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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 3, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 5
JHU Course Catalog: Bebop, Modernism and Change

Floyd W. Hayes III offers a seminar exploring the social and political content, meanings and intent of jazz music in general and bebop music in particular.

By Amy Cowles

Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series in which reporters drop in on interesting classes throughout the university's eight academic divisions. Suggestions are welcome at

The course: Bebop, Modernism and Change. 3 credits. Offered at Homewood by the Center for Africana Studies in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

The instructor: Floyd W. Hayes III, a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science and coordinator of programs and undergraduate studies in the Center for Africana Studies. Hayes' teaching and research interests include black politics and political philosophy, urban politics and public policy, educational policymaking and politics, leadership studies and the politics of jazz. In addition to his many published works, Hayes is preparing the fourth edition of his anthology, A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies, and is working on another book, "Domination and Ressentiment: The Desperate Vision of Richard Wright," which will examine Wright's social and political thought.

Meeting time: 2 to 3 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, fall 2005

Syllabus: "Jazz is a marvelous subject that needs more attention from those of us who seek to understand the history, meaning and significance of the music," Hayes says. This seminar explores the social and political content, meanings and intent of jazz music in general and bebop music in particular. While the major historical focus is from the 1940s to the 1960s, the seminar also examines the broader history of black progressive music, or jazz, and its impact on the social transformations of modern America. Bebop, as an intellectual and musical system, embodied and reflected the political and social conditions of the turbulent times — the frustrations, aspirations and subversive sensibilities of a progressive group of black American musicians.

Course work: To encourage an open dialogue and participation, Hayes requires that each student take a turn leading a class discussion about that session's reading assignment. Throughout the semester, each student must write three five-page "thought papers" focused on an issue in the reading. Students are also required to write a 20-page research paper on a topic directly related to jazz, modernism and social change, which will be presented to the class. Jeannette Pierce, one of the university's librarians, has created an online research guide for students, which can be accessed at 0506360.375.html.

Required reading: If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday, by Farah Jasmine Griffin; Blues People: Negro Music in White America, by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka); Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie, by Donald L. Maggin; The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, by Robert G. O'Meally; and What Is This Thing Called Jazz? African American Musicians as Artists, Critics and Activists, by Eric Porter.

Overheard in class: "There's a connection between bebop and the ideal of political democracy. Black people are always trying to get America to live up to its principles. And the organization, dynamics and music of bebop are a concept of democracy. Bebop was a group of musicians who all have a chance to shine through solos. Miles [Davis] might start playing, but suddenly he just stops. Then the sax can come in, and then the drums. The melody goes around and around that way and at the end of the piece, they all come back together. But it's democratic because each player gets to do his or her own thing."
— Floyd Hayes

Students say: "The topic of the course jumped out at me as I am a jazz drummer myself and my favorite music is bebop. Dr. Hayes' course has been great so far! His speech is so dynamic as his voice can be heard ringing throughout Gilman Hall. At times in class he seems to trail totally off subject; however, what he speaks about always ties into the topic message. He really knows his history as he constantly spews off facts on a multitude of subjects. Dr. Hayes reviews and stresses bebop as an integral part of the social time, rather than mere ragtime entertainment."
— Warren Mason, 21, a senior from Silver Spring, Md., who is majoring in public health studies/pre-med.


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