May 10, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 16

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    Scholars, musicians will ‘trade fours’ at one-day, jazz conference on Friday

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    In jazz circles, “trading fours” means breaking up a steady 4/4 beat by improvising new rhythms that trade freely into the time signature of a piece of music. It is a basic way for musicians to open up the structure of a phrase or composition in a way that encourages other players to respond in kind–and it lays the foundation for a freely expressive musical creativity.

    From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, May 11, the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture will host a conference infused by the ethos of improvisation. Trading Fours: Jazz and its Milieu will gather musicians, scholars, critics, club owners and music aficionados to reflect on the nature of improvisational jazz and its significance to the African-American communities in Chicago and other cities, and how associations of creative musicians contribute to the life of a people.

    Conference organizer Bridgette McCullough, program developer at the center, said the event will present a collage of academic, musical and cultural perspectives. “Our goal for the conference has been to create a forum where different facets of the community that don’t often get together can speak to each other directly,” she explained. In that spirit, academic panels and presentations, a film screening and musical performances will flow together across the course of the day.

    McCullough said she expects that the interplay of forms, voices and traditions will shed new light on aspects of improvisational jazz music that often are not addressed. “Creative music has important spiritual dimensions that relate to its African and African- American heritage,” she explained. “But the music also connects the community politically and transcends racial boundaries.”

    During a 9 a.m. reception in Judd Hall Auditorium, Michael Dawson, Professor and Chairman of Political Science and Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, will introduce the conference. After Kenneth Warren, Associate Professor in English Language & Literature and an Associate at the Center, welcomes participants to the conference, Timuel Black, professor emeritus at City Colleges of Chicago, will preside over the opening of an exhibition of album cover art. Members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, an internationally recognized organization for improvisational jazz musicians based in Chicago, designed the artwork for recordings.

    Shortly before 10 a.m., Dick Wang, professor in music at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will present “Creative Music at a South Side Junior College in the 1950s and Early 1960s.” Wang’s presentation will lead into the day’s first panel discussion, which will examine various approaches to jazz and creative music education in under-served communities around Chicago.

    The conference will culminate in a performance by Tatsu Aoki, Mwata Bowden, Douglas Ewart, George Lewis and the University’s Jazz X-tet, beginning at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at the Lutheran School of Theology, 1100 E. 55th St. The ensemble will present works composed by Bowden, Ewart and Wadada Leo Smith.

    Bowden, Director of the University Jazz Ensemble, said the performance will demonstrate the balance between tradition and improvisation that gives life to creative music. “It’s experimental, but not without good solid foundation and knowledge of where you’re coming from,” he explained. “People who come to hear the Jazz X-tet don’t want to hear how we sounded two years ago, they come to hear what we’re doing now. They come for an experience rooted in its time.”

    Ultimately, McCullough hopes participants and attendees will open themselves to an experience that may push past the comfortable boundaries of traditional academic discourse. “Nothing is wrong with bounded discourse, but nothing is wrong with completely letting go either. I think that if you can try to maintain the spirit of inquiry, but let go of your spirit, you can run free within this context,” she argued.

    The conference has been made possible through support from the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Center for Gender Studies and the Department of Music at the University, as well as the Illinois Arts Council and the Illinois Humanities Council.

    For more information about conference presentations, call the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at 702-8063 or visit the Web page at http://socialsciences.uchicago.edu/ucrpc/Events/jazzcon.htm.