Friday, November 2, 2012

Possible Biography Fellowship Residency at CUNY

Below is the project description I submitted for a residency at CUNY. Gary Giddens is the program's Executive Director. A decision on this application will be made in April 2013.
As a Biography Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, I would complete a biography of American jazz saxophonist and educator Joe Brazil (1927-2008).

A well known story is John Coltrane’s pivotal role in a new trajectory for jazz. An unknown story is that of Coltrane’s friend, Joe Brazil. In the 1950’s Coltrane practiced and jammed for hours at Brazil’s Detroit residence. Brazil moved to Seattle and in 1965, Coltrane stayed in Brazil’s home during a week-long engagement at a club called the Penthouse. During that week Coltrane recorded two albums that confirmed a dramatic change away from the music that had brought fame to Coltrane and toward “free” music that much of his audience did not enjoy. These recordings were made at the height of Coltrane’s popularity and were the first ones he paid for out of his own pocket.

Who was Joe Brazil? What role did he play in Coltrane’s life? Why did his story get overlooked? How did Coltrane impact Brazil? What were Brazil’s contributions to jazz? I plan to weave the answers to these questions into a larger theme of the growth of self determination and community development within American black culture.

Both Coltrane and Brazil advocated educational opportunities for blacks during the years surrounding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965. While Coltrane was performing at the Olatunji Center in New York, Brazil created the Black Academy of Music (BAM) in Seattle’s Central District. Coltrane was inspired by non-violent speeches of Martin Luther King. Brazil was urged on by militant Black Panthers and Black Student Unions in Seattle who demanded the University of Washington end institutional racism by hiring Brazil to the music faculty.

To complete this project I am collecting source material from 70 people in Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, France and Switzerland who lived, performed, worked, studied or allied with Joe Brazil. Sources in the New York area include Barry Harris, Booker T. Williams, Carlos Ward, Curtis Fuller, Louis Hayes, McCoy Tyner, Roy Ayers, Rufus Reid and Yusef Lateef. Many other musicians who know Brazil but do not reside in New York will likely perform there during the residency. I secured a $4,500 grant from King County (4Culture) to collect these oral histories. I am applying to Seattle’s Jack Straw Foundation for in-kind assistance with audio recording of oral histories and analog to digital transfer of Brazil’s audio tapes (rumored to contain Coltrane practicing).

My research to date includes more than 400 documents and 20 photographs from the University of Washington Archives, Seattle Municipal Archives, King County Courthouse, Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and UW Daily. I plan to collect more documents and oral histories in Detroit during the summer of 2013.

In the New York area I will utilize the collection at the Institute of Jazz Studies in Rutgers-Newark’s Dana Library. Vincent Pelote granted me access to the Institute’s extensive collection of periodicals. Residing in New York would provide easy access to The National Jazz Museum and Schomburg for Research in Black Culture.

Brazil is mentioned in the following books:

·                 Armbuster, Kurt (2011). Before Seattle Rocked: A City and Its Music.
·                 Berkman, Franya (2010). Monument Eternal: The Music of Alice Coltrane.
·                 Bjorn, Lars (2001). Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit.
·                 Cole, Bill (1976). John Coltrane.
·                 De Barros, Paul (1993). Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle.
·                 DeVito, Chris (2007). John Coltrane Reference.
·                 Kahn, Ashley (2002). A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album.
·                 Kahn, Ashley (2006). The House that Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records.
·                 Porter, Lewis (2000). John Coltrane: His Life and Music.
·                 Ratliff, Ben (2007). Coltrane: The Story of a Sound.
·                 Simpkins, C. O. (1975). Coltrane: A Biography.
·                 Spring, Evan (2003). Annual Review of Jazz Studies #13.

I maintain a blog at to collect and share material for this project. Mary Francis, editor at University of California Press, is receptive to a book proposal on Joe Brazil.

One unique aspect of this residency would be the invaluable opportunity to consult with the Center’s Executive Director, Gary Giddens, about the development of this book. His experience writing award winning jazz biographies would greatly improve the quality of this project.

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