler over at Decca loved it, gave him a deal. It soon became a smash all over the world-Italy, Japan, everybody loved it even Eva Garnder who frequented The Crest Room, Jackie Gleason, and Eleanor Roosevelt were regulars at the Mermaid Room, even Leona Helmsley was a fan!

Bagels and Bongos followed a simple formula. Take the most recognizable Jewish melodies and match them to their tempo-appropriate Latin rhythm. So “Belz Mein Shtetle Belz”, gets a rumba makeover, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” wakes up as a mambo, “Hava Nagila” becomes “Havannah Negila” and “Rabbi Eile Melech” is re-born as “Miami Merengue.” For Fields, the two musical traditions shared common sensibilities and feelings. “The emotion of Jewish music just blends beautifully with Latin music,” he says. “There is a similarity between the two-they both have a soulful feeling. The melodies go together beautifully with the rhythms. Which is why I had never one complaint from the Jewish community because I never messed with the melody. I just added the rhythm, so people could dance to it.”

Bagels and Bongos was a mid-century smash, enough to inspire Decca to order a sequel, the inventively-titled “More Bagels and Bongos.” The success of the Bagels albums and Fields' continued passion for Latin music led to a string of globe-trotting follow-ups: “Pizza and Bongos” (Fields goes Italian), “Champagne and Bongos” (Fields goes French), and “Bikinis and Bongos” (Fields goes Hawaiian). “Every country has beautiful music and beautiful melodies,” Fields says, “There is no language barrier with my music.”

Yet it was the original Bagels and Bongos artifact and not any of its United Nations of Melody clones that made Fields a legend on the supper club circuit and established Fields as a cult hero to jazz musicians with an ear for style-swapping. More than any of his other recordings, it captured what Fields did best: connecting disparate cultural dots with an arsenal of Latin tempos while never losing sight of the immortality of a good melody. Indeed, Fields may have done his four stints at Carnegie Hall, headlined the London Palladium, and appeared on The Milton Berle Show and The Tonight Show, but he's always been, above all else, a “room” musician. Fields plays rooms-- the Mocambo, the Stork, the Mermaid, the St. Moritz-because they're intimate places where the quality of interaction between the performer and the people he plays for is the measure of success. It's a dying musical tradition of melody and civility that Fields, now in his 90s and still playing, single-handedly kept alive. “I just want to satisfy the people,” he says. “I love to play a patron's favorite song. I love to play beautiful music, melodic music…music that survives the years.” .
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