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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

James Gordon Williams

James Gordon Williams behind a piano.

Associate Professor

African American Studies

Art and Music Histories

208 Sims Hall

I am Associate Professor of Music in African American Studies and a pianist and composer. I am also courtesy professor in Art and Music Histories. My music research has explored how African American jazz improvisers express political and racial identity through creative practices that manifest in radical cultural work which connects with contemporary U.S. social movements like Black Lives Matter; Black Geographies; Artistic Research; music analysis; Black feminism frameworks; black self-determination and intellectual practices in improvised and popular musics. My articles have appeared in various peer-reviewed journals including Ethnomusicology Review, Jazz and 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.

My first book is called Crossing Bar Lines: The Politics and Practices of Black Musical Space (University Press of Mississippi, 2021).

As an artist I have had interdisciplinary collaborations with artists who work in different modes and mediums. I have recently worked with artists Crystal Z. Campbell, Fred Moten, Cauleen Smith, and Suné Woods in performances and installations. I have also performed with Anthony Davis, Mark Dresser, Joseph Jarman, Greg Osby, George E. Lewis, Charli Persip, Gregory Porter, among many other musicians.


Ph.D. Integrative Studies in Music, University of California, San Diego

M.A. Music, New York University

B.Mus. New England Conservatory of Music


AAS 112/ANT 112 Introduction to African American Studies

AAS 206 Introduction to African American Music

AAS 400 African American Popular Culture

AAS 411 The Music and Life of Prince

AAS 511 Black Intellectual Thought in Music

AAS 409 & 609 African American Jazz and Social Life


Selected Publications

Williams, James Gordon. "“The Root of all of this Music”: Randy Weston's Pan African Approach to Music Education." Jazz and Culture (University of Illinois Press) 4, no. 1 (2021): 33-67.

James Gordon Williams, 2020, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s critique of the Danziger Bridge shootings, Jazz Research Journal, ADVANCE ACCESS to 13.1-2 (2019): Special Issue: Jazz and Everyday Aesthetics, DOI: 10.1558/jazz.37660,

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. “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).

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)

Unrepeatable Life

Unrepeatable Life by James Gordon Williams, Audio CD, Label: CD Baby, ASIN: B000CAJI6U

Artistic Research, Performances and Installations

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.

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.


Grammy-Award Winning Musician Terri Lyne Carrington Headlines Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Public Affairs Lecture

(March 12, 2021)

Carrington will discuss her distinguished musical career and social justice work.

Excellence Personified

(May 22, 2018)

Humanities Center Fellows praised for "disciplinary rigor, interdisciplinary creativity, ethical engagement"

Purple Reign

(Feb. 8, 2018)

Late musician’s commitment to social justice overlooked, James Gordon Williams says

Outlaw Culture Music

(Nov. 16, 2015)

A&S professor James Gordon Williams makes ‘faculty debut’ with concert of original music

Zeitgeist of Opportunity

(April 1, 2015)

Creative Musician James Gordon Williams to Headline Local Events