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Karlton Hester

Professor of Music

Karlton E. Hester, Ph.D. (composer/flutist/saxophonist),

Associate Dean, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Director of Digital Arts and New Media

Hester specializes in premeditated, spontaneous, and electro-acoustic composition. As a performer on both flute and saxophone, he is founding music director of the Fillmore Jazz Preservation Big Band (in San Francisco), director of Hesterian Musicism, and served as the Herbert Gussman Director of Jazz Studies at Cornell University from 1991-2001. Hester specializes in premeditated, spontaneous and electro-acoustic composition. His compositions span a wide range; from numerous solo cycles for various woodwinds to chamber configurations, music videos and electro-acoustic symphonic works written in an eclectic array of styles.

Research Interests: 

Hester has been the recipient of composer fellowships, grants and commissions from the National Endowment of the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, New England Council of the Arts, Fund for US Artists for International Participation in International Festivals, ASCAP, the William Grant Still Foundation, a Postdoctoral fellowship from the Mellon Foundation, amongst others. His albums and DVDs include 21st-Century Musicism; The Divine Particle Vision, The Fillmore Jazz Preservation Big Band (featuring John Handy and Denise Perrier); Harmonious Soul Scenes 2000; Musicism for the Sake of Love; Hesterian Liberation; Reconstructive Musicism; Karlton Hester and the Contemporary Jazz Art Movement; Hesterian Musicism; Dances Purely for the Sake of Love; Musicism for Your Imagination, Sacred Musicism, and others. His books on music include his most recent publication, African Roots of the “Jazz” Evolution (2017, 3rd Edition). Survey of African Music (2011), Exploratory Musicism: Ideas for Spontaneous Composition (2010), Bigotry and the Afrocentric Jazz Evolution, (4th Edition) and The Melodic and Polyrhythmic Development of John Coltrane's Spontaneous Composition in a Racist Society.


Karlton Hester has performed throughout the USA and worldwide (in Bolivia, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Peru, Egypt, Korea, Germany, France, South Africa, Mexico, Thailand, Canada). Hester Festivals and Conferences (with the International Society for Improvised Music, the Fillmore Preservation Big Band, as well as at Cornell and UCSC with Hesterian Musicism and the Traditional & Experimental Cornell Lab Ensembles) have included guest artists Jaki Byard, John Handy, Joe Henderson, Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Stanley Turrentine, Louis Jordan, Buddy Collette, Dr. Donald Byrd, Dr. Billy Taylor, Dr. Nelson Harrison, Randy Weston, Charles Lloyd, Geri Allen, Benny Powell Charles Tolliver, Steve Turre, Sam Rivers, Denise Perrier, Thomas Mapfumo (Zimbabwe), George E. Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, Hotep Galeta (South Africa), Ashwin Batish, Victor Goines, Akua Dixon, Mamadou Diabate (Mali), Samite Mulondo (Uganda), Cecilia Smith, Phil Bowler, Adela Dalto, Akua Dixon, Pamela Wise, Nick Mathis, and many other renowned innovators, jazz and African artists.


Hesterian Musicism explores a variety of ways to achieve abstract balance, aesthetic satisfaction, harmony, contrast, and effective modes of interdisciplinary artistic expression, to produce effective means of communicating with others in our global community. Thus, Hesterian Musicism is a conceptual approach where individual skill and imagination uses past traditions as stepping-stones to future creations, not as ends in themselves. The goal is to produce synergetic experimentation that enables art and artists with diverse perspectives to find common modes of expression and mutual vocabularies through which to express reflections of our contemporary world.

831 459 2575
284 Music Center
Office Hours: 



Selected Publications: 

Exploratory Musicism

Ideas for Spontaneous Composition

By Karlton Hester

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60927-132-9, 438 pages



 African Roots of the Jazz Evolution

 (Third Edition)

 By Karlton E. Hester, Ph.D.

 Paperback ISBN: 978-1-63487-498-4, 664 pages



Survey of African Music

(Revised Edition)

Edited by Karlton E. Hester, Ph.D.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-62661-043-9, 400 pages



The Melodic and Polyrhythmic Development of John Coltrane's Spontaneous Composition in a Racist Society


by Hester, Karlton E.

Mellon Press ©1997

Selected Performances: 

April 26, 2024, April in Santa Cruz Concert:



April 27, 2024, April In Santa Cruz Concert:



Karlton Hester - Quantum Elders Consciousness Vaccine (2021)


Fusion Soul: Hesterian Musicism & New Music Korea at Old First Church (2021)


Education and Training: 
B.M., University of Texas at El Paso
M.A. in Music Education, San Francisco State University
Ph.D. in Composition, City University of New York Graduate Center