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Jazz Studies

Administrative Information

Director: Prof. John Szwed, 612 Dodge; 851-9270; jfs54@columbia.edu

Director of Jazz Performance: Prof. Christopher Washburne, 619A Dodge; 854-9862; cjw5@columbia.edu

Program Administrator: Yulanda Grant, 602 Philosophy; 851-9270; ym189@columbia.edu

The Center for Jazz Studies: Prentis Hall, 4th floor (632 W. 125th Street); 851-9270

Interdepartmental Committee on Jazz Studies

Ann Douglas
         English and Comparative Literature

Brent Hayes Edwards
         English and Comparative Literature

Aaron Fox
         Music

Farah Jasmine Griffin
         English and Comparative Literature

George Lewis
         Music

Robert G. O’Meally

      English and Comparative Literature

 

Christopher Washbourne
         Music

Adjunct Lecturers in Jazz Performance
Paul Bollenbeck
Christine Correa
David Gibson
Brad Jones
Victor Lin
Ole Mathiesen
Tony Moreno
Ugonna Okegwa
Adriano Santos
Don Sickler
Leo Traversa
Ben Waltzer

The special concentration in jazz studies is an interdisciplinary liberal arts course of study that uses jazz music—and the jazz culture from which the music emanated—as a prism through which to study jazz culture during what might be termed the long jazz century, the sprawling twentieth. The curriculum in this new field guides students in developing a firm grounding in the traditions and aesthetic motives of jazz music, viewed through the perspectives of music history and ethnomusicology as well as literary theory and cultural studies. It also explores in depth the development of jazz-oriented art works in the music’s sister arts—literature, dance, painting, photography, and film. And while a U.S. focus is highly appropriate, considering the many ways in which jazz is a definitive music of this nation, students also explore jazz’s geographical history beyond these shorelines, including complex, ongoing interactions with Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

The special concentration in jazz studies is designed for music majors as well as for those majoring in other fields. The main difference here between music majors and non-music majors is that while music majors take advanced courses in arranging, composition, and transcription, others are required to take an introduction to music fundamentals. While there are some fields where the fit with jazz studies is very obvious—music, American studies, African-American studies, English, comparative literature, history—special concentrators can major in any field whatsoever. Is there a jazz or improvisatory philosophy? What might be its relation to studies of aesthetics or American pragmatism? And what are jazz’s implications for the student of law? How does one protect the intellectual property rights of an improvised jazz solo? What about business? What economic and political forces have shaped jazz? Who buys jazz? What is its audience? What is a jazz painting? A jazz novel? What is jazz poetry? What is jazz dance? What is a jazz film? What are the sources and meanings of art? What work does the music do for the whole community?

Along with problems of musical history, form, and definition, our special courses explore jazz as a culture. Students not only study individual jazz artists but also explore the immeasurably variegated worlds through which such artists moved, and which they helped to shape. As cultural historians-in-training—focused on questions of nationality, race, sexuality, gender, economics, and politics—students explore the extraordinarily complicated terrains of the New Orleans of Bunk Johnson, for example, or the Baltimore of Billie Holiday (born in Philadelphia, reared in Baltimore). They explore such artists’ other geographical travels. What did their images, including mistaken conceptions of who they were, tell us about the cultures that mythologized them?

How did these jazz musicians influence not only musicians but other artists of their era and milieu: the poets and novelists, painters and sculptors, photographers and filmmakers, dancers and choreographers who regularly heard them play and often shared with them a sense of common project? One thinks of Tito Puente, working with singers and dancers at the Palladium; Jackson Pollack dancing to the music as he spun drips of paints on canvasses placed on the studio floor; Langston Hughes writing detailed instructions to the musicians he hoped would accompany performance of his poetry; Romare Bearden’s beautifully turned stage and costume designs for Alvin Ailey and Dianne McIntyre, whose improvisatory jazz dance workshop was called Sound in Motion; the drummer Jo Jones in an interview naming as key influences a series of tap dancers he admired; of Stanley Crouch, stirring in his high-powered essays in a room where jazz drums stand at the center, the old dream-kit inspiration; Ralph Ellison, who kept in touch with his beginnings as a musician in Oklahoma City through hour-long conversations with his childhood friend the singer Jimmy Rushing; Toni Morrison reading her magical prose to improvisations by Max Roach and the dancer Bill T. Jones; the pianist Jason Moran playing at the Studio Museum in Harlem, where he introduced his group as including Beauford Delany, whose paintings hung on the wall near the bandstand—vigorous all and recall across the art forms.

Perhaps above all, the special concentration in jazz studies is designed to prepare students to be well-prepared and flexible improvisers in a universe of change and possibility.