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[NEW] Thelonious Monk and Erroll Garner Vs Columbia Records: How Black Musicians Fought Exploitation and Corporate Power


Robin D. G. Kelley is the Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. History at UCLA. His books include, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009); Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (2012); Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (2002); Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class (1994); Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (1997); and Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (1990). He is currently completing Black Bodies Swinging: An American Postmortem (forthcoming Metropolitan Books). His essays have appeared in several anthologies and publications, including The Nation, Monthly Review, New York Times, Counterpunch, Souls, and The Boston Review, for which he also serves as Contributing Editor.

A very distinctive trait of New York/Boston-based jazz pianist Kevin Harris is his desire to constantly grow, evolve, improve, and advance. Harris plays a distinctive combination of traditional and contemporary music that seeks to celebrate the musical influences of Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis intersecting with J.S. Bach, Scott Joplin, and the folkloric African rhythms of the Caribbean.

Among his most notable collaborations are Greg Osby, Bill Pierce, Francisco Mela, Avishai Cohen, Eddie Gomez, Duane Eubanks, Richie Barshay, Ben Street, Jason Palmer, Rudy Royston, Frank Lacey, Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, Curtis Lundy, Eric McPherson, Dayna Stephens, Ralph Peterson, Ameen Saleem, Greg Hutchinson, and Terri Lyne Carrington.

In 2020 he was nominated by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to be a Neighborhood Salon Luminary with the goal to exchange creative ideas and dialogue with Boston’s most innovative and thoughtful luminaries, fostering collaborations and artistic networks while shaping Gardner Museum programming. With his most recent projects, “Roots, Water and Sunlight: A Contemporary Octet Expedition through the Expressions of James Baldwin”, “Upward Mothers”, and “Griot Series”, Harris directed his creativity to inspire the audience to reflect on unexpected realities and continuously be committed to positive and courageous changes.

As a leader, he has released five albums. DownBeat defines some of Harris’ compositions as “overall smart, lyrical and engrossing”, and The Phoenix highlights “the tight/loose elasticity, the tension between form and freedom that was the hallmark of so many Miles Davis sessions with Shorter and Herbie Hancock . . . calm and collected, but also loose and full of surprises." Harris is in demand as a clinician and consistently collaborates with both public and private education institutions nationally and internationally. He is currently on faculty at Berklee College of Music and he is also a MIT affiliated artist.

"Participation,” Harris says, "is what keeps our souls alive. 


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This session explores the history of the exploitation of Black musicians by looking at the experiences of two iconic, presumably successful, pianists/composers and their ongoing battles with the most powerful recording company in the United States.  By following the money, we discover that Monk and Garner took two very different paths — one chose to stay within the corporate fold, the other choosing to break free and launch an independent label. Together, we will examine the consequences of such choices, economically, aesthetically, politically and emotionally.