Yiddisher jazz is not something you’re likely to find in the ‘genres and moods’ section of Spotify, but from the 1920s-1950s, swinging hot Jewish dance bands were the toast of the East End. Levy’s record shop in Whitechapel was the epicentre of this scene, a place where the community could buy 78rpm discs with klezmer and swing music set into their grooves. Outside the store’s entrance, couples could be found waltzing to songs about Jewish life.
Until oral historian Alan Dein began his search for these old 78s, this epoch of East End jazz had been largely forgotten. By scouring the archives of the British Library and the Jewish Museum – and the charity shops of Golders Green – he found enough to compile into a record called: ‘Music Is the Most Beautiful Language in the World’.
At the JW3 centre this Thursday (January 30), Dein will share the stories behind these recovered tunes, while displaying rare images from the period in which they were made. It’s more than a lecture, it’s a DJ night – a chance to dance to singers like Rita Marlowe, Stepney’s ‘siren of Yiddish song’, and the thumping ‘A Kosher Fox Trot Medley (Petticoat Lane)’ by Mendel and His Mishpoche Band that gives the event its name.
The songs move from slapstick tributes to Brick Lane beigels to haunting Yiddish ballads about pre-war life. They are relics of another world, salvaged from charity shop crates. Now they’ve found a new life online, ready to pass the beautiful language of Yiddisher jazz on to new generations.