James Williams


James Williams

Dr. James Gordon Williams is a critical musicologist, composer and pianist. His research focuses on trying to understand how African-American musical texts are reflective of African-American imagination and activism. A thoughtful musician, Jazz Improv Magazine’s Winthrop Bedford has stated, “James Gordon Williams is nothing less than an accomplished, impressively creative pianist and composer, with great depth and substance.” Dr. Williams is a graduate of New England Conservatory of Music, New York University and the University of California San Diego, where he earned his Ph.D. in music.

Talk Title: Crossing the Bar Lines: Locating 20th and 21st Strategies of Musical Equipoise and Resistance

African American musicians have used, and continue to use, improvisational and compositional strategies to create musical critiques on Civil Rights issues. Being both at the center and periphery, how do African -American musicians express a social sense of space and time? George Lewis (2000) argues that musical texts are “culturally contingent, historically emergent and linked to situated structures of power and dialogue,” whether or not artists understand their cultural production as revealing of those structures.

To that end, the author through three separate but thematically interrelated readings of musical works seeks to articulate these vibrant practices. Jazz pianist Stanley Cowell’s composition ‘Equipoise’ (1968) is a musical statement on the need for maintaining spiritual balance in the social turbulence of the 1960s. ‘Ten Freedom Summers’ (2012) a compositional work by Wadada Leo Smith, programmatically articulates major civil rights events through using multi-instrumental, composed and improvisational formats. ‘My Name Is Oscar’ (2010), Ambrose Akinmusire’s spoken word critique on both the January 1st 2009 killing and the humanity of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, is also a part of this tradition of musical protest and commentary.

This lecture recital explores how musicians express notions of black positionality in relation to society.

WEB LINK: http://www.jamesgordonwilliams.com/