Friday, June 1, 2007

Frequently Asked Questions

What are you doing next year?
Taking a year to travel and play music as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow.

I will study the interaction of native African, contemporary popular, and American jazz music in modern African society. I will spend my Watson year traveling to Ghana, Senegal, Benin, Guinea, and South Africa to explore the following questions: What happens when an African-American form, jazz, comes back into one of its constituent parts, African society? How do African cultures combine popular and jazz music with their own native music and traditions? What are the various ways in which music is connected with culture, history, tradition, and memory? This will entail hearing lots of different kinds of music, urban and rural, popular and traditional - and a lot of trombone playing, hanging out with musicians, and recording music and interviews.

Why those countries?
West Africa is a region where many of the people who became American slaves were captured, so the spiritual and musical roots of the area have an interesting, dual relationship with Western society. And these days, cities across West Africa rock hard. I am especially excited to visit Accra, Ghana and Dakar, Senegal. My travels to Benin will also allow me to pursue some research in vodu and vodu music.
South Africa is a slightly different endeavor. Jazz was a kind of freedom music for the oppressed people under the apartheid regime, and South Africans have created their own hybrid form of jazz since liberation: another way in which jazz continues to speak for and through people on journeys of hardship. I will be basing my project around Cape Town, where South African jazz flourishes.
West Africa and South Africa have different relationships with Western music, but in both, American popular/jazz music has become a component in forming their identity as modern nations.

What do you hope to get out of your Fellowship year?
A sense of self-reliance and travel-savviness.
Lasting musical influences.
A reformatted brain.

When do you leave?
July 31.

How long will you be gone?
A year.

Will you miss us?