Playing the Changes: Jazz at an African University and on the Road

Univ. of Illinois. Jul. 2024. 344p. ISBN 9780252088261. pap. $24.95. MUSIC
Fittingly, for a book about jazz, its intersection with politics, and its power as a cultural force, much of this music memoir is about being in the right place at the right time. In 1983, Darius Brubeck (the son of legendary jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck) and his wife Catherine went to South Africa with an invitation to launch a jazz studies program at the then University of Natal (now part of the University of KwaZulu-Natal). The story unfolding from there was as much about the necessity of networking, playing the games of academia and politics, and making do as it was about music. The book’s title consciously has a double meaning: In a musical sense, it’s about playing over a piece’s underlying chord changes in a harmonically consistent way. But here, it’s also about creating a jazz studies program and making it sustainable during a tumultuous time in South Africa’s history. Both require a great deal of improvisational dexterity.
VERDICT A close look at what it takes to contribute to lasting and meaningful social change. For jazz musicians, teachers, and historians.
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