The Mamboniks

A repository for articles and artifacts regarding the intriguing history of Jews in Latin music.

THE MAMBONIKS began in 2001 as research for a book that remains unpublished. I hope that sharing my interviews and materials will help broaden the understanding of this unique moment in Jewish cultural history.

All material copyright Mark Schwartz, 2006


Players' Club, Pt. 1

Players' Club is a remix, or oral history if you like, of mambonik interviews I've done. It appeared in its entirety in the quarterly Guilt & Pleasure.

Dramatis Personae:

Rae Arroyo: Bronx born Latin music DJ and entrepreneur from a Turkish Jewish family
Steven Bernstein: New York based trumpet player and leader of Sex Mob
Larry Harlow: “El Judio Maravilloso,” bandleader and piano and keyboard player and salsa producer, director of the legendary Fania All-Stars
David Hersher : Bass player with Orchestra Broadway and Eddie Palmieri’s groups, alongside his brother, Ira, on piano
Charlie Hersh: Reed man with various New York bands, including Alfredito’s
Andy Kaufman: Owner of New York’s Birdland nightclub and Latin music record producer
Don Kellin: Palladium habitué and mambo dancer
Charles Klaif: Piano player with the orchestras of Alfredito, Xavier Cugat, Tony Norvo, Joe Quijano, Emilio Reyes, and others
Stanley Lewis: Partner with George Goldner in Cotique Records
Vincent Livelli: New York dancer and Latin music enthusiast
Eddie Palmieri: Latin music piano maestro and leader of the legendary La Perfecta
Schep Pullman: Saxophonist with Tito Puente’s orchestra
Art Raymond: Pioneering Latin music DJ, later hosted the long-running Jewish music programs “Raisins & Almonds” and the “Sunday Simcha”
Howard Roseff: Partner with Sidney Siegel in Seeco Records and Tropical Records
Jimmy Sabater: Vocalist with the Joe Cuba Sextet, native of Puerto Rico
Pete Socolow: New York pianist and reed man with dozens of Jewish bands, including those of Dave Tarras and the Epstein Brothers.
Mike Terrace: Dance instructor at the Concord and other Catskills hotels
Norby Walters: Nightclub owner and later Hollywood impresario
Dan Weinstein: Latin music reed man in Los Angeles
Adele Zeretsky: Wife of bandleader Al “Alfredito” Levy and Catskills habitué

Charles Klaif: Every affair -- a wedding, a bar-mitzvah, a retirement dinner -- always had live music. No one would ever think of having any type of affair without live music. That was the first thing, who’s the band? As a matter of fact, I played bar-mitzvahs where it was Emilio Reyes, Tito Puente, and Duke Ellington – at a bar-mitzvah!

Eddie Palmieri: You used Jewish musicians, or you didn’t have a band! They did the show bands, everything.

Charles Klaif: In those days, Latin piano players weren’t as well versed as they are today with playing jazz and American music. They really did one thing, which was being a good Latin piano player. That’s why I had the advantage over them… We could play the music authentically, we could read, and we could fake American music.

Eddie Palmieri: They became quite astute as Latin players…. So if you wanted quality from your timbre, your attack, your intonation, then you had to go for the American players and they were mostly Jewish who ran the ballgame.

Dan Weinstein: Where there’s plenty of dancers, there’s always gonna be musicians learning to play that music because there’s work. Because of the job. That’s what’s important. Apart from the artistic affinity for something. It’s a job skill, you better learn it if you wanna make a living.

Eddie Palmieri: Jewish players wouldn’t stay with any band steady. You booked ‘em. Except a steady band, for a while they’d stay -- Tito Puente had his four trumpets for a while. But in general, they were all doing one-nighters. Club dates is what they called them. You went to the union hall on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays and you booked everyone you could find.

Pete Sokolow: Unfortunately, Jewish musicians didn’t respect the masters of their own thing. Jewish musicians did not. It was, “Eh, who wants to play this garbage.”

Schep Pullman: I got a call to play for permanent with Tito Puente.….. I was in heaven, man. I walk into this big auditorium at the Malibu, and that was my start with Tito. The beginning of nine years of nothing but sex and good times.

Steven Bernstein: You could make a living playing in Tito Puente’s band. He had four trumpets back then, four trombones and three saxophones. Those cats were making a living. They would play Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and playing doubles and triples on weekends. The thing about Latin bands is they employed large amounts of musicians.

Schep Pullman: From ’57 we did the Palladium, ballrooms in Manhattan, ballrooms in Brooklyn, ballrooms in the afterhours clubs in the Bronx. We were working seven days a week, and Saturdays we’d do four jobs before Saturday night into Sunday afternoon when we’d work again. I’ll give a schedule: From 9-1 we’d work at Riverside Plaza on 71st St, we would go from 1-3 at the Hotel Taft Grill, then at three o’clock we’d go up to the Bronx and play an after-hours till six. In the Bronx it was after-hours clubs. They were in lofts, most of them probably were illegal. Then you’d go back to Manhattan and have to be up for a 3 o’clock matinee at the Chateau Madrid and in the evening back to the Palladium. We were working a steady Monday night, Tuesday night, and Wednesday night at the Palladium. Seven nights.