CJS fall 2023 series to feature “Jewish Encounters with Jazz”

The College of Jewish Studies fall 2023 series will highlight “Jewish Encounters with Jazz: International Perspectives.” The series will offer three events that look at jazz in the U.S., in Eastern Europe, and in modern Israel and the Middle East. On Thursday, October 12, at Binghamton University’s Casadesus Hall (located in the Fine Arts Building), jazz musicians and scholars Allen Lowe and Lewis Porter will perform. On Thursday, October 26, at the Jewish Community Center, 500 Clubhouse Rd., Vestal, the documentary film “The Jews and the Blues” will be shown. The series will conclude on Thursday, November 2, with a Zoom lecture by University of North Carolina Professor Jarrod Tanny on the history of Jews and jazz in Soviet Russia. All three presentations will begin at 7:30 pm.

“Jazz is America’s greatest contribution to world culture, and jazz has become a global phenomenon,” said organizers of the event. “Jews participated in its development and dissemination almost from the start, and have played a role in fostering jazz in many lands.”

“The Jewish Encounter with Jazz” 

On October 12, jazz musicians and historians Allen Lowe and Lewis Porter will present “The Jewish Encounter with Jazz.” They will perform compositions by Jewish composers, including their own, and discuss the key intersections between Jews and American jazz. The event is co-sponsored by the Judaic Studies and Music Departments, as well as the Harpur Dean’s Office. Those attending from the College of Jewish Studies should reserve seats in advance by sending their names to jkarp@binghamton.edu.

Lowe is a saxophonist, guitarist and music historian. He was named Artist of the Year in the 2021 Jazz Times Readers’ Poll. Lowe, who attended Binghamton’s Harpur College as an undergraduate, has performed nationally and internationally, including at New York City’s Dizzy’s, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Smalls, the Knitting Factory and Sweet Basil. He has released approximately 20 compact discs under his own name, most recently the three-disc set “In the Dark and America: The Rough Cut.” The author of numerous books, Lowe’s 2021 volume, “Turn Me Loose White Man: How to Listen to American Music 1900-1960,” was nominated for the Ralph Gleason Award. 

Porter, a native of Scranton, is a pianist, composer and music historian. He received a Ph.D. in musicology from Brandeis University, and has taught at Tufts University, Rutgers, The New School and others. His album “Beauty and Mystery” was released in 2018, followed by the jazz-rock album “Transcendent” with guitar virtuoso Ray Suhy and his “Solo Piano” recording. Porter has also appeared on more than 30 albums by such notables as Dave Liebman, Marc Ribot and Gary Bartz. He is also the author of a number of books, including “John Coltrane: His Life and Music, “The Lester Young Reader” and “Lester Young,” and is co-author of “Jazz: A Century of Change, Jazz from Its Origins to the Present.” 

“The Jews and the Blues”

On the evening of October 26, CJS, in collaboration with the Binghamton Jewish Film Fest, will show “The Jews and the Blues.” Voluntary contributions are welcome. The film follows director Drew Stone as he travels to Israel and discovers how the blues ties into a wide mix of cultures – Arab, Ethiopian and Moroccan – all of which are united through the universal tie of music. “Viewers will experience the unexpected on this expedition into uncharted territory,” said organizers. The film will be followed by a discussion led by Judaic Studies Professor Jonathan Karp.

“How They Swung in Odessa: Jews and the Birth of Soviet Jazz”

On November 2, Professor Jarrod Tanny will give a Zoom presentation titled “How They Swung in Odessa: Jews and the Birth of Soviet Jazz.” To sign up for the lecture, visit the CJS Facebook page.

Tanny said, “In the early 20th century, Jewish musicians from Southern Russia harnessed the traditional improvisational klezmer music of Eastern Europe to help create Russian Jazz. Although Soviet jazz musicians were heavily influenced by American jazz, the wild music performed by the Jews for swashbucklers, criminals and merrymakers in the seedy taverns of Odessa left an indelible imprint on Soviet music. This music captured the spirit of the Odessa myth, a seaport town legendary for its Jewish gangsters and deviants who refused to conform to the ‘proper’ puritanical behavior demanded by the Soviet government.”

Tanny is associate professor of history and the Charles and Hannah Block distinguished scholar in Jewish history at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, and is the author of a study of “Jewish Odessa, City of Rogues and Schnorrers” (Indiana University Press, 2011) and “The Seinfeld Talmud” (Academica Press, 2023), a satiric take on the hit TV series, in which the rabbis of the talmudic era gather in a yeshiva to discuss and debate the issues raised in each “Seinfeld” episode in the context of Judaic law. He has also published numerous scholarly essays on Jewish humor in post-World War II America and its place within the larger context of the European Jewish past.

The College of Jewish Studies provides opportunities for adult Jewish education for the Broome County community by offering fall and spring programs. Drawing on local resources, and inviting scholars and experts from a range of universities and cultural and religious institutions, CJS sponsors a wide array of programs dealing with Jewish history, culture, religion and politics.

The College of Jewish Studies, founded in 1986, is an informal coalition between the Judaic Studies Department of Binghamton University and several area Jewish sponsoring institutions: the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation of Greater Binghamton, Beth David Synagogue, Temple Concord, and Temple Israel. Programming for CJS would not be possible without the additional financial support of grants from The Community Foundation for South Central New York – David and Virginia Eisenberg Donor Advised Fund, the Jacob and Rose Olum Foundation, the B’nai B’rith Lectureship Fund, the Victor and Esther Rozen Foundation, an endowment fund from the former Temple Beth El of Endicott, a grant from the JoyVel Charitable Fund and the donations of individual sponsors. 

Anyone interested in becoming an individual sponsor so that the CJS can continue bringing programs to the community, or who wants to make a donation, should contact CJS at bingcjs@gmail.com. The College of Jewish Studies is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.