Prof. Michael Veal: How Architecture Helps Us Understand ‘Free Jazz’

Convening Yale

The language of architecture can help us unlock the intricacies of jazz music and reflect on its larger implications, Professor Michael Veal told students at the Yale School of Management on April 25.

“Architects have often described what they do as ‘frozen music,’ and musicians describe what they do as ‘liquefied architecture,’ ” Veal, professor of music, African American studies, and American studies at Yale, said.

Veal spoke at Yale SOM as part of the Convening Yale lecture series, which brings scholars from across the Yale campus to SOM to share their research with students. In a talk titled “Music, Space, and Sound,” Veal discussed the connections between architecture and jazz, and the way that common architectural tools and concepts, such as geometric shapes and space, can be used to deconstruct jazz music.

Veal’s work addresses musical topics within the cultural sphere of Africa and the African diaspora. His forthcoming book, Wait Until Tomorrow, explores periods in the careers of musicians John Coltrane and Miles Davis that illustrate the stylistic interventions of “free jazz” and “jazz-rock fusion,” employing the language of architecture as a means to interpret and suggest new directions for jazz analysis.

Playing snippets of well-known jazz pieces to illustrate his points, Veal explained how the advent of “free-meter” jazz in the 1960s and 1970s—with its lack of tempo or clearly defined melody—confused people, and still does today. “How do we talk about this music? How do we make sense of it?” he asked.

Applying architectural concepts to jazz first occurred to Veal when he was listening to Coltrane. Shapes and slopes, patterns of movement, and deviations imagined as physical constructs helped him map and visualize movement in the sound, he said.

“It opens up a whole new way for a listener to understand the music,” Veal explained. “It allows us to think about rhythm in 3-D terms.”  

About the Event

Please join us on Tuesday, April 25 for “Music, Space, Sound:  A Conversation with Michael Veal, Professor of Music, African American Studies, and American Studies.” Professor Veal’s work has typically addressed musical topics within the cultural sphere of Africa and the African diaspora. His forthcoming book, Wait Until Tomorrow, surveys under-documented periods in the careers of John Coltrane and Miles Davis that encapsulate the stylistic interventions of “free jazz” and “jazz-rock fusion,” and draws on the language of digital architecture in order to suggest new directions for jazz analysis.

This lecture is part of the Convening Yale lecture series. Convening Yale presents talks by faculty and leaders from throughout Yale University, who share their research and expertise and help students broaden their understanding of an increasingly complex world. The Convening Yale series is made possible through the generous support of the Robert J. Silver ’50 Fund for Innovation in Management Education.

This event is open to the Yale Community.
 

Biography

Michael E. Veal has been a member of the Yale faculty since 1998. Before coming to Yale, he taught at Mount Holyoke College (1996-1998) and New York University (1997-1998). Veal’s work has typically addressed musical topics within the cultural sphere of Africa and the African diaspora. His 2000 biography of the Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti uses the life and music of this influential African musician explore themes of African post-coloniality, the political uses of music in Africa, and musical and cultural interchange between cultures of Africa and the African diaspora. His documentation of the “Afrobeat” genre continued with the 2013 as-told-to autobiography, Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat. Professor Veal’s 2007 study of Jamaican dub music examines the ways in which the studio-based innovations of Jamaican recording engineers during the 1970s transformed the structure and concept of the post-WWII popular song, and examines sound technology as a medium for the articulation of spiritual, historical, and political themes.