Inspired by the work of Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), particularly his 1963 history Blues People: Negro Music in White America, a generation of scholars in the field of jazz and blues music criticism was born, creating a legitimate space in the academy for the serious study of African American music. “Blues People: 40 Years Later, A Symposium” to be held at Sarah Lawrence College February 6–7, will honor Baraka’s artistic legacy as well as focus attention on the pioneering scholarship that has grown out of those early years of the study of this uniquely American culture.
Blues People was the first book-length history written by an African American that addressed the social, musical, economic, and cultural influences of the blues and jazz (which Baraka refers to as “Negro music”) on American history. Symposium panels and lectures will speak to diverse aspects of jazz studies, including women’s roles, black nationalism, and the development of rap music.
Baraka’s approach to music criticism was different from anything else that existed when he first began writing in the 1950s and 60s, partly because he was the only black writer in a field of white critics. Komozi Woodard, professor of history at Sarah Lawrence and the organizer of the symposium commented: “He was not simply describing the music, but he fashioned a type of writing that was itself an artistic performance about music.”
The symposium will culminate in a music and poetry performance by Baraka’s group, “Blue Ark” that includes poets, blues singers, and other musicians led by saxophonist and professor of jazz studies at Rutgers University, Herbie Morgan. The group has performed in numerous countries around the world.
The symposium’s participants themselves reflect the growing recognition of jazz’s academic significance in higher education. Blues and jazz have come of age in the university. For example, one of the featured panelists is Ingrid Monson, first appointed holder of Harvard University’s Quincy Jones Chair created in 2000 to devote scholarship to jazz music and its implications in the African American experience. Monson will speak on a panel along with John Szwed of Yale University who will address “The Folk Communities of Amiri Baraka and Ralph Ellison,” as well as Travis Jackson of the University of Chicago.
Following is the complete Symposium Schedule:
Blues People: 40 Years Later, A Symposium/ February 6-7, 2004
Reisinger Concert Hall, Sarah Lawrence College
10:15 Panel: Coltrane, Monk and Jazz Criticism
Salim Washington, Robin Kelley, and John Gennari, "Baraka's Bohemian Blues"
Scot Brown,"'Praise for the Imamu': Amiri Baraka, the Kawaida Recording (1969) and the Politics of Black Cultural Nationalism"
2 pm, Panel: Black Pearls: Blues Women & What the Music Said
Farah Jasmine Griffin, Mark Anthony Neal, Daphne Duval Harrison, "Blues Women: from the 1920s to the 1960s"
4 pm, Panel: Blues People, So What
Travis Jackson, Ingrid Monson, John Szwed, "The Folk Communities of Amiri Baraka and Ralph Ellison"
6 pm, The Rap on the Music Business
Chuck D (invited but not confirmed), Tracie Morris, and Carmen Ashhurst
8 pm Dinner Break
10 a.m. Welcome
10:30, Panel: African American Dance
Katrina Hazzard, Jookin': the rise of social dance in African American
Culture, Jacqui Malone on choreographer, Cholly Atkins, genius of Motown choreography, Donna Peters, "Hearing Dance and Seeing Music - The Jazz Tap Community"
2:00 p.m. Panel: Musicians on the Music
Hilda Harris, Sarah Lawrence College, La Shonda Barnett, Sarah Lawrence College, David Burrell, "Daybreak," "David Burrell Plays Ellington & Monk," W.S. Tkweme, University of Massachusetts
4:00 p.m. Panel: The Poetics of the Music
Tracie Morris, Eugene Redmond, and Amiri Baraka, Michael Simanga, "Blues People: African American Identity and Music in the 21st Century"
6:00 p.m Dinner Break
7:00 p.m. Amiri Baraka and Blue Ark Music and Poetry Performance Participants
Carmen Ashhurst Woodard, Sarah Lawrence College, formerly president of Def Jam Recording.
Amiri Baraka and Blue Ark: blues, jazz and poetry group
In addition to Blues People, Black Music and The Music, Baraka is the author of over twenty plays, three jazz operas, more than eight books of nonfiction, two novels, a more than a dozen volumes of poetry.
La Shonda Barnett, Sarah Lawrence College, social and cultural historian, is a Ph.D. candidate at William and Mary College.
Scot Brown, historian at UCLA, and author of the new book, Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism.
David Burrell, pianist has performed on a number of albums including, David Burrell Plays Ellington & Monk.
John Gennari, professor of history and cultural studies at the University of Vermont. Gennari is finishing a pioneering book on the music that includes a chapter of Baraka’s role in jazz criticism in the 1950s.
Hilda Harris, Sarah Lawrence College music faculty member, is a singer and actress, a performer in opera, oratorio, and orchestral concerts in the U.S. and Europe, a solo artist with the Metropolitan Opera Affiliate Artist Program and a freelance recording artist.
Daphne Duval Harrison, emeritus, University of Maryland. Harrison is a path-breaking historian of music who wrote the classic work, Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s, and who is editing an encyclopedia of the blues.
Farah Jasmine Griffin, Columbia University, author of the new book, If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday. Professor Griffin is on the cutting edge of African American studies today.
Katrina Hazzard is the author of the classic study of Black American dance, Jookin' the Rise of Social Dance formations in African American Culture.
Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice is the prolific author of a number of books including the classic, Jazz: New Perspectives.
Travis Jackson, University of Chicago, Music & the Humanities is one of the young lions in African American musical studies.
Robin Kelley, Columbia University, is one of the leading scholars in American history, cultural studies, labor history, and African American Studies, who is now hard at work on a new book on the renowned jazz genius, Thelonius Monk.
Jacqui Malone is an expert on the influential choreographer Cholly Atkins, one of the geniuses behind the Motown phenomenon and author of the book, Stepping on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance and co-author with Cholly Atkins of Class Act, which according to the library journal says: “The story of Cholly Atkins is that of 20th-century American jazz and tap dance…This book resonates with charm and provides solid information about the history of American jazz dance.
Ingrid Monson is a noted scholar of jazz and the first appointed holder of Harvard University’s Quincy Jones Chair.
Tracie Morris, award-winning writing professor at Sarah Lawrence College and one of those who paved the way for performance poetry.
Mark Anthony Neal, University of Texas, Austin, one of the rising stars in African American Studies who broke new interpretive ground with his book, What The Music Said.
Donna Peters is sociologist and ethnographer at Temple University, specializing in performance and dance.
Michael Simanga is a poet, cultural critic, music producer, and author of the novel, In the Shadow of the Sun. Simanga is one of the pillars of the Black Arts Movement.
John Szwed has set the pace in cultural studies and biography for quite some time; his last two books are biographies of jazz musicians, Space in the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra and So What: the Life of Miles Davis. He teaches at Yale University and is a guest this year at Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University.
W.S. Tkweme, University of Massachusetts. Mr. Tkweme has been a student and teacher of jazz history for some time now—sometimes on jazz radio and at times lecturing at American colleges.
Salim Washington is one of the young lions in African American Studies as well as a professor of music and African American Studies at Brooklyn College, who is working on an important manuscript about John Coltrane and his music.
Komozi Woodard, History faculty, Sarah Lawrence College, is the author of A Nation Within A Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics and editor of Freedom North, The Black Power Movement, and Groundwork.