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Origins of "Miserlu," the melody

A couple of years ago, someone posted to the Jewish-Music mailing list asking about a version of "Miserlu" played at a football game at Foxboro Stadium. I gave the stock reply about the origins of the Miserlu dance, and dutifully guessed that the version played was that classic of California surf rock, the Dick Dale "Miserlu." So far, so good. But this morning, following another excellent Balkan night (more, anon, time permitting, in another post), I noticed a rather excellent email that one of Balkan Night's organizers, Henry Goldberg, wrote explaining the origins of the tune, itself. It seems worth presenting to a larger audience:

… Agreed, the song does not have Klezmer origins, but, not to put too fine a point on it—that posting on EEFC provided by Ari describes how the DANCE was invented in 1945 in Pittsburgh and spread from there.

The music had been recorded earlier. There are many other informative posts on this topic to the EEFC mailing list (which can be searched from that same link) but Wikipedia more efficiently says:

[added 3/16/08] And I covered this in even more detail last year, with information supplied by Andy Tannenbaum. Take a look at The roots of the tune, Miserlu

"The song's oriental melody has been so popular for so long that many people, from Morroco to Iran, will sometimes claim it to be a folk song from their own country. In fact, the song was first performed by the Michalis Patrinos rembetiko band in Athens, in 1927. As with almost all early rembetiko songs (a style that originated with the Greek refugees from Asia Minor), the song's actual composer was never identified, and its ownership rested with the band leader. The melody was most likely composed collaboratively by the group, as was often the case at the time; the initial lyrics were almost certainly by Patrinos himself. In Patrinos' heavy Smyrniot accent, the song's title was pronounced "Musurlu".

Initially, the song was composed as a Greek zeibekiko dance, at a slower tempo and a different key than the orientalized performances that most are familiar with today. This was the style of first known recording by Michalis Patrinos in Greece, circa 1930; a second recording was made by Patrinos in New York, in 1931."

[NOTE - this version was reissued on "TO ELLINIKO TRAGOUDI STIN AMERIKI" on the Lyra label.]

"In 1941, Nick Roubanis, a Greek-American music instructor released a jazz instrumental arrangement of the song, crediting himself as the composer. Since his claim was never challenged, he is still officially credited as the composer today. S. Russell, N. Wise and M. Leeds later wrote English lyrics to the song. Roubanis is also credited with fine tuning the key and the melody, giving it the oriental sound that the song is associated with today."

This page has a fun discography: www.spaceagepop.com/misirlou.htm

Of course, for me (and to bring it closer to home), the "authoritative version" of my youth is the one by Geula Gill on Elektra EKS7206.