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The Jazz Singer and his Cantor Father

THE JAZZ Singer was wildly popular, the first talkie (1927), although only the songs were heard. (The dialogue was still in captions). Full of schmaltz, struggle, pizzazz, and music, it told of Jakie Rabinowitz, whose cantor father disowned him for not following in his footsteps. Instead, Jakie became Jack Robin, a rising star in musical theater, a Jazz Singer. With “a tear in his voice,” especially when, in blackface, he sings “Mammy.”

Jack (a name his father does not recognize) tells his father that Jazz is the cry of a lost anxious soul for the same completeness that the cantor provides in synagogue. His audience in the theater needs him, like his father’s congregation needs him during the High Holy Days, especially Yom Kippur. Jack is referring to the danceable, joyful “song number with a kick in it,” and the passionate or sentimental, “soulful” ballads, some of which are about futility of passion and loneliness. They are most definitely not about God, or atonement through self-abnegation and submission to divine will. Read More 
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