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Ben Sidran :: There Was a Fire: Jews, Music & the American Dream

Sun, October 21, 2012 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Hear this Emmy-award winning pianist, producer, singer and composer – and host of NPR’s “Jazz Alive” series – perform and speak about his latest book, which traces Jewish influences on American song  

$12 members / $15 public


Visit the website





Watch Ben Sidran’s cover
of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61



Host of NPR’s landmark jazz series “Jazz Alive” and VH-1 television’s “New Visions” series, Ben Sidran is an Emmy-award winning pianist, producer, singer and composer. He has recorded 25 solo albums, and has produced recordings for a wide range of artists including Van Morrison and Diana Ross. Hear Sidran perform and speak about his latest book which traces the Jewish influence on American popular music from the 1800s to today.


"An extraordinary tour de force, weaving cultural, political, musical and economic history. Part textbook, part family history, Sidran is a warm, funny, and authoritative guide in this thrilling, adventurous social history of popular music. A must-read for all music-lovers."
—Daniel J. Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain On Music

The book's early lessons on Jewish commerce and creativity lead to inevitable, fascinating examples of modern-day pioneering. You like outdoor music festivals? Give thanks to Max Yasgur and Woodstock. Dig you some folk rock? Hats off to Bobby Zimmerman. Jam band music? Peace and love to Phish's Michael Gordon. How about a little punk? Praise be to Erdélyi Tamás, aka Tommy Ramone, a short Jewish kid born in Hungary who used punk's fury to find meaning and peace after losing most of his family to the Holocaust…Sidran obviously took great pleasure in writing this work, a job that was many years in the making. The result is like a great jazz tune: tight and well-charted, with plenty of room to swing.”

-- Andy Moore, Isthmus: The Daily Page


Segments of this history have been written, but never as elegantly, insightfully, and comprehensively as in Madison jazzman and author Ben Sidran’s book…He seamlessly blends memoir, history, philosophy, sociology, music theory, and juicy musician stories”

-- Andrew Muchin, The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle


Reader reviews:

The Jews helped create the dialogue, the staging as well as the background music to the American experience.”  


The book provides vibrant history, chronologies, interpretations and tales in a thoroughly informed and captivating way.”  



Ben Sidran has been a major force in the modern day history of jazz and rock & roll having played keyboards with or produced such artists as Steve Miller, Mose Allison, Diana Ross, Boz Scaggs, Phil Upchurch, Tony Williams, Jon Hendricks, Richie Cole and Van Morrison.

It's been a long and varied journey for Ben Sidran—from playing boogie woogie piano as a six year old in Racine, Wisconsin, leaning into his jazz records, listening to a Blue Mitchell solo "literally like an Eskimo huddled around a fire", to growing up to play boogie woogie piano around the world and, eventually, recording with Blue Mitchell on his first solo album. Despite the reality that Sidran is better known in Europe and Japan than in America—a fact of life for most jazz musicians—Ben Sidran is an American success story.