Does jazz have a Jewish or Israeli voice?

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Wednesday May 16, 2012

Born out of the cultural preference for rhythmically complex syncopation, call-and-response song and chant and improvisation, jazz, our great indigenous American musical form, has its roots in the South, in African-American communities. But, as blacks moved “up north” post-emancipation, the form evolved and transformed – and, unsurprisingly, Jews became great contributors to and collaborators in the form. By the early 20th century, as blacks and Jews flooded urban centers like New York, Chicago and Boston, both cultural groups struggled to escape poverty and oppression – either the slavery of the South or the anti-Semitism and pogroms of Eastern Europe. Living side by side in poor inner cities in the early 20th century, they found common ground in music that expressed both joy and pain: jazz.

From Benny Goodman to Artie Shaw, Al Jolson to Mel Torme, Buddy Rich to Stan Getz, Al Cohn to John Zorn, Jewish jazz musicians have become a staple of the heady improvisational form. The question arises: does jazz have a Jewish voice? If so, why and what might it sound like? For Charles Fishman, a long-time jazz producer and promoter and founder of the DC Jazz Festival, which this year takes place June 1-10, jazz is the sum of a multitude of musical influences.

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