Black Studies

Jazz.com interview with George E. Lewis

December 16, 2009
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Jazz.com interview with George E. Lewis

Jazz.com‘s Ted Panken recently posted an in-depth two–part interview with George E. Lewis, author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. In the interview Panken and Lewis engage in a detailed dialogue on the history, theory, as well as practice of one of the most influential jazz collectives of the 20th century—The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. From Panken’s preface to the interview: A Power Stronger Than Itself is a landmark work. The bedrock of the text is an exhaustively researched linear narrative history, constructed on over 90 interviews from which Lewis traces keen portraits of numerous members; AACM archival records; encyclopedic citations from contemporaneous literature, both from American and European sources; and vividly recounted personal experience. Furthermore, Lewis contextualizes the musical production of AACM members—a short list of “first-wavers” includes such late 20th-century innovators as Muhal Richard Abrams, who stamped his character on the principles by which the AACM would operate; the founding members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and Don Moye); Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgil, Amina Claudine Myers, and John Stubblefield—within both the broader spectrum of experimental activity . . .

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Abrams, Lewis, and Mitchell trio at the Chicago Jazz Festival

September 3, 2009
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Abrams, Lewis, and Mitchell trio at the Chicago Jazz Festival

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Mary Pattillo on the black middle class

August 5, 2009
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Mary Pattillo on the black middle class

Mary Pattillo, author of Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril among the Black Middle Class and Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City was interviewed recently on Penn State Public Broadcasting’s Conversations webcast speaking on the topic of her two books: the American black middle class. In the interview Pattillo talks about the history of the rise of the black middle class and the unique issues that middle class African American’s face today in negotiating their place within their communities and in American society at large. Navigate to the Penn State website to view the episode. Also read this excerpt from Black on the Block and another from Black Picket Fences. . . .

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Slumming and the unmatchable thrill of doing something disreputable

July 7, 2009
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Slumming and the unmatchable thrill of doing something disreputable

The New York Times City Room blog ran an article yesterday on a 19th century pastime that began as a morally transgressive practice of the urban upper class, but also played an important role in dramatically recasting the racial and sexual landscape of cities like New York and Chicago. “Slumming”, as the practice was popularly known, invited “well-off white urban to explore black, Chinese, gay, or poor working-class communities” in search of a good time, and the unmatchable thrill of doing something disreputable. In the late 1800’s upper class whites, sometimes accompanied by a local guide, would push their way into the living spaces residents in impoverished neighborhoods in a voyeuristic attempt to “see how the other half lived,” reveling in the excitement of police raids, opium dens, and “gawking at prostitutes, gays, lesbians and cross-dressers.” The City Room posting cites Chad Heap, author of Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940 as he explains how, in the course of the following decades, the practice of slumming evolved into a vital avenue for communication and appreciation across social, economic and cultural barriers that typified Jazz-Age America. From the City Room blog: “In the late 19th century, American . . .

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Press Release: Heap, Slumming

May 14, 2009
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Press Release: Heap, Slumming

Greenwich Village. Harlem. Bronzeville. Even in this freewheeling, globalized age, the names of these iconic neighborhoods still conjure up an atmosphere of glamour, excitement, and illicit thrills. But long before today’s teens or even yesterday’s beatniks wandered their streets, these neighborhoods exercised a powerful attraction for upright members of the middle class looking for dissipation and disreputable fun. With Slumming, Chad Heap brings these early havens of hip to life, recreating the long-lost nightlife of early twentieth-century New York and Chicago. From jazz clubs and speakeasies to black-and-tan parties and cabarets, Heap packs Slumming with vivid scenes, fascinating characters, and wild anecdotes of a late-night life on the borders of the forbidden. And while he doesn’t ignore the role of exploitation and voyeurism in slumming—or the resistance it often provoked—he argues that the relatively uninhibited mingling it promoted across bounds of race and class helped to dramatically recast the racial and sexual landscape of burgeoning U.S. cities. The unforgettable tale of an urban past that continues to resonate in our day, Slumming is a late-night treat for all urbanites and fans of the demi-monde. Read the press release or read the introduction. . . .

