What Is This Thing Called Soul: Conversations on Black Culture and Jazz Education (Black Studies and Critical Thinking)

November 03, 2017
What Is This Thing Called Soul book cover
Damani Phillips

University of Iowa Associate Professor of Jazz and African-American Studies Damani Phillips has published his first book, What Is This Thing Called Soul: Conversations on Black Culture and Jazz Education.

This work breaks new intellectual ground in openly exploring how academic jazz education impacts the Black cultural value of soulfulness and esthetic standards in contemporary jazz music. Through candid conversations with nine of the country’s most highly respected jazz practitioners and teachers, What Is This Thing Called Soul explores the potential consequences of forcing the Black musical style of jazz into an academic pedagogical system that is specifically designed to facilitate the practice and pedagogy of European classical music. This work tests the belief that the cultural, emotional and esthetic elements at the very core of jazz’s unique identity, along with the music’s overt connection to Black culture, are effectively being “lost in translation” in traversing the divide between academic and non-academic jazz spheres.

The book offers a candid and objective look into pressing issues of race, culture and ethnic value in relation to both jazz music and jazz education. Sensitivity, marginalization and even a fear of offending others has limited open discussion of how the soul of jazz music can be lost in technical boundaries. What Is This Thing Called Soul is the first attempt to directly address such culturally urgent issues in jazz music.

Damani Phillips is an associate professor in the School of Music and the African American Studies Program, both part of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.