Jews in Jazz – at Hebrew College

Jews in Jazz
at Hebrew College

Boston ­ February 27, 2005
by Matthew S. Robinson

Jewish Americans and African Americans come from different places and different cultures, and yet the similarities have always persevered. Driven from their respective homelands and forced to make it as best they could in strange new lands, both groups were oppressed by the established majorities and kept out of many circles of privilege. Is it any surprise, then, that they both came together in so many ways and so many worlds, including that of artistic expression?

Such was the issue discussed at the recent presentation at Hebrew College in Newton, MA. With the help of such legends as Al Jolson, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin, lecturer Carol Marton (who serves as the choral director for Boston’s Jewish chorus Koleinu) pointed out the many similarities not only between Jewish and African-American music, but also between Jazz and the Yiddish styles these composers and performers had ringing in their heads. Though started as a lecture, the event quickly opened up into a discussion/sing-along at which parlor game conjectures became the rule.

Did Jews got into Jazz as a means of expression or simply as a way to carry on their ancestral musical traditions in a new idiom? How strong were the links between Jazz and the music of the Old Country? Though nobody can say for sure, Marton and her guests had a fun musical time trying to figure it out.