MUSC 2120: The Jazz Orchestra and Orchestral Approaches to Jazz featuring guest speaker Nicole Mitchell Gantt

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

4:15pm - 5:30pm

Composer Nicole Mitchell Gantt, Professor of Music at University of Pittsburgh, joins Professor Anthony Cheung as a guest speaker for Cheung’s course, MUSC 2120 The Jazz Orchestra and Orchestral Approaches to Jazz. The virtual talk is free and open to the public. Please write to Professor Cheung directly, if you would like to attend.

Guest Speaker Series

Professor Mitchell Gantt’s visit is part of a series of MUSC 2120 The Jazz Orchestra and Orchestral Approaches to Jazz guest talks this semester. Click here to view all upcoming MUSC 2120 talks in the series.

About Nicole Mitchell Gantt

My creative work as a composer and improviser interacts freely between the realms of jazz, creative music and Western new music, mostly through the creation and performance of music composition for contemporary ensembles of varied instrumentation and size that incorporate improvisation and a wide aesthetic expression. Each composition is its own world with its own set of parameters, ranging from soulful to extremely experimental. In unwrapping the rich topic of contemporary African American culture, I am compelled to explore subtopics such as diversity, coexistence, inclusivity, Black identity, mystery, and the amplification of women’s voices in my creative work, teaching and service.

For 20 years, my Chicago-based Black Earth Ensemble (BEE) has been my primary compositional laboratory. As a woman-led, gender-balanced, intergenerational and multicultural institution, it has operated flexibly in stylistic approach, instrumentation and size, depending on the project, having hosted over forty members. I’m deeply interested in using music as a symbol to model diversity, through the actual embodiment of a “band” and the interaction of its members, but also through diverse sonic dialogue. Can Black gospel music converse with Japanese court music? Can a theremin swing? My work explores the idea of creating compositional spaces for the meaningful coexistence of contrasting musical identities. My mission as a creative flutist has been to model a new language of improvisation, as I have long valued the importance of developing one’s own distinctive voice on their instrument. Developing the flute’s improvisational language was also the original impetus for me to compose music, as the development of new flute approaches also called for new environments that challenge my sonic exploration. Much of my creative work has been inspired by literature and narrative, with a special interest in Afrofuturism. This direction has been informed by the work of award-winning author Octavia Butler’s compelling utilization of science fiction to raise questions on social justice. In addition to composing for improvisers, my work also extends to classical musicians utilizing a minimum to no improvisation for chamber ensembles and orchestra.

As a faculty member and Chair of Jazz Studies, my intent is to facilitate creativity, independent thinking, and to increase intercultural understanding. I offer students my perspectives on the importance of community and social responsibility as artists, while facilitating the expansion of their work. I seek to help students reach beyond their comfort zones in their creative approaches to composition and improvisation, while valuing and forwarding the rich tradition that jazz has given us.

About MUSC 2120 The Jazz Orchestra and Orchestral Approaches to Jazz

MUSC 2120 Instructor: Anthony Cheung

This course offers several views of what it means to write for the “jazz orchestra.” As the history of jazz tends to prioritize the contributions of individuals and small groups, what does it mean for composers who have ambitions that extend beyond typical expectations of instrumental forces, duration, and form? We will focus on specific examples that have challenged conventions and redefined idioms. From the innovations in orchestration and scale of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the classic Gil Evans/Miles Davis albums, to the “progressive” experiments of Stan Kenton (and later Don Ellis), to the intergalactic theater of the Sun Ra Arkestra, to works for full symphony orchestra, we will examine complex issues of tradition, community, and race that have accompanied these collaborations, and the compatibility (or not) of musical challenges regarding improvisation, notation, and pedagogy.

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