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Ashley Kahn: Meet the Professor

JazzTimes contributor Ashley Kahn looks back at the 15-year evolution of his teaching approach and recounts some recent educational adventures on two continents

Ashley Kahn gives a lecture to students in Siena, Italy
Ashley Kahn gives a lecture to students in Siena, Italy (photo: Francesco Martinelli)

These days, the name for what I teach is either Non-Performance Studies or Emergent Media. When I started teaching, only 15 years ago, it was simply Music History and Criticism. A big part of the challenge and the fun—if one cares to look at it that way—of being a music instructor is riding the waves of change that continue to wash through the world of music instruction and academia in general.

The university courses I first created for music majors and general college students alike—players and non-players, jazz-focused or not—were specific to artists and styles: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, and Modern Jazz. Paul Simon, Graceland, and “World” Music. John Coltrane, Spirituality, and A Love Supreme. Led Zeppelin, Electric Blues, and Hard Rock. The syllabi consciously balanced contemporaneous articles and reviews with more contemporary views. I employed video clips of historical performances, excerpts from recent documentaries, and lots of music, old and new. I treated the artists and albums as doorways into more expansive perspectives, considering creative triumphs and controversies, and finding connections to and parallels in today’s music scene.

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Originally Published

Ashley Kahn

Ashley Kahn is a Grammy-winning American music historian, journalist, producer, and professor. He teaches at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music, and has written books on two legendary recordings—Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane—as well as one book on a legendary record label: The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. He also co-authored the Carlos Santana autobiography The Universal Tone, and edited Rolling Stone: The Seventies, a 70-essay overview of that pivotal decade.