The Fierce Urgency of Now

Improvisation, Rights, and the Ethics of Cocreation

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice

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Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: Published: June 2013

Activism, American Studies, Music

The Fierce Urgency of Now links musical improvisation to struggles for social change, focusing on the connections between the improvisation associated with jazz and the dynamics of human rights struggles and discourses. The authors acknowledge that at first glance improvisation and rights seem to belong to incommensurable areas of human endeavor. Improvisation connotes practices that are spontaneous, personal, local, immediate, expressive, ephemeral, and even accidental, while rights refer to formal standards of acceptable human conduct, rules that are permanent, impersonal, universal, abstract, and inflexible. Yet the authors not only suggest that improvisation and rights can be connected; they insist that they must be connected.

Improvisation is the creation and development of new, unexpected, and productive cocreative relations among people. It cultivates the capacity to discern elements of possibility, potential, hope, and promise where none are readily apparent. Improvisers work with the tools they have in the arenas that are open to them. Proceeding without a written score or script, they collaborate to envision and enact something new, to enrich their experience in the world by acting on it and changing it. By analyzing the dynamics of particular artistic improvisations, mostly by contemporary American jazz musicians, the authors reveal improvisation as a viable and urgently needed model for social change. In the process, they rethink politics, music, and the connections between them.


“This is a book which deserves to be widely read.” — Lou Glandfield, TLS

“A rather important book that seeks for the first time—or the first time with quite this level of intellectual rigor—to make clear the defining connections between improvisation and rights, and to suggest that improvisation’s basic heuristic, which is the capacity to discern potentials in any given situation, has a powerful social function.” — Brian Morton, The Wire

The Fierce Urgency of Now is both a testament to the veracity of the rapidly growing field of improvisation studies, but also an impassioned, far-reaching, interdisciplinary investigation into ways that musical improvisation can activate new perspectives on rights discourses.”  — Jason Robinson, Journal of Popular Music Studies

"[This] collaborative effort offers not just a rigorous articulation of improvised music’s ethical potential but also a manifesto about how that potential’s realization should take place."  — Michael Borshuk, English Studies in Canada

"Much here is provocative and thought-provoking as the apparent disconnect between politics and artistic real-time sonic exploration is disturbed."

  — Alister Spence, Media International Australia

"The Fierce Urgency of Now clearly stands out as a powerful and profoundly inspiring manifesto of great potential interest to ethnomusicologists seeking to engage issues of social justice through their scholarly practice." — A. Scott Currie, Ethnomusicology

"The Fierce Urgency of Now is a groundbreaking and, in many instances, breathtaking book. Its focus on the ways that musicians from many backgrounds and genres think about and enact improvisation as linked to issues of human rights, community, and freedom is innovative, and the argument that human rights are expanded and valuably reconceptualized by improvisational practices is even more inventive and generative. This book should be read by scholars and students working on social justice and the political, social, and visionary importance of expressive cultures all over the world." — Tricia Rose, Professor, Brown University, and author of The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop—and Why It Matters


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daniel Fischlin is Professor and University Research Chair in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph in Ontario. He is coauthor (with Martha Nandorfy) of The Community of Rights – The Rights of Community.

Ajay Heble is Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph and an editor (with Rob Wallace) of People Get Ready: The Future of Jazz Is Now!, also published by Duke University Press. He is the founder and artistic director of the Guelph Jazz Festival.

George Lipsitz is Professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of many books, including How Racism Takes Place and Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Prelude. "The Fierce Urgency of Now"; Improvisation, Rights, and the Ethics of Cocreation xi

Introduction. Dissolving Dogma: Improvisation, Rights, and Difference 1

1. Sounding Truth to Power: Improvisation, Black Mobility, and Resources for Hope 33

2. Improvisation and Encounter: Rights in the Key of Rifference 57

3. Improvising Community: Rights and Improvisation as Encounter Narratives 99

4. Improvisation, Social Movements, and Rights in New Orleans 141

5. Art to Find the Pulse of the People: We Know This Place 171

6. "The Fierce Urgency of Now": Improvisation, Social Practice, and Togetherness-in-Difference 189

Coda 231

Notes 245

Works Cited 263

Index 281
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5478-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5464-2
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