Orchestra lui Harţegan şi Zmed – Învârtita din Detroit

This is the first Romanian track I’ve featured on the site. There were a considerable number of Romanian-Americans that recorded vernacular music for numerous U.S.-based labels during the 78 era. Of course, many exceptional Romanian-American musicians played and recorded what is now called klezmer music during their disc-recording careers, although most of those discs were marketed as “Jewish” or “Yiddish” rather than “Romanian” (or “Roumanian,” a spelling often used at that time). Certainly there was musical and marketing overlap between both company-created categories. In today’s case, we’ll focus on Romanian regional music recorded in the United States that falls outside the klezmer category (though, again, this is rather loosely stated).

If we look strictly at the numbers, it was the Columbia Phonograph Company in New York who first took strides in recording Romanian-Americans, cutting the most discs featuring “Romanian” music – far more than their competitors. They began on their massive, catch-all “E-series” of “foreign” discs, beginning in the early ‘teens. Over the next decade and a half, they issued well over 100 discs featuring Romanian-American artists, such as baritone A. Manescu, tenor L. Aurescu, and the Orchestra Romaneasca, whose output also was sometimes issued under the generic names “Jewish Orchestra” or “Yiddischer Orchester.” Then there was Petru Laicu’s orchestra from Banat (via Philadelphia), who recorded wonderful tracks for both Columbia and Victor. Columbia did this while also issuing Romanian discs from overseas performers, often pressed from the master discs made by their sister company in London, the Columbia Graphophone Company.

And what about the Victor label in the United States, Columbia’s primary competitor and America’s most massive record company? Well…they simply didn’t record nearly as much Romanian-American music. When they started a new Romanian series in 1929, it reached a skimpy 24 records before it was shuttled for almost ten years, and almost everything on that slender series was borrowed from overseas masters, thus not Romanian-American.

One group that briefly recorded in Chicago for both labels was a brass band-type ensemble from the mid-west led by Joan Haţegan. The fanfara music they specialized in was music from the Ardeal region, or Transylvania, especially asymmetic învârtita dances. In July of 1927, they recorded their first session, for Columbia, which consisted of two discs of lively instrumentals including two învârtitas named after local spots (Chicago and Indiana Harbor), as well as a tune from Banat, and one titled “Haţegana.” Three of four of these sides are reissued on the Blowers from the Balkans CD on Topic.

Two years later, in December of 1929, what was probably an iteration of the same band recorded five tunes for Victor in Chicago and these are lesser-known. The track featured here, “Învârtita din Detroit,” was originally titled “Învârtita lui Chita” (or “Ghita”) – possibly changed to again add some local flair. The ledgers state that these were “old songs.”

What we know of Haţegan’s band comes from musician and historian Paul Gifford, who interviewed John Boldi, a Romanian-American musician from East Chicago. Boldi claimed he played clarinet on Haţegan’s 1927 Columbia session, and he also identified a trumpet player (Ioan Stoica), a drummer (George Bocan), and a “bass horn” player named Steve Kalman on the same session. However, these 1929 recordings have different and varying instrumentation, with no trumpet or drums. It sounds to me like there are two to three clarinets, at least one sax, and a violin buried under the sound. Very likely Boldi and Kalman played on this session as well. Paul Gifford has identified the “Zmed” in the band’s name as the violinist in the group, Adrian Zmed.

Haţegan himself is a bit of a riddle. His career on disc began in the mid-1920s, playing backup for Ion Ionescu-Ardeal (1894-1935) on the small Ardyal label. It’s likely Haţegan played either clarinet or saxophone. There were several people named John/Ioan/Joan Haţegan/Harţegan/Hartigan in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio, around the same period. Laborers, all; some listed as “aliens” on official paperwork, but no definitive match to our musician. While Haţegan’s Columbia recordings stayed in print until the 40s, his Victors were never reissued.

Orchestra lui Harţegan şi Zmed – Învârtita din Detroit

Special thanks to: Paul Gifford, Sergiu Sora, and Alexander Afzali.

Label: Victor
Issue Number: V-19011
Matrix Number: BVE-57203

3 thoughts on “Orchestra lui Harţegan şi Zmed – Învârtita din Detroit

  1. Nice job. I noticed that you wrote that Boldi was from Cleveland. No, he lived in East Chicago from 1923 to 1960, or so he said. He did say that there was a lot of movement of the musicians between communities, like Canton, Cleveland, and Detroit. Petru Laicu was in Philadelphia at the time of his recordings, but he later moved to Detroit. I think that the singer “A. Manescu” was probably a Jewish singer with a Romanianized surname (Abe Man…?).

  2. Thanks for yet another gem – I bet they made some volume when you heard them live! I thought I heard a tuba or a trombone in there, but maybe it’s what you identified as the sax. Probably showing my ignorance, but I kept feeling that the piano player and the melody instruments were pulling in different directions – interesting effect.

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