Introducing Jazz Anthropology

May 2022 update launching the monthly newsletter

The front Entrance to Thelonious jazz club, with green walls and a lit portrait of Thelonious Monk above the front door.
Thelonious, Lugar de Jazz in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Roberto Barahona.

It has been a long time coming, but I'm finally ready to restart my practice of writing on the internet about jazz (and whatever else these explorations bring my way). This process began almost exactly 13 years ago, when I started a blog called Lubricity, and has been somewhat on hiatus since the end of 2020, when I published my last album review for DownBeat Magazine. After a year fully immersed in the world of organizing Engaged Buddhists, I'm shifting my attention (somewhat trepidatiously) back towards the jazz world and my places within it—as a writer, trombonist, educator, organizer, listener, and all-around experimentalist—to see where it takes me next.

For now, I'm calling this next iteration "Jazz Anthropology," which I defined in my PhD dissertation (following Tim Ingold's definition of anthropology writ large) as "a generous, open-ended, comparative, and yet critical inquiry into the conditions and possibilities of jazz life in the one world we all inhabit." This is a big enough umbrella to hold the core question that has driven so much of my work in this lifetime: "Why do people all over the world keep making jazz, despite decades of popular attitudes that have relegated it to the dustbin of history—and what might that have in store for our future?"Lurking in the background of that question is perhaps a more lingering one that stirs deeper in my psyche: "how is it that I'm mixed up in all of this, anyway?"

Moving forward, I have committed to a "minimum viable structure" of two updates per month: a brief monthly newsletter offering reflections and updates, coinciding with the full moon, and a monthly musical excerpt on Ampled, the cooperatively run publishing platform for musicians, coinciding with the new moon. For now, those Ampled posts will only be available to paying supporters—to receive those updates, please support my Ampled page! Once 10 of you have signed up as supporters, I'll be an artist-owner on the platform and have a vote in Board elections and access to other parts of the platform's decision-making process. If you're feeling especially flush, I encourage you to also support Ampled as a community member here.

The next Ampled update will feature a solo trombone improvisation recorded in the wilderness of Temenos Retreat Center, where I'll be spending the weekend practicing (in both the musical and Buddhist senses of the word). Deep gratitude to the folks at Temenos for accommodating a loud brass instrument in the space!

A bit more context about what has brought me to this point and what's in store for this space in the months ahead:

Since stepping down from my role as General Coordinator of the Bhumisparsha sangha in December, I've been primarily engaged in supporting the start-up mental health workers' cooperative Catalyst Cooperative Healing and helping Buddhist Peace Fellowship, a nonprofit where I serve on the Board, through an organizational transition.

I've also been deep down the rabbit hole of alternatives to traditional goverance hierarchies, working especially with Sociocracy as a model for rethinking how decisions get made. Moving forward, I'm excited to start drawing the connections between what I've learned about decision-making at the macro-level of organizational structure with what I've explored at the micro-level through improvised music. I'll be presenting an academic paper on the subject, "Abolishing the Terms of Unison: Ornette Coleman's Aesthetic Marronage," at the upcoming Rhythm Changes jazz studies conference in Amsterdam in August. I also joined the faculty of the Starr King School for the Ministry as a Reseach Scholar, where I am looking forward to collaborating on projects relating to alternative governance in spiritual communities in the year ahead.

And lastly: the first piece of writing that I've published in over a year, "Dehonkifying Christ: A Fool's Errand", was published last month in Geez Magazine, a lovely journal of spiritual activism. I've republished it here on my website and encourage you to subscribe to the magazine—I'll be co-authoring another piece for their next issue, as well.

Thanks for reading along and I look forward to writing more for you here soon. In the meantime, check out the latest album by trombonist Kalia Vandever, Regrowth—I've had it on repeat in my queue for the past week and am enjoying her approach to the music and the instrument. Until next time!