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Penn State Hosts Free-Jazz Symposium, LCJO Concert

Free jazz was all about exploding boundaries, substituting pure creativity and rebelliousness for more-or-less strict regimentation, and subverting existing power structures. This, of course, means that it’s the perfect subject for a learned conference at an enormous state university. Penn State has accepted the challenge, bringing together Archie Shepp, Amiri Baraka (pictured left) and a host of other notables for “Free Jazz and Its Legacies: A Symposium on Improvisation and American Culture,” on April 5 and 6 in State College, Pa.

As the title of the symposium indicates, this seminar addresses not only the musical but also the cultural and political aspects of free jazz, all of which are intertwined and essential. One could hardly find better men to address these diverse disciplines than Shepp and Baraka. Shepp is not only a fiery saxophone player, but also a noted playwright who made his thoughts on free jazz’s sociopolitical implications into drama in his early works. Baraka, of course, has been a poetical rebel to America and jazz fanatic seemingly since time immemorial. When the two come together to give a concert, the results will undoubtedly be revolutionary in all senses of the word.

Both Baraka and Shepp will also show up for the conference’s panels, which aim to give scholarly insight into the effects of music on the body politic. The main one is “The Legacies of Free Jazz,” which will also be graced by the presences of John Szwed (Yale University, author of Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra), and Barry Kernfeld (State College, editor of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz). Another panel, called “Improvisation and the Arts,” will take the free-jazz improvisational ideal to fields as close as painting and poetry and as distant as philosophy, with the help of an interdisciplinary team of Penn State faculty.

For those in the State College area that weekend who take their jazz without cacophony, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will be in town to play an evening concert Apr. 6.

Originally Published