Ways to Teach My Book

General Suggestions for Class Use and Adoption

The structure and cultural poignancy of What Is This Thing Called Soul is appropriate for readers of all levels – both inside and outside the academy. While the topic of the book squarely addresses pressing issues in jazz pedagogy within academia, its related discussion of race, ethnic values, academia’s handling of ethnic art forms, cultural elitism and the individual interviews with highly respected luminaries of jazz music make it directly applicable to the fields of:

  • Jazz Studies
  • Ethnomusicology
  • African American Studies
  • Race, Ethnicity and the Arts
  • American Studies
  • History (Interviews with respected musicians who have now passed)
  • Cultural Criticism
  • Music Education

The candor, casual language and self-contained conversations represented  by the individual interviews make the book particularly well suited for use with undergraduate students. While all interviews effectively discuss the over-arching topic of jazz in the academy, each interviewee approaches the discussion (and broaches conversation of related side topics) in their own unique and fascinating way.  When paired with the opening chapter of the book**, the following interviews are particularly well-suited for undergraduate study:

  • Ch. 8 – Nicholas Payton
  • Ch. 6. – Brad Goode
  • Ch. 5 – Marcus Belgrave
  • Ch. 3 – Ellen Rowe

While the use of the book for graduate study is best handled through comparison/contrast of the interviews and author findings as a unified whole, some chapters offer thoughts, concepts and perspectives that are particularly well-suited for the increased rigor of graduate level study. Chapters of particular interest to graduate level students are:

  • Ch. 2 – Stefon Harris
  • Ch. 7 – Wycliffe Gordon
  • Ch. 8 – Nicholas Payton
  • Ch. 11: Discussion – “You Cannot Teach A Culture”

**Please keep in mind that Chapters 1 and 11 should be viewed as required contextual reading that properly frames the content of the interviews in the book.

Author’s Tips for Effective Instructional Use

The secret to unlocking the classroom potential of the book is developing your students’  personal understanding of concepts/elements like soulfulness, emotional urgency, expressiveness and other intangible characteristics that are directly related to African-American music culture, yet difficult to define in concrete terms. Many have personally experienced these attributes as they function in the music they listen to, but have never been forced to pinpoint, acknowledge or contextualize exactly what “it” is – and more importantly, where “it” comes from. Defining such things in a concrete way is an immense challenge, but recognizing these attributes at work in the music is absolutely achievable!

Please take a moment to explore the activities/classroom exercises provided under the “For Discussion” and “Activities” tabs. They may be useful in both helping your students comprehend the essence of these vital attributes and comprehending the significant differences in music that is functions in the absence of these qualities. Beginning your work with the book in this way ensures that what W.I.T.T.C.S. has to offer is sufficiently contextualized, and that the conversations within it may be attached to something other than a theoretical understanding of musical elements born of a people and music that is anything but.

Consider choosing the chapters/interviewees that suit your class’ interests, goals and personality best. If your class is an academically-driven one, consider choosing the use of “Chapter 2 – Stefon Harris”. If your students are motivated by controversial cultural perspectives that go against the grain, consider using “Chapter 8 – Nicholas Payton”.  If your focus is jazz iconography and/or legacy, consider using the chapters on Marcus Belgrave or Phil Woods. Please keep in mind that Chapters 1 and 11 should be viewed as required contextual reading that properly frames the content of the interviews in the book. Without them, extracting meaning, substance and motivation behind the other chapters will be difficult to do.

If you are an applied (performance-based) jazz instructor, the book is ABSOLUTELY relevant to your work, too! In addition to the theory, history and technique that we are charged with teaching, cultural and philosophical context/values is an area that often goes overlooked in our pedagogy. These concerns literally govern every note we choose, and more importantly, influences the very nature of our expression when sharing our music with listeners. “What Is This Thing Called Soul” is a potentially helpful resource as both you and your students carefully consider “…how what is said is just as vital as how things are said in jazz music.” (Phillips, Ch. 11)

The Book’s Value Beyond Academia

What Is This Thing Called Soul” is also a valuable resource and enjoyable read for those who are NOT engaged in formal music study. Many of the interviewees included are highly respected and immensely successful names in jazz music, and represent multiple generations of active jazz practitioners. In the spirit of the unique candor and poignancy of Art Taylor’s book “Notes and Tones“, the interviews contained in “W.I.T.T.C.S.” offer a unique and candid glimpse into the life, music and belief system of these remarkable musicians. The book also contains interviews with jazz masters Marcus Belgrave and Phil Woods; both of whom tragically passed away shortly after our interview. Their contribution to the book is among the last interviews in these jazz masters’ lives. Apart from the cultural arguments launched in the book, “W.I.T.T.C.S.” carries intrinsic historical value, contains useful insight on each artist’s musical upbringing and allows the casual reader to glean insight into the mindset of these profoundly influential musicians as stated in their own words.