(781) 283-2045
B.M., Oberlin Conservatory of Music; M.A., Ph.D., University of Michigan

Tamar Barzel
Assistant Professor of Music

Ethnomusicologist specializing in the music of the United States, with a focus on jazz.

My research focuses on New York City's downtown music scene, and especially on an artistic and cultural phenomenon called "Radical Jewish Culture." The composer/improvisers who developed the downtown scene of the 1980s-2000s had wide-ranging interests that included jazz and free jazz, free improvisation, experimental concert music, noise, blues, hardcore rock, funk, and "No Wave." In the 1990s, many artists turned their attention to writing unconventional music that drew on Jewish music and heritage in idiosyncratic ways. My work on this uniquely American, boundary-crossing musical avant-garde has led me to develop new analytical tools to engage with the music while also addressing its layered cultural, philosophical, and historical contexts. I have also met a lot of extremely interesting people. I have presented my research nationally and internationally at conferences including the Society for Ethnomusicology, the Society for American Music, the American Jewish Historical Society, the Jewish Music Forum, and the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University. My articles appear in such journals as the Michigan Quarterly Review and the Journal of the Society for American Music, as well as such collections as Jazz from the Outside In: Genres, Practices, Meanings (University of California), and "People Get Ready!" The Future of Jazz Is Now (Duke).

I teach a course titled Global Pop: The Social Life of Sounds, and this title is a good illustration of my approach to teaching and understanding music. As an ethnomusicologist, I know music is not a universal language. In a way similar to studying different languages and encountering diverse ways of being in the world, developing a nuanced understanding of music means learning to hear it, and interact with it, from the inside-out, as a cultural phenomenon as well as a sonic one. I strive to show my students that each kind of music, and often each individual piece of music, is contingent upon particular ways of hearing, thinking about, and conceptualizing organized sound. Music also has a social and political dimension: For example, national movements in Senegal, Mali, and Cuba were all directly related to the development of new genres and styles. All my courses have an interdisciplinary reading and listening list, and I incorporate concerts, workshops, and classroom visits by local artists, including our performance faculty, who specialize among other things in jazz, opera, and Haitian and Brazilian folkloric drumming.

I especially enjoy organizing round-table discussions with musicians, including a public forum at the Musée d'Art at d'Histoire du Judaïsme in Paris in 2010. The night before the event, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in Iceland, stranding us for a week as all the tulips, cherry trees, and daffodils in Paris bloomed at once.

I like ice-skating outside, especially to a soundtrack of hits from the 70s. I also love Boston's independent radio stations.