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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 7. The Devil’s Music: Wycliffe Gordon Interview (1967–)



The Devil’s Music

Wycliffe Gordon Interview (1967–)

Trombonist, composer, arranger and educator Wycliffe Gordon is an internationally recognized tour-de-force in contemporary jazz. Born into a religious and musical household in Waynesboro, GA, Gordon found music at a very early age. His relationship with jazz began at age 13 as a result of a record collection inherited from his deceased great aunt. Gordon’s first introduction to music was through the church, and became a guiding factor in his personal conceptualization of music made as an adult. Gordon completed the Bachelor of Music degree at (HBCU) Florida A and M, which is also the alma mater of legendary alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. Though known most famously for his trombone skills, Gordon is also a proficient on trumpet, slide trumpet, tuba and digeridoo.

Gordon has been widely recognized as a leader in jazz trombone performance over the last decade. He was the recipient of Downbeat Magazine’s Critics Choice Award Best Trombone in 2012–2014, Downbeat Magazine’s Critics Choice “Rising Star Award” Tuba 2014, the Jazz Journalists Association Award recipient for Trombonist of the Year for 2011–2013, 2006–2008, 2002 and 2001 among others. He is a former member of the Wynton Marsalis Septet, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and has performed with jazz luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Joe←133 | 134→ Henderson and Branford Marsalis just to name a few. Gordon is also an active composer and arranger, with numerous...

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