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Re: stereotypical Jews in music

I wonder if Henry Sapoznik would consider Cherniavsky's Yiddish-American 
Jazz Band as the quintessential example of "Jewish performers taking on the 
stereotypical role" (though demeaningly or not is another question)--they 
dressed like Hassidim, and even (as Henry recounts in his discussion on 
pages 110-112 of his book) performed in front of a curtain "painted with 
huge grotesque caricatures of klezmorim."

I think the issue of Chernivasky's use of "stereotypical" images is different 
than those used by non-Jews on the mainstream American stage. Cherniavsky 
chose "exotic" characters familiar to emigre Jews at the time (Hasidim and 
Cossacks). This accessible exoticism was tweaked by their unlikely pairing 
with the even more "exotic" element of "jazz". (Anyone who has heard these 
records knows that Cherniavsky's understanding of "jazz" was pretty slim...)
The very pictoralization made Cherniavsky's imagery useless on the American 
stage as those audiences would not be familair with these images, only with th
e  "Jews" found in pages of Puck and Life, on the cover of myraid music 
sheets and on other vaudeville stages: the derby wearing round shouldered 
Though these kind of scurrying fast talking  Jew types (the kind of character 
finally morphed into the stage personna of Groucho Marx) were found on the 
Yiddish stage, too, they were balanced by a myriad of other more positive and 
diverse depictions thus avoiding the kind of one-dimensional racism rampant 
in the American popular theater. 
As to Cherniavsky's curtain, I'm no art historian but wouldn't it be a great 
study to compare his backdrop to Chagall's for the Moscow Yiddish Art 
Theater, the one which no doubt inspired Cherniavsky's...?

Henry Sapoznik

---------------------- jewish-music (at) shamash(dot)org ---------------------+

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