Monday, January 22, 2007

Album Art as Social History (sort of)

I attended a lecture on Jewish music recently given by a respected university researcher. In this lecture, he equated Jewish music with klezmer. He then spent an hour using klezmer as a lens to inspect Jewish and African-American relations vis a vis the relationship of klezmer and jazz. A big part of his discussion was using klezmer as a metaphor for Jewish culture and religious life. You know how this goes, klezmer fizzled as American Jews assimilated in the first decades of the 20th century only to be revived in the late 1970's as the children (or grandchildren) of assimilated Jews tried to find meaning in their religion (or at least, in there cultural history). So the story goes.

But that story misses the point that music was still being made by Jews for a Jewish audience. And I'm not talking about Chassidic music, though there was rich vein of that happening too. I mean a whole world of Jewish artists interacting with American pop culture including swing bands, the Barry Sisters, the Irving Fields Trio and all of the other artists working then and now to write songs, play music, and celebrate their Jewish identity.

The folks at "You Will Know Us By The Trail of Our Vinyl..." get it. Here's there motto:
"the history of the Jews in America has been spelled out in books and dramatized on the big screen. But it has never been told through LP covers. Until now."
They've got a blog that discusses Jewish music and Jewish culture, by presenting and analyzing Jewish album art. And what a culture it is...

Now, I'm not claiming that these albums and the others that have been so lovingly presented by the "Trail of our Vinyl" guys represent our finest musical moments. But they're more reflective of our cultural history than the klezmer to klezmer myth.

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