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Jews and Jazz: Improvising Ethnicity – A Talk with Charles Hersch

Date: Thu. April 6th, 2017, 5:00 pm-6:00 pm
Location: Clark Hall Room 206, 11130 Bellflower Road, Cleveland, OH 44106

Charles HerschMusic has been an important vehicle for ethnic groups to assert and explore their identities. In his new book Jews and Jazz: Improvising Ethnicity, Professor Hersch looks at how Jewish musicians have used jazz to construct three kinds of identities: to become more American, to emphasize their minority outsider status, and to assert their Jewishness. This talk focuses on “Jewish jazz” – attempts beginning in the 1960s to combine “Jewish music” and jazz. Hersch analyzes these musical forays as attempts to explore and expand modern American Jewish identity. Though Jewish jazz began tentatively, reflecting the assimilationist leanings of American Jews in the post-World War II era, later Jewish musicians sought to expand Jewish identity to fit a multicultural society. At its best, Jewish jazz reaffirmed Jewishness while revealing connections with African Americans, with whom Jews have shared a diasporic, urban American culture. This story sheds light on the cultural politics of ethnicity – and you’ll get to hear some great music to boot!

Professor Hersch, Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, Cleveland State University, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, focusing on political theory and public law. In addition to articles on political theory and public law, his research has focused on political analysis of the arts, including two previous books. Democratic Artworks: Politics and the Arts from Trilling to Dylan (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998) considered understandings of democracy in the criticism of the “New York Intellectuals;” Jazz from Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite through Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane; and the music and lyrics of Bob Dylan. Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007) probes the history of New Orleans to uncover the web of racial interconnections and animosities from which jazz arose. Professor Hersch shows how musicians such as Jelly Roll Morton, Nick La Rocca and Louis Armstrong negotiated New Orleans’ complex racial rules and, in working to widen their audiences by incorporating different traditions undermined racial boundaries and transformed American culture. In the words of the New Orleans Times Picayune, the book “orchestrates voices of musicians on both sides of the racial divide in underscoring how porous the music made the boundaries of race and class.”

Co-sponsored by the Center for Policy Studies; Center for Popular Music Studies; Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities; and Program in Judaic Studies.

Free and open to the public.  Refreshment reception will take place before the talk.

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