About This Site
Reality is stubborn and troublesome and often un-Googleable.
I was transfixed by Sephardic music when I first heard it thirty years ago. I gradually began to buy recordings in the genre and then decided in the mid-1990s to collect every recording I could that had even one Ladino song. Shortly afterward, I started work on a comprehensive discography of Judeo-Spanish song on LPs, cassettes and CDs. I did not intend to research the 78s, but the challenge ensnared me and required an almost completely separate research effort.
For the modern recordings, I drew on discographies by Professors Judith R. Cohen and Aki Yerushalayim, supplemented with wide-ranging online library research. I use Google extensively, searching for example on Ladino song titles in order to find recordings that include them.
I reviewed some prior discographic research into Sephardic 78s, by Professor David Bunis in his "Sephardic Studies" volume. The core of the research was scanning complete press runs of the Ladino language newspapers La Varah and La Amerika on microfilm, looking for recording advertisements. I also sourced copies of whatever catalogs I could, principally Turkish but also French and elsewhere in the Sephardi world. These catalogs are actually even rarer than the 78s themselves!
Virtually all 78s have what are called "matrix numbers" etched into the shellac, between the last few grooves and the label. These numbers were entered into company studio logs when the songs were recorded. I tapped into a worldwide network of collectors and researchers with expertise in different labels. These researchers are often then able to explain where and when a given recording was mastered. See the Acknowledgements below for specifics.
I conducted primary research at the Library of Congress, the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the New York Public Library the Instituto Arias Montano in Madrid and at the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library at Harvard.
I contacted collectors worldwide with substantial
Sephardic 78s collections, including in-person visits in California and
New Jersey. Last, because I also did a Union Catalog for the 78s and
know which institutions and collectors own which recordings, I am slowly assembling copies for
A few years ago, I began using the digitized collection to informally support researchers. For example, Professor Edwin Seroussi was writing a fascinating paper on the Sephardic song, A la una. He had 12 versions available to him at the Jewish Music Research Centre. I sent him an additional 100 performances, complicating his life immensely! I have also provided similar anthologies for Professor Seroussi's graduate seminars at Hebrew University.
The Jewish Music Research Centre and its AMTI label have released An Early 20th-Century Sephardi Troubadour: The Historical Recordings of Haim Effendi of Turkey. This monumental 4-CD re-release with 59 songs chronicles the liturgical and secular output of this extremely influential Sephardic 78-rpm recording artist. I sourced the recordings for this set, which was a decade in the making. See more here.
In the best of all possible worlds...the user of folk music
material would need only punch a few keys to gain information on all
occurrences of a given ballad...or by a given performer -- whether
recorded on commercial 78 or compact disc...
In an age that has seen the re-release of literally thousands of 78s, the current crop of Sephardic 78s available in modern formats is meager, indeed. Known copies of over one-half of the 78 rpm recordings discussed here survive in private or public collections. We will collaborate with collectors and record companies to spur the re-release of these 78 r.p.m. recordings on CD and the Web.
To date we have processed close to 8,000 song performances, along with accompanying graphics. When done, the digitized collection should include well over 90% of the modern corpus, and half or more of the 78s. The future sephardicmusic.org site will list all known commercial recordings of Sephardic music, including sound samples of over 10,000 performances and cover graphics. Song titles in the broader discography will be linked as they are now for the 78s, enabling users to easily locate all versions of a particular song. We will include selected song texts as well.
We would also like integrate the discographic records from this site into Hebrew University's library system, for the benefit of researchers and libraries worldwide.
It will take time, money and outside expertise to build future versions of this site and integrate with Hebrew University. Please click here if you would like to offer your support.
My work relied on the help of literally hundreds of people. Please see the detailed list here. Special thanks are due the following individuals and organizations.
This site is made possible in part through the generosity of the Maurice J. Amado Foundation, Mr. M. Jack Mayesh and Family, and Mr. Len Blavatnik of Access Industries. A grant from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) provided assistance with research travel.
I thank the following organizations for the opportunity to present earlier versions of this work:
Geraldine Auerbach and the London International Jewish Music
Conference, Jewish Music Institute-SOAS,
The following individuals and families have generously donated Sephardic and related recordings to this effort:
I appreciate my fruitful partnership with Hebrew University's Jewish Music Research Centre. Edwin Seroussi, Director and Rivka Havassy provided access to the invaluable Isaac and Emily Sene collection. We have also collaborated on Professor Seroussi's research into the song A la Una and a 4-CD re-release of the music of Haim Effendi. I look forward to more exciting projects in the future.
