If you have not seen it, the PBS special on Jews and Broadway is very much worth watching. It’s entitled Broadway Musicals: a Jewish Legacy. Jews often seem to want to downplay their prominence in various fields, or at least their cultural influence. Here, that influence is brought unabashedly front and center.
The full-throated kvelling is well deserved. There’s no getting around the fact that Jews essentially created and sustained the Broadway musical.
One of my favorite bits in the special concerns the relationship between Jewish composers working in the black vernacular. What’s especially interesting, and fun to listen to, are the things Jewish and black music have in common. The clarinet solo that starts Rhapsody in Blue, for instance. Growing up without much in the way of Jewish culture, I understood this as the introduction of the blues idea at the outset. But it owes klezmer music at least as much.
The clip below includes some interesting commentary on the similar but different use of the minor key in Jewish and black music.
Of the commenters, I liked Marc Shaiman’s take the best. That Jewish music is “all minor” while the blues plays on the tension between the major and minor keys, with the song itself often being in major with a lot of the melody working with the flatted third (the minor) as well as the flatted fifth and seventh.
I just never heard it explained before as the tension between hope and resignation, which I always more or less apprehended musically but not intellectually.