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What Is This Thing Called Soul

Conversations on Black Culture and Jazz Education


Damani Phillips

How does academic jazz education impact the Black cultural value of soulfulness and esthetic standards in contemporary jazz music? Through candid conversations with nine of the country’s most highly respected jazz practitioners and teachers, What Is This Thing Called Soul explores the potential consequences of forcing the Black musical style of jazz into an academic pedagogical system that is specifically designed to facilitate the practice and pedagogy of European classical music. This work tests the belief that the cultural, emotional and esthetic elements at the very core of jazz’s unique identity, along with the music’s overt connection to Black culture, are effectively being "lost in translation" in traversing the divide between academic and non-academic jazz spheres.

Each interviewee commands significant respect worldwide in the fields of jazz performance and jazz pedagogy. Noteworthy subjects include: Rufus Reid, Lewis Nash, Nicholas Payton and Wycliffe Gordon—along with the late jazz masters Marcus Belgrave and Phil Woods. Interviews are supplemented by original analysis of the nature and validity of these issues contributed by the author.

What Is This Thing Called Soul offers a candid and objective look into pressing issues of race, culture and ethnic value in relation to both jazz music and jazz education. Sensitivity, marginalization and even a fear of offending others has limited open discussion of how the soul of jazz music can be lost in technical boundaries. What Is This Thing Called Soul is the first attempt to directly address such culturally urgent issues in jazz music.

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Chapter 4. Just Play Something Real: Rufus Reid Interview (1944–)



Just Play Something Real

Rufus Reid Interview (1944–)

Bassist Rufus Reid is one of today’s premiere bassists on the international jazz scene. Since enlisting in the Air Force after high school, Reid has immersed himself in the life and culture of jazz music for the last 50+ years. Raised in Sacramento, CA, Reid has played with an impressive list of respected jazz luminaries, including Dexter Gordon, Eddie Harris, Art farmer and Stan Getz among many, many others. Reed sought academic pedigree later in his life with completion of a Bachelor of Music degree in Bass Performance from Northwestern University in 1971 at the age of 27. Since then, Rufus has continued to be an active and relevant artistic force in the jazz world – equally active as a jazz performer, educator, and more recently, a composer.

Reid is equally known as an exceptional educator. Dr. Martin Krivin and Reid created the Jazz Studies & Performance Program at William Paterson University. Reid retired after 20 years, but continues to teach regularly – conducting master classes, workshops, and residencies around the world. Rufus’ bass pedagogy book The Evolving Bassist (1974) continues to be recognized as the definitive bass method in the industry.

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