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Press Release: Pager, Marked

April 15, 2009
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Press Release: Pager, Marked

New in paperback!—Marked gives us our first real glimpse into the tremendous difficulties facing ex-offenders in the job market. Devah Pager matched up pairs of young men, randomly assigned them criminal records, then sent them on hundreds of real job searches throughout the city of Milwaukee. Her applicants were attractive, articulate, and capable—yet ex-offenders received less than half the callbacks of the equally qualified applicants without criminal backgrounds. Young black men, meanwhile, paid a particularly high price: those with clean records fared no better in their job searches than white men just out of prison. Such shocking barriers to legitimate work, Pager contends, are an important reason that many ex-prisoners soon find themselves back in the realm of poverty, underground employment, and crime that led them to prison in the first place. “Pager shows that ex-offenders, white or black, stand a very poor chance of getting a legitimate job.… Both informative and convincing.” —Library Journal Read the press release or read an excerpt. . . .

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Rehabilitating intellectualism

March 31, 2009
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Rehabilitating intellectualism

For the past eight years the term “intellectual” has been frequently interpreted by the media as a piece of anti-populist or elitist rhetoric. But in a recent article for the New Republic Ross Posnock notes that Obama’s presidency has rehabilitated the term as one of praise rather than opprobrium, and with it interest in the history of black intellectualism in America. Tapping into this renewed interest, Posnock cites Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth’s new book, Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher for its revealing look at the life and thought of its highly influential, yet often neglected subject. Inheriting the role of the leading spokesperson for black intellectualism from such figures as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Boise, the authors show how Alain L. Locke both continued their legacy of leadership but also vitally updated the role. Posnock writes: Harris and Molesworth’s book “brings alive distinctive fashioning of the role of black intellectual” demonstrating his unique ability to operate as “a race man,” but also as “an apolitical aesthete,” keeping “up the pressure on both roles, as his thought continually refined itself and deepened.” Thus, expanding the influence of black intellectuals in American culture Harris and . . .

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Hyra and Pritchett on the Future of Public Housing

January 28, 2009
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Hyra and Pritchett on the Future of Public Housing

This morning at the Urban Institute Derek Hyra, author of The New Urban Renewal, and Wendell Pritchett, author of Robert Clifton Weaver and the American City joined a forum with other experts on urban affairs to discuss the question: Can public housing overcome its history of racial discrimination and segregation? The discussion addressed such issues as whether public housing policies can simultaneously address the problems of poverty and race. And, if so, how? You can listen to a webcast of the panel and, for historical perspective, read an excerpt of Pritchett’s book. . . .

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A modern music missed by modern scholarship

November 13, 2008
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A modern music missed by modern scholarship

The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Peter Monaghan has written several interesting articles recently about the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, “a celebrated avant-garde collective that began in the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago in the 1960s,” and the subject of George E. Lewis’s recent A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. In both articles Monaghan notes the significance of Lewis’s book as the first academic treatment of the AACM and the highly influential experimental music it produced, and ponders the question, put forth in Lewis’s book, of why such a groundbreaking group of artists hasn’t received more attention by mainstream academics: In his book, both social history and critical study, Lewis makes a claim that devotees of the AACM have long embraced but that is discomforting some composers and critics: The jazz-related collective, which emerged from black, working-class areas of Chicago in the 1960s, became one of the most significant artistic forces of the 20th century—yet histories of American musical experimentalism almost never say so.… Lewis cites the historian Jon D. Cruz’s observation that criticism of the new music as “just noise” recalled many slave owners’ earlier obliviousness to the significations of slave songs. “Similarly,” . . .

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Rain Taxi reviews A Power Stronger than Itself

September 11, 2008
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Rain Taxi reviews A Power Stronger than Itself

The Fall 2008 print edition of the Rain Taxi Review of Books published a positive review of George E. Lewis’s new book A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Rain Taxi contributor W. C. Bamberger begins: Founded in 1965, the AACM … seeks to enable black composers and performers of experimental music to take control of its presentation and recording. For more than forty years the name and acronym have been appearing in the liner notes of recordings by The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Muhal Richard Abrams, and many others, but information about the group has always been rather hazy, a frustration that George E. Lewis’s impressive sociological-historical study more than remedies. Lewis, a trombonist and electronic musician, is also an AACM member and past president, and so brings an insider’s perspective to his analysis. He also conducted nearly 100 interviews with musicians and writers and presents their memories and views, some of them clashing, in hopes that “a useful story might be realized out of the many voices heard in this book, the maelstrom of heteroglossia in which we nervously tread water.” There is no picket fencing here: Lewis doesn’t utilize the high point or . . .

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