Music critic to bring the experience of jazz to life in lecture series
By Gabe Stern
Slice of Life
Daily Orange File Photo
Larry Blumenfeld will host a lecture series at Syracuse University entitled “Jazz in Troubled Times: The Relevance and Resonance of a Culture.” Blumenfeld will be featured in nine scheduled events, running from March 25 to April 5.
The era of jazz clubs frequenting every street corner now only remains behind glass cases in museums. Larry Blumenfeld, a music critic and former editor-in-chief of JAZZIZ magazine, is helping to bring jazz to the forefront.
“Jazz is not a popular music by any stretch of the imagination,” he said, “but this is a timely, hot topic.”
This year, Blumenfeld is Syracuse University’s Jeannette K. Watson Distinguished Visiting Professor. His lecture series, entitled “Jazz in Troubled Times: The Relevance and Resonance of a Culture,” will run from March 25 to April 5, and feature listening experiences, workshops, discussions and concerts from renowned musicians.
Blumenfeld was selected for this honor after Eric Grode, an SU professor and director of the Goldring Arts Journalism program, suggested his name for the invitation.
Blumenfeld is a music critic and frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal, known for his exploration of jazz music’s relationship with social justice and contemporary issues. Courtesy of Ellen Mbuqe
From there, the two worked closely to curate a list of topics for the event. Unlike some speakers in the past, Blumenfeld’s lecture series will span numerous disciplines — a testament to his own research, Grode said.
“Larry has been as instrumental as anyone in the last decade for just yanking jazz and social justice back together,” Grode said, “and reminding people that when you’re listening to music, you’re also listening to any number of cultures that have converged, sometimes harmoniously sometimes non-harmoniously, to become this thing that we listen to.”
Blumenfeld attended graduate school at Columbia University as a fellow in the National Arts Journalism Program. Once he connected with jazz, Blumenfeld said he explored the deep, rich culture ingrained in the music. Soon after, he began writing about jazz as it pertained to issues of a different caliber, specifically social justice.
Through reporting on musicians and the music itself, Blumenfeld said he could draw connections between jazz and current issues. He cited the United States embargo against Cuba as an example of how music and global issues are intertwined.
“Music and culture are the some of the deepest bonds between the U.S. and Cuba and that embargo is an act of violence between that familial connection,” Blumenfeld said.
More recently — in addition to the numerous publications he writes for — Blumenfeld has assisted with curating and producing jazz festivals, including the Spoleto Festival USA in South Carolina. But equally important, he said, was his research, which brought him to the cities of Chicago and New Orleans.
With decades of expertise in the jazz realm, Blumenfeld has utilized a portion of his research as a focal point in each lecture. He said he hopes that audience members walk away from his lectures with the answers to questions surrounding jazz’s contribution to society, its invaluable nature and what it means today for the university and world.
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Blumenfeld and Grode will host each event of the series, which features performances by Harvard’s Yosvany Terry and pianist Jason Moran — who Blumenfeld described as “one of the best jazz musicians of our day.”
“You don’t have situations where everyone in the audience can draw upon firsthand experience of jazz music,” Grode said. “So I think having artists of their caliber helps contextualize and make sense of the stuff being talked about in a theoretical and abstract way.”
Grode added that Blumenfeld will also be doing other events outside of the university, including appearances on radio stations in Rochester and Ithaca. The SU series has attracted professors and others beyond Syracuse’s campus, especially in part to Terry and Moran’s reputations as seminal jazz artists.
Blumenfeld said he is thrilled by this opportunity and what it can explore in the greater jazz culture.
“My career and my work has led me to feel that culture is precious, and we’re in a moment where culture in this country needs to be amplified,” Blumenfeld said.
Published on March 24, 2019 at 10:18 pm