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2021 IASJ Jazz Research Conference, 11 and 12 November
Session 2, 11 November, 5 pm

Title of the session:
The State of Black Cultural Influence in Collegiate Jazz Pedagogy

There are certain problems that arise when teaching jazz, an ethnically-derived art, in the academies, conservatories and universities that are designed specifically to teach European classical music. What is lost in the transition from jazz teaching-in-the-street to jazz-teaching-in-academia? How can jazz research help to find the answers?

Damani Philips, Associate Professor of Jazz, African American Studies, University of Iowa

Title of the presentation:
Lost Soul: Issues in Teaching Ethnically Derived Arts in Academia

Damani Phillips, University of Iowa Associate Professor of Jazz and African American Studies, in his presentation during the 2021 IASJ Conference, dives into the inherent problems associated with teaching an ethnically-derived art form, such as jazz, in an environment that is remarkably lacking in ethnic-cultural representation among those charged with teaching the music. He argues that the cultural, emotional and esthetic elements at the very core of the unique identity of jazz, along with the music’s overt sonic connection to African American music culture, are effectively "lost in translation" in traversing the divide between academic and non‐academic ‘street’ jazz spheres.
During his studies Damani was faced with the fact that the Black cultural element was downplayed or even ignored in the curriculum which led to a sense of a loss of identity and an incomplete education. The lack of the representation of Black culture in academia pushed him to research this subject in depth in his book "What Is This Thing Called Soul: Conversations on Black Culture and Jazz Education” on which his presentation is based.

Damani Philips makes it very clear that he is NOT saying that jazz can only be played, taught and researched by African Americans, that being African American means that you automatically embrace that musical culture and aesthetic, nor that being Caucasian means that you don’t, and that academia and academically trained musicians are the downfall of jazz. This is in no way a question of Black versus White nor that coming from an academic background means that you are automatically part of the issue.

Damani Philips makes a strong point of the fact that jazz is a product of Black culture and that this must be respected in jazz pedagogy, performance and research. The musical genre was born out of the inherent need to communicate feeling, while academia focuses on the more concrete aspects of the music, such as theory and technique. The cultural elements that are at the core of jazz music are forgotten and not well captured and presented in universities and academies. These two elements are inseparable when it comes to jazz and if they do get torn apart the music can no longer bare that name ‘jazz’ and takes the form of ‘improvised music’.

During the transition from the non‐academic ‘street’ jazz spheres to academia the core cultural components got lost in translation. This has led to a fundamentally inaccurate view of the music called jazz. Acknowledging the problematic focus on the ‘what’ of the music and the disregard for the ‘why’ and ‘how’ is crucial in fixing these drawbacks.

Luckily these issues can be made right through the following. Firstly, the cultural elements that make up the DNA of jazz must be recognized a necessary, not optional features. Secondly, the potential shortcomings of the musical and cultural backgrounds of performers, pedagogues and researchers has to be admitted. Lastly, proper steps to address these deficiencies must be taken to build better fundaments in academia for the generations to come.

Immersion is key and connecting with the music and its practitioners in every way possible is a must. The depth of culture is not teachable and has to be experienced. It is necessary to accept that there are some things that research, in the traditional academic sense, cannot encompass. Travelling to the core of the culture to see, feel and sense how it feeds the music and vice versa, is a direct solution and also the right thing to do as a scholar of jazz music. Developing a deep understanding of how the music is supposed to connect with and impact the listener is mandatory. The realization that cultural context is directly tied to the makeup of jazz and is not optional to understanding the music in its entirety.

In his powerful research Damani Phillips underlines the importance of open acknowledgment that jazz is not just American but African American music and the ethos of African American musical practices and culture cannot simply be excised or otherwise marginalized among those claiming a complete understanding of the music. Furthermore, the music is inseparable from the ethnical history of the African Americans and scholars and pedagogues are obliged to honor the music as a whole, not just the culturally convenient parts, to set the trend of embracing Black culture and its People in addition to its cultural products.

In the discussion Damani Philips makes clear that reading about African American culture can help to understand this culture better but that immersion in African American culture in any possible way is the thing to do. This immersion can be done through jazz but also through other musical styles from that culture such as hip-hop, gospel and blues.

Europe is by default further detached from the African American culture and has a large range of strong national cultures. Nevertheless, in these times of abundance of information via the internet and in many other ways, ‘Nothing is really that far away’ states Damani Philips. Immersing in the African American culture can be done by anyone, anywhere – but would require performers, teachers and scholars to both acknowledge the necessity of doing so and take the required extra steps to address that need in earnest.

Damani Philips states that he does not care about which direction the music is going. Any type of music can be called jazz and that is perfectly fine. But if one is to legitimately claim musical and/or intellectual expertise in jazz, the connection with the African American music and culture has to be there. One can hear when music is disconnected to the African American culture. Something is missing that should be there.

Wouter Turkenburg thanks Damani Philips and the participants. The presentation of Damani Philips has given a lot food for thoughts and motivation for action to be taken.

Who is who
Dr Damani Philips, saxophone, Director of Jazz Studies, Associate Professor of African-American Studies at the University of Iowa; USA
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