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All That Jazz

Nitasha Tamar Sharma’s new Black Studies course introduces students to music entrepreneurship.

Portrait of grammy-nominated harpist Brandee Younger playing the harp
Grammy-nominated harpist Brandee Younger is among the guests planned for a new course called New Black Music in Chicago: Artists’ Reflections on Music, Race and Entrepreneurship.Image: Bennett Raglin / Stringer

By Ella Kuffour
Winter 2024

This winter, students in Nitasha Tamar Sharma’s Black studies course, New Black Music in Chicago: Artists’ Reflections on Music, Race and Entrepreneurship, will learn from industry professionals and, ultimately, organize a free public jazz event. 

The class, offered for the first time this winter, will give students insight into “the infrastructure of Black music, [by] inviting key players from Chicago” to share their experiences, Sharma says.  

The class will host weekly Q&A sessions with artists, managers, music critics and other members of the industry. “I’ve got a great roster of folks [who will visit] the class,” she says, including trumpetist Marquis Hill, guitarist Jeff Parker, drummer Makaya McCraven and Grammy-nominated harpist Brandee Younger, as well as Amsterdam-based tour manager Dennis de Groot of Okay, Sounds Great management company, to name a few. 

“The music students here are huge masters of their craft, but a lot of [being a musician today] is not just about the music,” says Sharma, Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence in Black studies and Asian American studies. “This class will give students the chance to ask questions about music entrepreneurship: ‘How do you work with a manager?’ ‘How do you become an LLC?’ ‘What does a publicist do?’ ‘What is the arc of a musician’s career?’ ‘How has the city of Chicago shaped these opportunities?’” 

The class, which received an Academic Enrichment Grant from The Alumnae of Northwestern University, will culminate in a free jazz concert and panel discussion organized collaboratively by Sharma and students in the class. Younger, Parker and McCraven will speak on the panel, followed by a concert of seven jazz musicians who are from Chicago or have been influenced by the city’s music scene. Students will help produce the show, execute instructions in each artist’s rider (a performance contract addendum that outlines technical and logistical needs) and introduce artists at the show.  

The event will be held March 4 at the Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall as part of the Department of Black Studies’ annual Leon Forrest Lecture Series. This is the first time the Forrest Lecture Series, which invites a Black creative to speak on campus each year, will feature musical artists. 

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