Jazz Singer

The Jazz Singer

Dueling traditions


Black tuxedo clad cello


Blue jean garbed guitar


Battlefield heart


Rachmaninoff’s G minor


Joe Purdy’s acoustic soul


Blueblood’s shadow cast conflict

Jazz Singer weighs gold and blood


I preferred life when it was silent

Before sound woke my conscious


I live in a canyon

Father now lives near a synagogue above

Echoes scream heritage

Boulders roll

Bridge collapses

Voices pass like strangers

“You’re dead to me.”

But the jazz singer lives in suits of sad songs.


Born to play concert halls

Live to fill tavern halls


What did Jack Robin do when the black paint washed off?




30 thoughts on “Jazz Singer

  1. damn henry…this is a wicked write…the first sets it up nice but for me this really takes off at…i live in a canyon…really enjoyed this friend…silence or music, hard choice for me….

  2. I think every artist gives up a little piece of their soul through each song they sing, each part they play, each poem or story written. Perhaps that’s how Jack Robin felt when he washed the black-face off, like he was bleeding a piece of his soul through each performance. I really enjoyed reading this, all the comparisons–old to new, cello to guitar, jazz to acoustic folk. Very well-thought piece. Enjoyed listening to the song clip too.

  3. this was all over the place for me – I felt everything from nostalgia to anger to regret to cynicism to (what’d I miss?)

    To have to choose between your roots and your love is so very hard. too bad you can’t do both or maybe….

  4. The silents versus the talkies (Al Jolson changed it all there) played into generational conflict – the canyon /synagogue lines and “you’re dead to me” – really well done.

  5. As a child we used to have a weekly show on Tv on a Sunday called The Black and White Minstrel show only thing was, they were all whites, polished up to appear black and only one male on there ever was really black. This was the early 60’s though and political correctness hadn’t arrived back then.
    Although yours is set way back even further, it reminded me of that and how we were so wrong in so mant things. A lovely and emotional tribute to a man and his craft.

  6. I can remember feeling such confusion as a child, when I would see these images… not understanding the white mouth and black face paint thing and thinking it was dumb. Henry, you pull the emotion right out of me again… such conflict.

    But the jazz singer lives in suits of sad songs. Amazing grasp of that reality… what an amazing response to the prompt.

    p.s. your slide show swept me away… are these your photographs and are they for sale?

  7. Another throught provoking piece you have here Henry. Those were the days only white people could be actors, besides musicians, Our black community was fenced in when it came to movies. Sterotyping plauged. Great write Henry! As a nation we have come far, but not far enough. IMHO

    Blueblood’s shadow cast conflict

    Jazz Singer weighs gold and blood

    Brillant Henry!

  8. Imagine. White men portraying blacks rather than simply presenting a black man. Men portraying women rather than simply casting a woman.

    This is a very moving piece, Henry. The history of mankind is filled with choices forced upon us by society. And as I wrote that, the irony struck me. “Man-kind” So often there was and still is nothing kind at all about man.

  9. hedgewitch says:

    There’s a lot of layers to this, almost as many as a Jew performing in blackface for a white gentile audience–enjoyed the understated conflict and the theme of the artist lost, of conflict, of the hard choices. Esp liked :
    ” I preferred life when it was silent
    Before sound woke my conscious..””

  10. Intense, Henry. I cannot imagine portraying something that I am not. I am glad we live in a different time now where, hopefully, artists can be themselves. Your poem was thought-provoking, sad, but I think we have come a distance since then. Hope, anyway.

  11. Laurie Kolp says:

    Love the weaving of music in this piece (and some fine music at that). I really like:

    But the jazz singer lives in suits of sad songs.

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