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James Gordon Williams

Assistant Professor of Music

"The goal of creative practice for me goes beyond artistic expression to reaching communion with the universe, which is the source of creation. Consequently, composition is a birthright and not a privilege. Sound is magical and mysterious; it is also healing. To play sound is to present one’s humanity and spiritual positionality on the stage of life. I see my music in conversation with other sonic artists who are about using sound to heal others and build community."

 ~James Gordon Williams


Short Biography
 James Gordon Williams is a dynamic composer, pianist, and cultural theorist. He has worked with artists Crystal Z. Campbell, Maria Gaspar, Fred Moten, Cauleen Smith, Suné Woods. He has performed with pianist/composer Anthony Davis, bassist Mark Dresser, Joseph Jarman, Gregory Porter,  George E. Lewis, Mark Dresser, Greg Osby, Charenée Wade as well as other musical luminaries. He held the piano chair for several years in the late Charli Persips’ Supersound band. He has performed at Birdland, the former Lenox Lounge, Knitting Factory, Symphony Space, Village Vanguard, and music festivals around the world in France, Italy, Malta, He has been commissioned by Syracuse Stage to write music for playwright Kyle Bass’s salt/city/blues. He is the author of Crossing Bar Lines: The Politics and Practices of Black Musical Space (2021) published by University Press of Mississippi. 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. 


Selected Publications: 


  • Crossing Bar Lines: The Politics and Practices of Black Musical Space. University Press of Mississippi (2021)


Journal Articles

  • Williams, James Gordon. “Black Birdanity.” Jazz and Culture, Vol. 4, No. 2, (2021); 85–104
  • Williams, James Gordon. “Randy Weston’s Pan African Politics of Music Education.” Jazz and Culture, Vol. 4, No. 1, (2021): 33-67
  • Williams, James Gordon. "Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Critique of the Danziger Bridge Shootings." Jazz Research Journal, Volume 13, Numbers 1-2, (2019): 70-92
  • Williams, James Gordon. "Black Muse 4 U: Liminality, Self-Determination, and Racial Uplift in the Music of Prince." Journal of African American Studies 21, no. 3 (2017): 296-319
  • Williams, James Gordon. "Crossing Cinematic and Sonic Bar Lines: T-Pain's 'Can't Believe It'." Ethnomusicology Review 19, (2014)
  • Williams, James Gordon. “Improvising on Feedback Piano: Aesthetic Discourses Behind Technology and Sound” in Rethinking Improvisation: Artistic Explorations & Conceptual Writing, edited by Henrik A. Frisk & Stefan Östersjö, 169-177. Lund University, Sweden, (2013)
  • Williams, James Gordon. “African American Influences on American Music” in Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories That Shaped Our Culture, edited by Jacqueline Edmondson, 17-23, Greenwood Press, (2013).


Artistic Research, Performances and Installations

  • The Healing. Solo Piano Concert. Music Center, UC Santa Cruz, November 1, 2023
  • Compositions. Collaboration with Maria Gaspar. Improvisation on Sculptures from Cook County Jail, Institute of the Arts and Sciences, UC Santa Cruz, October 7th, 2023
  • Terri Lyne Carrington’s Presents Music for Abolition. Keyboard Improvisation on Nicholas Payton’s composition “Freedom Is No Fear,” Institute of the Arts and Sciences, UC Santa Cruz, June 8, 2023 (Other artists in the program included Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Camila Cortina Bello, Morgan Guerin, Nicole Mitchell, Elena Pinderhughes, Dianne Reeves, Matthew Stevens and Carl “Kokayi” Walker)
  • Falling to Rise Again. Solo Piano Performance, April in Santa Cruz Festival of New Music, San Francisco, CA, the Lab, April 30, 2023
  • Model Citizen, Here I Stand. Multidisciplinary Performance Exhibition with Crystal Z. Campbell Living Arts, Tulsa, Oklahoma, December 7th, 2018-January 18th, 2019
  • You are mine. I see now, I’m a have to let you go. Suné Woods, Fred Moten & James Gordon Williams. UCLA Hammer Museum, August 23, 2018
  • Piano performance in Studio Venezia by French Artist Xavier Veilhan who presented his work at the 57th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, French Pavilion, 2017
  • You are mine. I see now, I’m a have to let you go. Suné Woods, Fred Moten & James Gordon Williams. Light Work, September 13, 2017
  • Outlaw Culture Music. Syracuse University, Community Folk Art Center, November 19, 2015
  • Solo piano improvisation for world premiere of Cauleen Smith’s Crow Requiem & Speculations: Science Fiction, Chronopolitics, & Social Change. Everson Museum, April 7, 2015
  • Solo Feedback Piano Performance, Malmö Conservatory of Music, Sweden, 2011
  • Solo Feedback Piano Performance, UC San Diego Conrad Prebys Music Center, 2011
  • Gregory Porter, Idyllwild Jazz Festival, 2010
  • Exceptional Musicians-Essential Music 10th Anniversary, Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, CA, 2010 
  • Anthony Davis and James Gordon Williams in a Duo Piano recital, Mandeville Recital Hall, UC San Diego, 2008
  • Charli Persip Trio, The Jazz Museum of Harlem, 2008
  • Masterclass & Concerto, Sull, Improvvisazione Jazz, PN Bar & Café, in Pordenone, Italy, September 18, 2008 
Selected Performances: 
Education and Training: 
Ph.D., University of California, San Diego
M.A., New York University
B.M., New England Conservatory of Music