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Harvard Lectures

Hidden in Plain View: Meanings in American Music

Delve into Wynton Marsalis’s six-part Harvard University lecture series, covering a range of topics including jazz, what it means to be American, and the importance of cultural literacy and the arts in the liberal arts education. Hidden in Plain View: Meanings in American Music is a series of six lectures delivered at Harvard University between 2011 and 2014 sponsored by the Office of the President and Provost.

  • Lecture #1: Music As Metaphor

    Lecture #1: Music As Metaphor

    A two-hour journey through the history of American music that included live musical interludes. Illustrating his gift for combining prose and music with wisdom and humor, Marsalis led the crowd through a narrative that explained the evolution of jazz and the blues, and revealed how American music was vital to the development of the nation’s collective history.

    April 2011

  • Lecture #2: The Double Crossing of a Pair of Heels

    Lecture #2: The Double Crossing of a Pair of Heels

    The Dynamics of Social Dance and American Popular Musics

    Community, courtship, social boundaries and barriers, race relations and segregation, and social change and strife were all part of the discussion, choreographed on stage through a fusion of music, beats, and history. Marsalis and his team of performers — Karen Amatrading, Lou Brockman, Heather Gehring, Jared Grimes, Christopher Lockhart, Nelida Tirado, Eddie Torres Jr., and Sheron Wray — danced their way through the decades on stage: the Charleston, the fox-trot, swing, the tango, the twist, and more.

    September 2011

  • Lecture #3: Meet Me at the Crossroad

    Lecture #3: Meet Me at the Crossroad

    “The blues, American folk music, gospel, American popular song, hillbilly, bluegrass, country western, and jazz are root styles of our national music. This lecture will identify the similarities and differences of those roots, and explain why they are musically compatible.” Including musical illustrations by acclaimed musicians, including Doug Wamble (guitar and vocals), Herlin Riley (drums), Houston Person (tenor sax), Lucky Peterson (organ and piano), Reginald Veal (bass), and Brianna Thomas (vocals).

    February 2012

  • Lecture #4: At the Speed of Instinct

    Lecture #4: At the Speed of Instinct

    Choosing Together to Play and Stay Together

    Wynton discusses and demonstrate the techniques, concepts, methods, opportunities and objectives that encourage spontaneous, intelligent and cohesive group decision-making in jazz music. Also illuminates how each member of the quintet asserts, accompanies and adjusts to balance the freedom of improvisation with the sacrificial demands of finding and maintaining our common rhythm, known as swing. Musical illustrations by acclaimed musicians, including: Walter Blanding (tenor sax); Ali Jackson (drums); Carlos Henriquez (bass); and Marcus Roberts (piano).

    April 2013

  • Lecture #5: Setting the Communal Table

    Lecture #5: Setting the Communal Table

    The Evolution of the Jazz Orchestra

    This Lecture will illustrate the relationship of written to improvised music and solo to ensemble playing, showcase important and unique musical techniques, and provide philosophical and communal insights. “Focusing on the Jazz Age and the Swing Era, we will delve into the history of orchestral jazz, identify some of its main objectives, investigate its social victories, and showcase the significant musical breakthroughs in its evolution,” Marsalis said. “I look forward to returning to Harvard with the outstanding musicians in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.”

    September 2013

  • Lecture #6: New Orleans

    Lecture #6: New Orleans

    The Birth of Jazz

    This lecture covers a significant portion of the wide cross-section of musical styles that constitute the roots of Jazz. Marsalis illuminates the music’s identity by examining its repertoire, functions, venues and most significant musical figures, chief amongst them, Buddy Bolden, the legendary “First Man of Jazz.” Joining Marsalis are: Lucien Barbarin (trombone), Jonathan Batiste (piano), Troy Davis (drums), Vince Giordano (tuba/bass), Victor Goines (reeds), Ricky Gordon (percussion), Marcus Printup (cornet), Don Vappie (banjo/guitar), and Dr. Michael White (clarinet).

    January 2014