14 dic. 2008

Once I get through the first 100 jazz albums, I will begin the songbook project, which involves commenting on several hundred jazz standards of two types: songs played or sung frequently by jazz musicians and written by people like Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, and original compositions by working jazz musicians like Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, which have been adopted by other players as standards. I will be looking at the historical resonance of these compositions along with their distinctive qualities. I won't put a finite number on this project, since I have no idea of how many I will end up doing. To qualify for this project, a song must be one of my personal favorites as well as having some continuous history of being played. In a few cases, a song with only one significant recording, or repeated recordings by only one artist, might qualify. Some songs might be favored by singers, with few instrumental versions. That's ok. By the same token, many tunes have rarely if ever been sung. That's fine too. I'll begin by going alphabetically through my itunes library on my laptop. I can alphabetize by the name of the song, so I can see how many versions I have of any given song. Then I'll do the same on my computer at work.

I don't have the encyclopedic knowledge to have heard every version of every song I'll be treating; I'm sure I'll be working from a position of partial knowledge (and partiality). Still, it might be an interesting project, at least for myself.


It was interesting because the guy who set up my new computer said that [technically] they would only transfer [work] files from my old computer to the new one. Of course, I had to point out that I did in fact use my music files in my work. I am thinking of doing a jazz course for the honors program, if they'll let me. I also have a lot of Flamenco, works based on Lorca's poetry, and musical examples chosen to illustrate certain traditions of medieval music (Spanish cancionero). The larger point is that, where does work end and play begin? Certainly in addition to research and teaching, there is a huge amount of time in having an intellectual life that doesn't relate [directly] to work, but that is necessary for [work] in the larger sense. When I am reading the New York Review of Books or TLS, I am doing [work], even though most of what I read will never find its way directly into a book or article. At any given time I might be spending more time doing [work] that is not writing books and articles or teaching classes. If I never did any work not relevant to teaching and research in the most immediate context, I would not actually be able to do research or teach, because I would be intellectually dead to the world. You really never know where the next idea is going to come from, or whether some scrap of knowledge you gained from some irrelevant reading might become relevant at some point down the stretch.

4 comentarios:

Thomas Basbøll dijo...

This difference between work files & your files, work time & your time in general, is very interesting. I still don't have a satisfactory answer.

On the one hand, scholars should satisfy their curiosity. That's their job. (Sort of your point here.) On the other, their standards for satisfying that curiosity will vary from topic to topic, especially across the boundaries of their expertise.

You know a lot about jazz. But it's not your job to know such things. Your university should obviously support your attempts to satisfy your curiosity in the area of Spanish poetry. But should it support your attempts to keep track of recent trends in popular music or films for example?

This is not just about support, either. Should your university be able to make demands on the academic integrity of every one of your ideas?

You university library does not place restrictions on which books you can sign out of its own collection. But it might draw the line at arranging complex, costly, or high-risk interlibrary loans that seem to be well outside your area of expertise.

In the experimental sciences "satisfying your curiosity" can be very, very expensive. How much should a humanities faculty spend on securing access to and storage of digital information?

Interesting questions to think about.

Judy dijo...

So did the music files transfer?

(I'll never tell.)

Jonathan dijo...

"It's not your job to know such things." I disagree. For example, I have multiple references to jazz in my book on García Lorca's influence in the U.S. I may teach a course on jazz for the Honor's Program. I might write an article on the relation between Cuban music and bebop. My current project involves thinking about poetic phrasing in relation to musical phrasing. How can I confidently place a limit on what it's my job to know?

The university is unlikely to buy me a cyclotron to satisfy my curiosity about atomic energy. On the other hand, any truly expensive research project requires outside support anyway. I would have to write a grant to get anything expensive. By the by, I buy all my music myself, out of personal funds, even though it is related to my work as I conceive it; just as I buy virtually every book I use for my own research collection. (Those that are not bought are review copies or gifts: the university pays for nothing. Yet if a publisher sends me a textbook for free, I am not allowed to sell it second hand. That is considered university property; the policy is that we are to leave those books in our office when we retire our quit, by which time the texbooks will be worthless, and will be doubtlessly tossed out.)

Thomas Basbøll dijo...

Well, you probably would not get outside funding for that cyclotron either. But I won't question your professional expertise in regard to jazz.

I think there is a real sense in which scholars should pursue things lest they become "intellectually dead to the world". And their universities should be supportive of precisely those pursuits. It's just hard to know which pursuits are like that, and which are ultimately just perks.

Today scholars can more or less expect a computer of reasonable quality and a good internet connection (just as an office, a desk, and phone were once standard but a PC was not).

But here's a thought: what happens when we lose net neutrality? Will we have to justify the purchase of various kinds of access to "popular" media.