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Institute of Jazz Studies Spearheads Exhibit on Jews, African Americans, and Jazz

September 11, 2015
Benny Goodman, 1980.  Goodman, clarinetist and bandleader known as the “King of Swing,” was born of Jewish immigrants in Chicago and played a significant role in the racial integration of jazz in the 1930s.

Benny Goodman, 1980. Goodman, clarinetist and bandleader known as the “King of Swing,” was born of Jewish immigrants in Chicago and played a significant role in the racial integration of jazz in the 1930s. Photo by Tad Hershorn.

The Institute of Jazz Studies and Dana Library are collaborating with Newark cultural and community organizations—including the Congregation Ahavas Shalom, the Jewish Museum of New Jersey, Clinton A.M.E. Church, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and WBGO—to chronicle the interactions between Jews and African Americans, as well as prominent Newark institutions and musicians, throughout the history of jazz to the present day.

Entitled Jews, African Americans and Jazz:  Cultural Intersections in Newark and Beyond, the exhibit highlights the many roles that Jews have assumed in jazz, from musicians, composers, and songwriters, to record company executives and producers, to writers, critics, historians, photographers, and more.

The exhibit will address longstanding and sensitive issues that arise when evaluating the contributions of other groups, including Jews, to an essentially African American art form.  These issues include the blackface tradition, most popularly recalled by Al Jolson’s performance in The Jazz Singer (1927), and the question of whether those non-African Americans were guilty of appropriating jazz to succeed in the entertainment business.

Also examined will be the degradation of Jews, African Americans, and jazz through Nazi propaganda, which disparaged jazz as “degenerate art,” as well as the writings of automobile magnate Henry Ford, who railed against “Jewish Jazz” and its creators for their allegedly insidious monopolization of American popular music.

Newarkers to be profiled include Wayne Shorter, Sarah Vaughan, Amiri Baraka, Lorraine Gordon, Rhoda Scott, James Moody, James P. Johnson, Grachan Moncur III, Teddy Reig, Paul Bacon, Barbara Kukla, Dan Morgenstern, Ed Berger, and others.

The exhibit will also illuminate the state of jazz in Newark today.

“An exhibit that chronicles the relationship between Jews and African Americans as it relates to America’s only original contribution to world culture is long overdue,” said Vincent Pelote, director of operations for the Institute of Jazz Studies. “The finished project will be something that all the institutions involved in its creation can take pride in.”

The exhibit opens to the public at a reception 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, October 18 at the Jewish Museum of New Jersey, housed at Congregation Ahavas Shalom, 145 Broadway in Newark, and concludes on December 6. The reception is free and open to the public. Other events include: Jazz for Teens at New Jersey Performing Arts Center, November 15; Mansa Mussa, Jewish Museum of New Jersey, November 22; screening of The Gig, Institute of Jazz Studies, John Cotton Dana Library, Rutgers University-Newark; and closing reception with pianist, composer and historian Ben Sidran.  For more information, contact Max Herman, president, Jewish Museum of New Jersey, or Tad Hershorn, archivist, Institute of Jazz Studies.