Former UCLA Professor Charles Seeger

With another year of graduate coursework well underway now, I figure it’s time to take a minute to reflect here at the blog on the various writing, musicking, and writing-about-musicking activities swirling through my calendar these days.

The title of this post refers to former UCLA musicologist Charles Seeger’s apt description of musicology: that scholars of music are “in a linguocentric predicament,” that is, that we are stuck talking about music when the music expresses so much all by itself. I’ve done a lot of talking about music recently, which has been a lot of fun and has also reminded me of the stark limitations to the word’s capacity to convey musical meaning. 

At the same time, I remain convinced that “speech-communication,” as Seeger called it, is not only inevitable but invaluable to the process of making music meaningful. Two weeks ago, I presented a pre-concert lecture for The Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA’s double-bill of the Robert Glasper Trio and Ron Carter Quartet. My talk, “Leading from Below: Bassists as Bandleaders,” discussed the ways in which bassists–often consigned to “supporting” roles when we describe jazz–are powerful musical forces and essential creative collaborators. Of course, Ron Carter and Derrick Hodge offer prime examples of this, and I suspect (at least I hope!) that the audience of eager concert-goers took some useful conceptual tools with them into the show.

Later that week, I flew to New Orleans for the once-in-a-decade combined academic conference of AMS/SEM/SMT–that’s the American Musicological Society, Society for Ethnomusicology, and Society for Music Theory. I presented an updated version of my paper on “the hang,” entitled “Urban Spaces and Jazz Improvisation: Hearing the Hang in the U.S. and Chile,” on Thursday morning. The panel went great–with the lone exception that the title, “Innovation Through Time: Latin America and the Jazz Tradition” was misrepresented on the program as “Innovation Through Time: Latin America and the Jazz.” My advisor, Steven Loza, chaired the panel and gave the first talk on the Latin American musical currents present in Louis Armstrong’s early work; my colleague in the UCLA PhD program Leon Garcia offered a fascinating description of Mexican trio romantico musicians’ incorporation of jazz elements into their acts; and James Newton gave a stirring follow-up as panel discussant that beautifully tied everything together. It was such a pleasure to share the stage with such fantastic speakers–not to mention brilliant musicians in their own right–and to talk about this music we all love.

Ah, but the talking-about-music doesn’t stop there! Tomorrow, I will participate in a panel discussion for the Jazz Journalists Association on jazz blogging–where I’ll be joined by fellow Jazz Internet denizens Veronica Grandison, Angelika Beener, and Jonathan Wertheim. The online panel is free, but you need to register in advance by clicking on this link! The party starts at 8 pm EST–that’s 5 pm for us West Coasters–and will run until about 9:30 EST. I hope to see some of you there, and look forward to basking in the linguocentric predicament with you soon.

Just for kicks, though, it probably doesn’t hurt to share a little bit of music with you, too. Here’s one of the first clips of me playing trombone since my self-imposed musical hiatus in 2010, performing Steve Coleman’s “Attila 02″ with the UCLA Charles Mingus Ensemble (led by the aforementioned Prof. Newton) last June:

That’s Jonah Levine with the trombone solo, by the way–a relentlessly creative player. It has been both humbling and inspiring to sit next to him every week for the past year. When he graduates, look out jazz world! I’m sure he’ll give us all something to talk about.

(Again, register here for the online panel on jazz blogging tomorrow!)

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