Colgate Syllabus: History of Jazz

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Colgate Syllabus: History of Jazz

Brian Stark, Visiting Assistant Professor of Music

Course Description:

In this course, led by jazz saxophonist Brian Stark, students delve into the rich history of jazz. Stark shares his expertise in music scholarship and exposes the class to performers such as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Louis Armstrong. Additionally, students engage with Colgate’s Blackmore Jazz Collection and are encouraged to attend live performances within the Hamilton community. The nuances of swing, solo improvisation, and the blues are at the forefront of their in-class discussions.

Course Goals:

Students explore and gauge their reactions to both popular and experimental jazz. They then engage in humanities research — a skill that will serve them beyond their time in the music course.

Key Assignment:

Students complete a research project, consisting of a paper and presentation. Their project starts with a research question, such as “What makes jazz authentic?” or “How does the identity of performers impact their sound?” They then collect sources for a bibliography, write an abstract, and present their findings to their peers. Students modify their projects according to Professor Stark’s feedback, which he provides at each step in the process.

The Professor Says:

Jazz is more than music you can relax to. It’s a genre that elicits a range of emotions from the listener. Understanding its depth reveals the intricate connections between instruments, style periods, and the music’s historical context.

The genre mirrors the transformation of American culture over time — it offers a unique way to study familiar moments in history, such as the Great Depression. My students come from various academic backgrounds, such as economics, biology, and chemistry, so they infuse our exploration of musical influence and cultural importance with diverse insights.