Ingrid Monson, 19 October 2016

Title of the Talk: Jazz Utopias, Then and Now

When? 19 October 2016 (17:00-18:30)

Where?  The Barn at St John’s College (Kendrew Quad)

Speaker: Ingrid Monson (Quincy Jones Professor of African-American Music, Harvard University)

Abstract: My paper addresses, freedom, liberation, and the creation of sound worlds and communities through music, in short the ethical imagination of the jazz tradition. I follow visions of freedom through the works of Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, Carla Bley, Robert Glasper, Terence Blanchard and Kendrick Lamar.  If mid-twentieth century jazz liberation was conceived in trialogue with the American Civil Rights Black Power, and Anti-Vietnam War Movements, today’s visions of freedom are emerging against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter, gender and sexuality, immigration, economic inequality, and global fear of Islam. The utopian thrust of the jazz imagination, as always, is tempered by the injustice of the world in which we live. It is especially important to trace are the relationships between avant-garde and populist aesthetic perspectives on jazz, utopia, and critical social commentary.  A commitment to experimental sound aesthetics in the creation of utopian sound words characterized many admired projects and collectives of the past, associating the invention of new approach to sound and improvisation with social critique and utopian communities.  These aesthetics also placed American and European artists in collaborative international dialogue.  Many of recent American contributions to musical social commentary and community, however, are more populist in their aesthetic perspective, drawing especially on the legacy of American hip-hop and R&B.  The Black Lives Matter movement, formed in response to the many police killings of unarmed African American in past few years has created a particularly fervent moment in contemporary music.  How musicians draw on the icons and symbols of past, how they link domestic and international issues, and the future of aesthetic collaborations between Europe, the U.S. and the global south seem especially important right now.

Speaker Biography: Ingrid Monson is Quincy Jones Professor of African American music, supported by the Time Warner Endowment, and Interim Dean of Arts and Humanities at Harvard University.  She is a former chair of the Music Department, a Guggenheim fellow, and a Walter Channing Cabot Fellow of Harvard University. Monson is the author of Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa (Oxford University Press, 2007), Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), and an edited a volume entitled the African Diaspora: A Musical Perspective (Garland/Routledge 2000).  Professor Monson specializes in jazz, African American music, and music of the African diaspora. She is author of Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (1996) winner of the Sonneck Society’s Irving Lowens award for the best book published on American music in 1996.

Event hosted as part of the Seminar in Ethnomusicology and Sound Studies Series, based at St John’s College, University of Oxford.



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