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Highbrow/Lowbrow: Theater, Jazz, and the Making of the New Middle Class by David Savran

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Of all the sections in Highbrow/Lowbrow:Theater, Jazz, and the Making of the New Middle Class, the section that discusses the legendary American composer George Gershwin followed by a very succinct and compelling account of the groundbreaking black musical,” Shuffle Along,” is the most interesting. Among other things, Savran, a professor at City University of New York, refers to Gershwin as “the most famous composer” America has ever produced. Savran, however, has even greater praise for the 1921 black theater musical, “Shuffle Along,” because it is here that Savran asserts that Gershwin and his brother, Ira, owe a huge debt to that revolutionary musical for the development of their own music theater efforts.

Gershwin is important because of his loose ties to jazz music but “Shuffle Along,” for those in the know, is early jazz and theater becoming one. Composed by musicians, Eubie Blake, and Noble Sissle, “Shuffle Along” represents the clash Savran is seeking to illuminate between jazz’s rising power and theater’s sinking popularity. Add in the rise of moving pictures in theaters across the country, and you can understand Savran’s story: he is describing a cultural cataclysm.

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