"An elegant, erudite, and thorough study . . . The venture into music history and the impact, both positive and negative, of jazz on culture, and especially the emergence of a literary art theater, is the book's most obvious unique contribution . . . the analysis of the place of various critics and the audience in a period of major cultural change involving class, race, and ethnicity is especially welcome."
""Highbrow/Lowdown" stakes out the secret history of how that yawning abyss between mass culture and serious theatre came about---a dynamic that still plays out to this day both in the commercial and resident theatres. This intellectual study, a revelatory blending of music criticism and drama history, delves into the critical and artistic antagonisms between jazz and classical music, the serious and lively arts, as well as the old and new middle-class tastes."
"A book about the fracturing of the theater audience in the 1920s using jazz as a lens. Savran] points to jazzy composers such as Gershwin, who never got his due while he was writing because of his embrace of jazz . . . What is intriguing about Savran's book is how these class distinctions still hold true today."
---"All About Jazz"
"Highbrow/Lowdown" explores the twentieth century's first culture war and the forces that permanently transformed American theater into the art form we know today. The arrival of jazz in the 1920s sparked a cultural revolution that was impossible to contain. The music affected every stratum of U.S. society and culture, confusing and challenging long-entrenched hierarchies based on class, race, and ethnicity. But jazz was much more than the music---it was also a powerful cultural force that brought African American, Jewish, and working-class culture into the white Protestant mainstream. When the influence of jazz spread to legitimate theater, playwrights, producers, and critics rushed to distinguish the newly emerging literary theater from its illegitimate cousins. The efforts to defeat the democratizing influences of jazz and to canonize playwrights like Eugene O'Neill triumphed, giving birth to American theater as we know it today.
David Savran is Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Vera Mowry Roberts Chair in American Theatre at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.