I was helped both tirelessly and cheerfully by Jean Williams, Steffie Lowder and others on the capable reference staff at the local Cary Memorial Library (Lexington, MA).
My discographic research drew directly on works published by Professors Judith R. Cohen and David Bunis, and the Aki Yerushalayim newsletter. Professor Cohen also answered dozens upon dozens of questions over the years and graciously shared detailed information from her discographies and personal collection of recordings.
For detailed unpublished information on multiple recordings, I would like to thank Joe Elias, Alan Gottschalk, Gilbert Humbert, Professor Martin Schwartz, Jan Waas and Steve Shapiro. Professor Schwartz also alerted me to M. Jack Mayesh and Hugo Strötbaum, for which I will always be grateful. Christian Zwarg provided helpful Odeon dating information. Nat Tinanoff and his diligent team at the Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic University provided vital digitized recordings and graphics. Simon Rutberg at Hatikvah Music and Chantal Haziot at Diasporama helped ferret our countless obscure recordings. I spent hours researching the massive Judaica collection at Harvard's Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library; many thanks to Violet Gilboa, Charles Berlin, Virginia Danielson and Kay Kaufman Shelemay for their hospitality and assistance. Aristomenis Kaliviotis provided valuable insights into Greek recordings. Francesco Spagnolo helped me sort through a thicket of information on Italian Jewish recordings. The late Maurice Ninio welcomed me to his home and shared a trove of materials about his aunt, Victoria Hazan. In addition to his financial support, M. Jack Mayesh provided rare and important documentation about his father, Jack Mayesh.
Thank you to the participants at www.78online.com.The same to my resourceful listmates at the Jewish-Music mailing list. Through Ari Davidow's unstinting efforts a worldwide community of researchers and enthusiasts can find and share information on Jewish music.
Any discographer whose work includes Gramophone and Zonophone titles owes a deep debt of gratitude to Alan Kelly, and I am no exception.
I am particularly grateful to Michael Aylward. He took time out from his own monumental study of European Jewish 78s to provide detailed information on Gramophone and other labels. In addition to countless catalogs and logbook transcriptions he also provided substantial translations.
Heartfelt thanks also to Hugo Strötbaum, who supplied helpful catalogs, copies of logbook listings, dating research and trenchant analysis, all spiced with humor.
This site as you see it would simply not have been possible without the many contributions from Messrs. Aylward and Strötbaum. It is very much their achievement as well.
In 2009, Dr. Judith R. Cohen and Joel Bresler collaborated on an article titled, "The Music of the Sephardim," in Early Music America magazine, Volume 15, Number 4, Winter, 2009. The article details how the Early Music movement "discovered" Sephardic music and perform it as if it were Early Music. Read the entire article here. Reprinted by kind permission of the magazine.
In 2005, Catherine Madsen described this project in In Search of Sephardic Music (Pakn Treger magazine, Summer 2005/ 5765, Number 48)
"Bresler is preparing to bring up his Web site, tracking down and digitizing the remaining Sephardic 78s, and seeking funding to complete a comprehensive...discography. His work could serve as a pilot project for the digital preservation of other musics...As has sometimes happened before in the recording world, one man’s obsession may be the whole world’s gain.
About the Author
Joel Bresler is an accomplished executive and entrepreneur with exceptional experience leading corporations and new ventures in business development and general management. Key past accomplishments include business development for best-selling electronic media and software products. Joel co-founded two firms sold to public companies, including one to Microsoft.
He is currently the Director of Commercialization at Northeastern University, where he manages commercialization and business development activities for the Center for Research Innovation, licensing the University’s inventions to existing businesses and spin-out companies. His portfolio includes nanotechnology, medical devices, cleantech, robotics, catalysts, Homeland Security, advanced materials and the life sciences.
This site is dedicated to my children Abigail and Matthew and to my wife, Dr. Judith A. Osher, for her unwavering support.
The author with Mrs. Sylvia Cohen, who
Copyright 2008 - 2012, Joel Bresler