Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans

May 22, 2008
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jacket imageCharles Hirsch’s new book Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans was reviewed yesterday in the Times-Picayune. Contributing writer Jason Berry begins by drawing a parallel between the early New Orleans jazz scene Hirsch brings to life in his book, and the city as we know it today:

The music we now call jazz flowered at the dawn of the last century, a time of grinding poverty and struggle for black people, as Charles Hersch writes in a provocative new history, Subversive Sounds.
A political scientist by training, Hersch illuminates how musicians of color drew from realities that few white people experienced in forging a form of dance music for people of both races. In that sense, Subversive Sounds is more than timely. The social realities of New Orleans today resemble the city in 1900: racial polarization beneath a blanket of poverty and uncertain leadership. A century ago tourism was in its infancy; today’s “cultural economy” markets an urban identity shaped by African-American traditions that ran deepest in downriver wards that were wrecked in the flooding of 2005, areas where tour buses show visitors the wonder of our Pompeii on the Mississippi.

Read the full review at the Times-Picayune.

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