I met Dr. Damani Phillips in the spring of 2018. He came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), where I was a doctoral candidate, to give a lecture and perform at the local jazz club, The Iron Post. During his visit to UIUC, I enjoyed not only hearing his unique voice on the alto saxophone, but also a great conversation on jazz in academia. Shortly after he left to resume his teaching duties as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Iowa, his book What is This Thing Called Soul: Conversations on Black Culture in Jazz Education arrived in my mailbox. I read this book in one sitting, finding myself constantly saying “Yes — this is what we need!” I knew that it would find a place in my teaching, especially considering my passion for creating opportunities for students to explore issues of diversity and inclusion in academia.
Fast forward one year. As I began my career at Hope, Dr. Marc Baer, interim chair of the Department of Music, encouraged me to dream of what my first year could be like. I knew immediately that I wanted to bring Damani to campus — as a performer and also to fulfill the mission of Hope College in “embracing and nurturing racial, ethnic, cultural and geographic diversity” through his scholarship. Working collaboratively with Vanessa Greene from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, we designed a residency that would introduce Phillips to a greater portion of the campus community while remaining an enriching experience for our music students.
As our 2019-2020 Hurtgen Jazz Artist in Residence, Dr. Phillips will be teaching lessons, visiting classes across campus, meeting with faculty, conducting masterclasses with Hope students, and presenting his keynote lecture. About the lecture Dr. Phillips writes, “During the Civil Rights movement, many musicians joined African-Americans in using their musical voice as a catalyst in demanding change in America. While popular music artists such as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and James Brown were more overt in voicing their opposition to the status quo through their music, many overlook the more subtle sonic contributions that jazz musicians made to this righteous cause.”
So then on Tuesday, February 4 at 5:30 p.m., Dr. Phillips will present the Black History Month Keynote Lecture “Jazz in the Fight for Civil Rights.” This presentation is a one-of-a-kind collaboration which highlights seven examples of how jazz music echoed the cultural sentiments of African-Americans in the years leading up to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Through the combined use of live performance featuring a big band comprised of Hope College students and local professional musicians, spoken remarks (providing context/backstory for the program selections) and a visual display, the program offers a unique synergy of historical narrative and performance demonstration meant to both entertain and educate. The Hope College community Gospel Choir will open the program. The program is free, open to the public, and appropriate for all ages.
It is often said that jazz is the quintessential American art form. Jazz is a language that tells the story of the journey of the African American experience. On behalf of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the Black Student Union, and the Department of Music, I invite you to join us on Tuesday as Dr. Phillips shares this story with us to celebrate this indispensable part of our nation’s past and present.
For more information on Dr. Damani Phillips, please visit: