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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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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Phillips, Damani C., author. Title: What is this thing called soul: conversations on black culture and jazz education / Damani C. Phillips. Description: New York: Peter Lang, 2017. Series: Black studies and critical thinking; vol. 103 | ISSN 1947-5985 Includes bibliographical references. Identifiers: LCCN 2017020291 | ISBN 978-1-4331-4565-0 (hardcover: alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4331-4570-4 (paperback: alk. paper) | ISBN 978-1-4331-4571-1 (ebook pdf) ISBN 978-1-4331-4572-8 (epub) | ISBN 978-1-4331-4573-5 (mobi) Subjects: LCSH: Jazz musicians—United States—Interviews. Jazz—Social aspects—United States. | Jazz—Instruction and study—United States. African Americans—Music—Social aspects. Classification: LCC ML3918.J39 P45 2017 | DDC 781.65089/96073—dc23 LC record available at DOI 10.3726/b11362

Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at

© 2017 Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York 29 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, NY 10006

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