Department of Music

Navigation + Search
Home / Centers and Areas of Study / Center for Popular Music Studies

Center for Popular Music Studies


Jews and Jazz: Improvising Ethnicity

A Talk With:

Charles Hersch, Ph.D. – Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science at Cleveland State University

Thursday, April 6, 2017, 5:00 p.m.
Baker-Nord Center Room
Clark Hall, Room 206
11130 Bellflower Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44106
Refreshment reception before the talk!

Music 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!

Charles Hersch 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.”

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

Mission Statement The Center for Popular Music Studies at Case Western Reserve University exists to promote scholarship and teaching about the history and significance of popular music, which includes collaborations and partnerships with institutions in Cleveland and around the world.

The Center’s goals and objectives include:

  • Support collaboration between researchers and historians of popular music by providing a variety of venues for the exchange of ideas, including but not limited to symposia and conferences.
  • Investigating and creating new approaches to teaching popular music—including performance—that are relevant to elementary, secondary, and university-level students, as well as to anyone interested in the history or importance of popular music.
  • Providing opportunities for graduate students to learn about popular music in an active, critically robust program which also gives them the opportunity to teach courses to undergraduates and community members alike.
  • Advancing emerging research in popular music through the sponsorship of visiting scholars.


Richman Family Fund Supports Center
Read the article about the major financial support received in 2016 from James “Great Neck” Richman and Elissa Richman, which has created an endowment for the Center for Popular Music Studies.

(Click image)


Page last modified: April 3, 2017