Projects at Tulane


Music Rising (

Music-Rising-at-Tulane is an innovative, multi-platform website on the region's musical cultures to contextualize the region's music. Eighteen courses mapped onto the website, each feature a full complement of materials (syllabus, readings, videos, photographs, and oral histories) to introduce the region's cultural riches. This site documents, preserves, and communicates the sustaining organic factors of Gulf South music and culture

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Center for the Gulf South

The New Orleans Center for the Gulf South (NOCGS) explores the region's cultural intersections with Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean through research, community engagement and a new curriculum. Often ignored in larger US histories, New Orleans and the larger Gulf South figure uniquely within colonial, regional, national, and global narratives. The Center is home to a brand-new major, the Musical Cultures of the Gulf South, and we are building a field of study focused on the region’s music and culture.

In the Gulf South, dozens of African ethnic groups created a pan-African American culture that remains the most influential musical culture of the past century. In terms of American musical genres, jazz, blues, zydeco, Cajun, swamp pop and bounce all have their origins here; Gulf Coast musicians have made seminal contributions to ragtime, rhythm-and-blues, rock-and- roll, funk, and hiphop; country and gospel have always flourished here. Brass band music has been central to a New Orleans way of musical communication for over a century, when uplifted horns began to sound out a new freedom,

New Orleans remains a cosmopolitan urban culture founded in the tripartite colonial mix of European, African, and Native American peoples, stirred by the migrations of Cajuns and Haitians in the early eighteenth century and transformed into a crucial national port by a familiar nineteenth-century ethnic mix of Italians, Jews, Irish, and Polish-Americans. More recently, immigrants from Vietnam and Latin America have become integral to the region's ethnic admixture.


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Jazz, Blues and Literature (Seminar)

As forms of artistic expression, jazz, blues and literature challenge each reader and listener to consider everyday life as an improvisational challenge. Authors and musicians model for readers and listeners a path for finding one’s voice -- for speaking out within a community and expressing one’s experience from a personal (or subjective) perspective. Kenneth Burke called the reading of literature "equipment for living" and blues theorist Albert Murray adapted this phrase for African-American music. For both, for readers or listeners to engage the themes and aesthetics within literature or blues, they will increase self-knowledge, social understanding, and awareness of others (and Others). This course integrates music, literature, history, race, aesthetics and local traditions -- the relationship of music and place, of sites and sound. We begin at the beginning: exploring the conditions under which jazz and blues arose at the turn of the twentieth century in New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta.

More information at the course website

Sample Unit: The Beats and Jazz
The literary practice of the Beats owes as much to jazz as to Walt Whitman or William Carlos Williams. Allen Ginsberg wrote the lines of "Howl" to scat along with Lester Young's composition, "Lester Leaps In." On the Road is a novel fueled as much by the jazz of its nightclubs as by the gasoline of its joyrides. In the Beat world, literature and music converged in an attempt to rejuvenate "all these tired faces [seen] in the dawn of Jazz America," Kerouac wrote.
Jack Kerouac called himself a "jazz poet" in Mexico City Blues (1958) and asked the reader to consider that he is "blowing a long blues in an afternoon jam on Sunday," a song with 242 choruses. Each chorus is limited to a single page, a choice that reflected how a jazz musician must improvise within the chord changes of a given composition. In Kerouac's writing manifesto, "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose," he aspired to the improvisation and stream-of-consciousness of the jazz solo; his objective was "bop prosody" (i.e., bebop prose). The sleeper-hero of MCB is Charlie Parker, the primogenitor of bebop, who he introduces this way: "Charlie Parker looked like Buddha." He presents Parker as the Pied Piper of postwar nuclear apocalypse, an artist who will either save humankind through music or lead everyone off a cliff of their own making.
The Beat writers rebooted an American Romanticism launched by Emerson and Whitman through the figure of the jazz musician -- emphasizing personal experience over studied expertise and spontaneous self-expression over traditions and conventions. As Charlie Parker famously said "Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn.
John Clellon Holmes' The Horn (1958) remains the most underrated novel about jazz, a roman a clef riffed from the legends of Young, Parker, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk. Young is Edgar Poole, a dying father figure whose self-appointed Romantic sense of individual artistry once fueled the dreams of these younger musicians. In the novel, the saxophone figures as a complex symbol of art, freedom, individuality, dissent, and citizenship, as in this interior monologue of the young Walden Blue.
Looking at it, he knew it to be also an emblem of some inner life of his own, something with which he could stand upright, at the flux and tempo of his powers…To Walden, the saxophone was, at once, his key to the world in which he found himself, and the way by which that world was rendered impotent to brand him either failure or madman or Negro or saint…sometimes on the smoky stand, between solos, he hung it from his swinging shoulder like one bright, golden wing (5).



The History of Being Cool in America

 Cool is a vital concept at the intersections of youth culture, popular culture, subculture, and African-American culture. In this course we will explore and analyze how this word and idea became integral to the American self-concept through three generational shifts. The word and its various phrases ("be cool," "play it cool") originally emerged from African-American jazz culture in the 1940s and there was a genre called "cool jazz." These concepts and artistic ideas were crossed over by Beat Generation writers such as Jack Kerouac: being cool was soon associated with the bohemian life of non-conformity, jazz, slang, drugs, and detachment. In the mid- '60s, cool shifted: a younger generation associated cool with rebellious self-expression, especially through sex, drugs (especially) and rock'n'roll. To be cool meant to be anti-authoritarian and to actively defy the mainstream of middle-class materialism. Cool meant "doing your own thing" until the 1980s when corporations began to commodify cool. Now "cool" was assumed to be something you could buy or wear, as if self-expression was simply about buying the right thing.

Cool has some constant qualities and yet changes meaning every decade: it is a concept in dialogue with generational needs. Do American youth still aspire to be cool? Do you?  Is cool still a vital concept in the US or is it dead?

  • Mezz Mezzrow, Really the Blues (1946)

  • Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely (1940)

  • Jack Kerouac, On The Road (1957)

  • Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)

  • Patti Smith, Just Kids (2010)

  • Jay-Z, Decoded (2012)

  • Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear III, American Cool (2013)