When we talk about jazz, everyone can agree that Louis Armstrong was a revolutionary talent. What I want my students to understand is that he was a revolutionary in terms of social justice, too.

Barry Long

Professor Barry Long, music, has always been intrigued by music as a form of social protest. He points out that long before the modern Civil Rights Movement, African-Americans were singing spirituals that contained encoded messages about the Underground Railroad. Jazz, he explains, began as a dynamic dance movement at the turn of the last century. Its ongoing response to "mainstream" America fed the culture that led to the social changes of the '50s and '60s.

"It's difficult to imagine the obstacles musicians faced during that time," Long says. "Not only were they innovators, but their resilience to the challenges of the day provided a very visible and necessary model." Freedom in the Air, a performance project by the Barry Long Quartet, draws upon Long's research and features jazz standards, freedom songs and spontaneous improvisation inspired by a backdrop of iconic Civil Rights-era photography.  

As director of the Bucknell Jazz Band, Long works with many talented students. He says he appreciates how Bucknell's liberal arts curriculum offers him the opportunity to teach music majors and non-majors alike. "Classes like Jazz, Rock and Race have a universal appeal," he explains. "Yes, it's about music, but it's about larger social issues too."

Larger social issues also form the foundation of the Extreme Creativity course, a collaborative interdisciplinary effort sponsored by the Presidential Arts Initiative. For the spring 2014 session, Long teamed with Professor Dustyn Martincich, theatre & dance, to lead the intensive five-week program, which featured guest artists and faculty sharing talents including music, creative writing, dance, theatre and the visual arts.

"The theme was Rhythm and Narrative," Long says. "We incorporated sound, movement, text, acting, graphic design and photography, all as a means of exploring identity. Best of all, the process took everyone out of their personal comfort zones. That's where creativity happens."

Long's love of collaboration continued in summer 2014 with the debut of the Bucknell in New Orleans course. Working with Professor Kevin Gilmore, civil & environmental engineering, and Brian Gockley, assistant director of the Teaching & Learning Center, he taught an interdisciplinary class that combined jazz, geography and history to create an in-depth look at the city. "Before the trip, the students knew that New Orleans is a culturally important city," he says, "but now they understand how crucial it is as a port, its important role in the civil-rights movement and the effects of environmental change in this vulnerable area."

Posted Sept. 22, 2014