At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I have been teaching since 2015, I balance large lecture classes, seminars, jazz combos, applied lessons, and independent studies. Regardless of the format, my main goal is to engage students with the material by challenging them intellectually in academics and creatively in performance.
In academics, I encourage students to think about the broader social, racial, cultural, and political context that surrounds the music being studied. In jazz history and African American music, I focus on race and the history of prejudice against African Americans; discussions include minstrelsy and the practice of black face, Dave Brubeck on the cover of Time magazine in 1954, and African American jazz musicians as cultural ambassadors on U.S. government-sponsored tours during the Civil Rights era
In performance-based teaching, I encourage teamwork, communication, and creativity to inspire students to be committed to the material. I like to present students with concepts that challenge their way of thinking about music and the possibilities of improvisation. In my current combo, we are exploring the music of John Coltrane whose repertoire encompasses a range of styles from bebop to modal to free to world music that serve as a gateway towards establishing one’s personal voice. My fall 2018 combo focused exclusively on odd time signatures and was selected for a Downbeat award for “Outstanding Performance, Graduate Blues/Pop/Rock Group” with student arrangements of songs in odd meter.
I mentor and teach students of diverse groups in my classes and utilize inclusive teaching practices and language (i.e. sideperson vs. sideman) to foster a learning environment that is welcoming to all. I strive to make students aware of the structural and cultural forces that shape or have shaped discrimination based on factors such as race, ethnicity, language, religion, class, learning ability, nationality, sexuality or gender. In order to accommodate this holistic view, I supplement the lectures and classes with discussion topics and articles that touch upon broader themes that often resonate with the issues of today; examples include a discussion of the green book and travel conditions for African Americans in the mid-20th century and a focus on female musicians or composers who have been ignored throughout jazz history. I guide honors students through term papers as part of a supplement to the large lecture classes. One student was Russian who explored themes of nationality and political dissent in a study of Russian jazz musicians in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
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