For Discussion

Suggested Discussion Questions/Topics (by Chapter)

Chapter 1 : Jazz Is Black Music (Damani Phillips)

Key Phrases / Words: Cultural Dissonance and Appropriation

  1. Before we can enter into a meaningful discussion of the content of the book, the question of jazz’s ethnic identity must first be addressed. In considering the argument put forth in chapter 1, do you believe that  jazz is indeed a form of Black music?
  2. Amiri Baraka’s work in books such as “Blues People” implies that Black music and the history of African-Americans as a people & culture are invariably bound to each other. He states that, “…the music was explaining the history as the history was explaining the music…”. Do you believe this philosophy to be true, and if so, how does it impact the responsibility of those teaching and playing jazz music both inside and outside the academy?

Chapter 2:  The Black Church – Stefon Harris

Key Phrases / Words: Preservationism & Musical communication

  1. What is the crux of Harris’ “Preservationism -vs- Creationism” argument, and which perspective do you feel is best embraced in the study and pedagogy of jazz?
  2. How does Harris view the problem of “creativity” (or lack thereof) among academically trained jazz musicians? To what does he attribute the issues he identifies?

Chapter 3: Melting Pot Experience – Ellen Rowe

Key Phrases / Words: Gender Stigmas & Musical Interpreter

  1. What steps (if any) did Rowe take to overcome the issues of diversity in both her jazz upbringing and academic jazz education?
  2. How does Rowe go about addressing the need for cultural comprehension among the students in her school’s jazz program?

Chapter 4: Just Play Something Real – Rufus Reid

Key Phrases / Words: Elder Statesman & Realism in Academia

  1. What was the nature of Rufus Reid’s upbringing in jazz music? How did it impact his performance and teaching career?
  2. How did Reid address the cultural dissonance between his real-world performance experience and the way that jazz was being taught at William Patterson University?

Chapter 5: Spirit and Hope – Marcus Belgrave

Key Phrases / Words: Immersive Upbringing & Molder of Detroit musicians

  1. What issues does Belgrave raise in how he was treated and/or valued as an academic instructor with no formal academic schooling of his own?
  2. Belgrave is a shining example of a musician who has a lifetime of amassed practical experience, but struggled to find a place in academic teaching. What does Belgrave’s unique musical upbringing offer the academy that it may well be overlooking.

Chapter 6: Self-Taught Through Immersion – Brad Goode

Key Phrases / Words: Cultural Immersion & Apprenticeship

  1. Goode’s upbringing in jazz is highly atypical, and particularly so among white jazz musicians. Does his musical upbringing impact the value with which you view his view his perspective on jazz in the academy?
  2. Good’s account of how jazz made the transition to the academy is a clear example of the issues of adopting ethnic arts into the academy. What are the the issues presented in this problematic transition? Do you see any similar examples in contemporary music culture?

Chapter 7: The Devil’s Music – Wycliffe Gordon

Key Phrases / Words: The Church in Jazz & Potency in Music

  1. What important connections does Gordon make between the music of the Black church and the esthetic nature of jazz music?
  2. What notable friction does Gorden identify as existing between the worlds of classical and jazz music?, and how have they impacted both his teaching and performance career?

Chapter 8: The First Rule of Colonization – Nicholas Payton

Key Phrases / Words: Colonization and Black American Music (BAM)

  1. Nicholas Payton is a firm advocate for the clear separation between the meaning of the terms “jazz” and “Black American music”. What distinction does he make between the definition of these two terms, and why is the proper use of this nomenclature so obviously important to him?
  2. Payton implies that there is an aire of colonization happening in contemporary jazz (both within the academy and beyond). What is the nature of his argument of this conclusion? Do you agree with his conclusions? Why or why not?

Chapter 9: 4/4 Swinging Beat – Lewis Nash

Key Phrases / Words:

Chapter 10: Music is Music – Phil Woods

Key Phrases / Words: Salt and Pepper and Economy of Playing

  1. There is an awkward reluctance of Phil Woods to speak pointedly on several issues he was questioned about during his interview that required some creative interview skills to acquire a fully-formed response to. What questions were problematic for Woods, and what commonalities do those questions have with each other?
  2. What professional reality does Woods indicate as being completely ignored by academic music programs? Is academia overlooking something important in not acknowledging this issue?

Chapter 11: “You Cannot Teach Culture” (Damani Phillips)

Key Phrases / Words: Cultural Accountability and Cultural Supermiposition

  1. Are academic instructors obligated to try to comprehend and impart the culturally-derived  elements of jazz music in its teaching? If so, why? If it is it acceptable to omit such concerns from how the music is taught? What is the justification for doing so?
  2. What are the contributing factors in the lack of ethnic and cultural diversity among academic jazz instructors//

Chapter 12: Adjusting Course (Damani Phillips)

Key Phrases / Words: Responsible Representation of Culture & Cultural Qualifications

  1. Is it possible for musicians and/or instructors of other ethnicities to responsibly embody and teach Black music styles such as jazz authentically?
  2. Why do you feel that so few White jazz academics take the extra steps outlined in this chapter as part of their requisite training? Do issues of race relations and/or marginalization play a role in the frequent reluctance to address shortcomings in ethnic/cultural comprehension?

Suggested Discussion Topics for the Book as a Whole

1. Is there indeed a noticeable difference between the esthetic value system of jazz music as represented inside the academy and within non-academic performance culture?

2. Does the academy’s reverence for academic credentials prioritize academic comprehension over lived experience, and if so, does this bias cause any legitimate issue within the music and how it taught/performed?

3. Does the startling absence of ethnic minorities in the academic teaching of jazz music (African-Americans, in particular) present a problem in the musical, cultural and/or emotional value system being championed by the academy? Does this factor even matter?

4. Is jazz music something that can only be authentically represented by African-American instructors and/or practitioners?

5. Bassist Richard Davis firmly states “You cannot teach a culture” in Chapter 11. After reading the book, do you agree with Davis’ assessment? 5a. If so, how should instructors go about responsibly handling the transmission of complete cultural understanding to others? 5b. If not, explain precisely how an instructor can responsibly represent a culture, the people who constitute it, and its related artistic products in their teaching without intimate familiarity with it.

6. The book reveals that both jazz and classical music are tied for second to last place in music market share at approx. 1.4% each; ranking both only above children’s music. Coincidentally, both jazz and classical are the two primary areas of music study that are widely embraced by academic institutions in the United States. Do you believe that there is a connection between such poor market performance and the academy’s firm embrace of these two  music styles? How so, and why/why not?

7. When teaching artistic mediums that emanate from ethnic sources/roots, is it acceptable to separate the core technical elements of the art from from it’s appropriate cultural and ethnic context? What are the negatives and positives of taking this approach?

8. Do you see the dynamic of potential music appropriation, mishandling and/or struggle for artistic control argued in the book occurring in contemporary music styles/genres? If so, in which one(s)? How have these circumstances affected the trajectory of the music? How have they affected the business of music? How are counter-forces in the music combating/resisting such circumstances?