John Szwed Named New Director of Center for Jazz Studies

July 19, 2011

John F. Szwed, professor of music and jazz studies at Columbia University, has been appointed director of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia. An anthropologist and jazz scholar, Szwed is the author of the recent biography, Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World. His publications range from anthropological studies of Newfoundland and the West Indies to record liner notes and jazz journalism.

Szwed has written or edited 15 books, includingSpace is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Raand Jazz 101Doctor Jazz, a book included with the CD set, Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax, was awarded a Grammy in 2005. In addition, he has written forThe New York TimesThe Washington PostWire, and other publications in the U.S. and Europe. He is currently general editor of the Jazz Perspectives book series published by The University of Michigan Press.

Szwed takes over the director role from George E. Lewis, Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia, who has run the Center since 2007.

“I’m very excited to see John Szwed become the new director of the Center,” said Lewis. “New leadership means new possibilities, and John’s vast academic experience, his love of jazz, and his deep understanding of the national and international impact of improvisation in culture and community all promise a bright future for research and teaching in music at Columbia.”

Szwed is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Jazz Studies Online (JSO), one of the most widely-referenced portals on the web for jazz research. JSO recently began a two-year project to build and test a powerful database tool for research on the history of jazz with the participation of a network of noted jazz scholars. The project has received generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Szwed has also received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Prior to joining Columbia, Szwed was the John M. Musser Professor of Anthropology, African American Studies, and Film Studies at Yale for 26 years. He has also taught at Temple University, Lehigh University, New York University and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was co-director of the Center for Urban Ethnography with Erving Goffman and Dell Hymes, and Chair of the Department of Folklore and Folklife. He was also Louis Armstrong Visiting Professor of Jazz Studies at Columbia in 2003-04 and 2005-2007.

“It’s an honor and a real challenge to follow the Center’s previous directors, Robert O'Meally and George Lewis,” said Szwed. “Both created a thriving new academic field, but they also changed the uptown cultural landscape by bringing some of the world’s best musicians, dancers, singers and composers to Columbia and the greater Harlem community. I hope to continue the Center’s task of engaging the University and New York City with this incredible music.”