Main - A Look at Black History Through Jazz

7:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Main Library
Meeting Room

Event Details

Join us as we take a look at black history through the lens of jazz with author and editor of the Jersey Jazz magazine, Sanford Josephson.

Check out an article Josephson wrote this month on page 5 of the Jersey Jazz titled "Remembering Jazz’s Black Expatriates," he gives more detail on what will be covered during this exciting presentation!

Registration recommended but not required.  Please register here or call 732-634-4450.

Find out more about what will be covered below!

Harlem Renaissance

A look at the music scene in Harlem in the 1920s, led by African-American jazz giants such Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, and Fats Waller. Harlem’s nightlife was defined by four institutions that served as the crucible for the new form of jazz that would flourish in the next decades:

  • The rent parties, which not only provided Harlemites with a way to meet their monthly expenses but cultivated a style of piano music known as stride, which would bridge the divide between the ragtime tradition of the early 1900s and the emerging modern jazz piano approach.
  • The Cotton Club, known as the “aristocrat of Harlem”, offering upscale entertainment to white customers only.
  • Connie’s Inn, the swankiest of Harlem nightclubs
  • The Savoy Ballroom, where the swing movement was conceived and born.
  • Road Warriors
  • A look at the cruel treatment that African-Americans received on the road, especially during the '30s-50s.
  • For example, alto saxophonist Earle Warren would use his light complexion to pass as white so he could go into a restaurant and take out food for his fellow band members.
  • Trumpeter Howard McGhee was the only black member of Charlie Barnet's band in the '30s. At one hotel, he arrived to find that there was no reservation for him and he wasn't allowed to stay there. While the rest of the band checked in and went to sleep, he was left on his own to roam the streets, searching for accommodations.
  • The Cab Calloway band would lease a Pullman car, and the band members would sleep on the train because it was so hard to find hotel rooms for Black musicians.


In the years following World War II, a several African-American jazz musicians emigrated to Europe, motivated by the relative lack of racism, the working opportunities, and the appreciation that European audiences showed for their art. Jazz greats such as tenor saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Ben Webster and pianist Bud Powell spent long periods of time on the European continent and made many recordings there.

Resistance to Racism

  • In 1935, Benny Goodman hired Black pianist Teddy Wilson to be part of his trio, which also included the white drummer Gene Krupa. Soon after that, the trio was expanded to a quartet with the addition of another African-American musician, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton
  • In 1949, the mixed-race aspect of trumpeter Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool nonet was groundbreaking. In the words of jazz writer Stanley Crouch: “Close collaboration of the sort [Miles] Davis and John Lewis had with Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, and Johnny Carisi had not happened before.”
  • In the 1950s, pianist Dave Brubeck refused to cave in when some college deans, primarily in the South, requested that his African-American bassist Eugene Wright not perform at campus concerts. Brubeck also turned down a 1958 tour in South Africa rather than sign a contract specifying that his band would be all white.

Sanford Josephson is the author of Jeru’s Journey: The Life and Music of Gerry Mulligan (Hal Leonard Books), published in October 2015, and Jazz Notes: Interviews Across the Generations (Praeger/ABC-Clio), published in June 2009. He is currently Editor of Jersey Jazz Magazine, published by the New Jersey Jazz Society.

He has also written extensively about jazz musicians in publications ranging from the New York Daily News to American Way magazine and is Vice President of Publicity for NJJS.

Josephson currently co-hosts the Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon concert series at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts in Toms River, NJ. From 2011-2017, he curated the “Music in the Moonlight” jazz series at the Luna Stage in West Orange, NJ, a series that he founded. Josephson also produced the Flemington, NJ, segment of the Central Jersey Jazz Festival from 2014-2016. He also teaches online courses on “Giants of Jazz” for Rutgers’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Event Type(s): Presentation / Lecture
Age Group(s): Adults (18+), All Ages

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