Brooks Arthur brings stars’ hearts and humor to ‘Jewish Songbook’ CD
The decor in Brooks Arthur’s office chronicles what Billboard calls his “career as a behind the scenes superstar of the record industry.”
One photograph depicts Carole King hugging Arthur while working with him after her LP “Tapestry” hit in the 1970s. Nearby is a picture of Bruce Springsteen, who recorded three albums (and his hit song, “Born to Run”) at Arthur’s old 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, N.Y. Pasted to the wall are images from the comedy albums Arthur produced for Jackie Mason, Robin Williams and Adam Sandler, who has employed Arthur as the music supervisor on most of his films — including the new Israeli action spoof “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.” Arthur’s office, in fact, is directly across the hall from the comedy impresario’s office at Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions in Culver City.
Sandler is just one of the artists featured on Arthur’s latest endeavor, “The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People,” a recently released CD of new and veteran artists performing classic Jewish songs. Sandler croons a heartfelt (and joke-free) rendition of “Hine Ma Tov” in a duet with his cantor, Marcelo Gindlin of Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (the sheet music from that recording session is taped above Arthur’s desk).
The album’s other 12 tracks include comic Rob Schneider doing the 1940s novelty tune “Bagels and Lox”; saxophonist Dave Koz in an instrumental version of the Yiddish song “Raisins and Almond,”; comic Robert Smigel adding irreverent new lyrics to “Mahzel (Means Good Luck)” in the persona of his puppet character, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; and “Seinfeld” alumnus Jason Alexander in “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max,” an Allan Sherman ditty about a salesman with too many relatives.
Promo Video: ‘The Jewish Songbook: The Heart And Humor Of A People’
Arthur, sporting a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, says the idea for the “songbook” stems from the childhood years, when he worked at his father’s Brooklyn candy store and avidly listened to Jewish radio.
“All four of my grandparents came from Russia and Poland and spoke Yiddish fluently,” Arthur recalled. “I used to love getting together with them and my parents and listening to the Yiddish station WEVD, because the music made them so happy. After the shows were over, they would go back to their daily routines, but I used to witness them coming alive listening to the Hebrew and Yiddish songs interspersed with comic ditties.
“It’s a dying art form,” Arthur said of that format. “I wanted to produce an album that hearkens back to those days.”
On the CD, Arthur himself performs “Sheyn Vi Di L’vone” (“Beautiful Like the Moon”) with Lainie Kazan; he says he discovered he had a voice while humming along to such tunes on WEVD.
“My parents’ candy store was at the subway station at 22nd Avenue-Bay Parkway, and, at age 9, I’d take the train another five stops to Coney Island, where I could pop some quarters into a booth and make a little acetate recording, a ‘single’ of myself singing,” he recalled.
Arthur also was cantor of the junior congregation at his Orthodox shtibl before launching a career as an audio engineer, overseeing 1960s hits such as “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “The Locomotion” and “Leader of the Pack.” Eventually he won grammys and produced LPs by artists such as Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli.
He segued into movie work when producer Jerry Weintraub asked him to be the music supervisor for his film “The Karate Kid” in 1982. The same year, Weintraub introduced Arthur to Chabad of Westwood, where the musician experienced a Jewish reawakening while dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah.
“I began to take Hebrew lessons and became very interested in learning,” Arthur recalled. “I found myself sponging up Judaism; I hadn’t been drinking that kind of elixir since my bar mitzvah.”
Arthur drew Sandler’s attention in the early 1990s, after he earned a Grammy nomination for producing Jackie Mason’s “The World According to Me.”
“I absolutely loved Adam on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” said Arthur, who demonstrates by imitating Sandler’s florid “SNL” character Operaman. “I loved his brand of humor, and I’m so lucky that he liked me.”
Their first album, “They’re All Gonna Laugh At You,” went double platinum, and Arthur went on to produce all five of Sandler’s CDs (copies are lined up on the console of Happy Madison’s recording studio next door). Arthur became a regular member of Sandler’s creative posse of friends and collaborators, co-writing Sandler’s animated Chanukah film, “Eight Crazy Nights,” and even playing a part in the success of the legendary “Chanukah Song.”
“I saw Adam performing it in its embryonic form on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” Arthur said, “and while he was still on the air I called his apartment in Manhattan and left the message: ‘Sandman, this is a reason to make your next album.'” (Sandler awoke him at 2 a.m. to agree.)
Arthur initially assumed Sandler might do a humorous piece for the “Jewish Songbook,” but Sandler said he “wanted to do something that makes your heart hurt,” Arthur recalled. His choice was “Hine Ma Tov,” because hearing his cantor sing the melody reminded him of going to synagogue as a boy in Manchester, N.H.
Arthur says the other “songbook” musicians also turned nostalgic in the studio about their childhood.
“They were conscious of keeping alive these great Jewish songs of the past,” he said.