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James Gordon Williams

Assistant Professor of Music

James Gordon Williams is a composer, pianist, improviser, and cultural theorist. He has worked with artists Crystal Z. Campbell, Cauleen Smith, Suné Woods, and poet and MacArthur Fellow Fred Moten. As pianist and improviser, he has performed with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis, bassist Mark Dresser, Miles Griffith and Gregory Porter, MacArthur Fellow George E. Lewis, Mark Dresser, Greg Osby, and the late Charli Persips’ Supersound band, as well as other music luminaries. He has played music in such storied venues as Birdland, Lenox Lounge, Symphony Space, Village Vanguard, and music festivals around the world. He has been commissioned by Syracuse Stage to write music for playwright Kyle Bass’s salt/city/blues. As a scholar, he writes on how African American composers and improvisers express political thought through creative practices that often connect to contemporary U.S. social movements. He is the author of Crossing Bar Lines: The Politics and Practices of Black Musical Space (2021). His peer-reviewed articles have appeared in Ethnomusicology Review, Jazz & Culture, Jazz Research Journal, Journal of African American Studies, Liquid Blackness, and Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories That Shaped Our Culture. Prior to his appointment at UC Santa Cruz, Williams was an associate professor at the Syracuse University Department of African American Studies from 2014-2022. He is a member of the Society of American Music and the American Musicological Society. James holds a Ph.D. in music (Integrative Studies) from the University of California, San Diego.