Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jeffrey Taylor

Committee Members

Fred Moten

Michele Wallace

David Grubbs

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Ethnomusicology


Jazz, Great Black Music, Semiotics, Afrocentricity


This dissertation explores the historical and ideological headwaters of a certain form of Great Black Music that I call Afrocentric spiritual jazz in Chicago. However, that label is quickly expended as the work begins by examining the resistance of these Black musicians to any label. I theorize that this resistance is due to the experiences of Black history, throughout which labels have been used to enslave, exploit, and control people. I begin by discussing early musical labels, several important n-words, and then the innovation of African diasporic subjecthood and its labels. Then Black is examined, along with several corollary social movements and Black music. Finally the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Great Black Music is brought forward as a healing descriptor, introducing the goal of healing as a characteristic of this musical tradition. In the next half-chapter, I apply the semiotics of Charles Peirce to jazz, with specific focus on the avant-garde. I theorize that the avant-garde’s timbral focus is related to Peirce’s concept of Firstness, and also to iconic representation. I then briefly discuss the history of spiritual jazz before reviewing the Afrocentric paradigm that many musicians represent in the music. I examine the lives, careers, and work of three Black spirit musicians in Chicago: Phil Cohran, David Boykin, and Angel Elmore. Then I bring together relevant aspects of the music, its history, and the people surrounding it, by considering four valences of space: 1) urban space, specifically the South Side which was a result of the Great Migration of Negroes from the south who became Black people in the North; 2) performance spaces, especially in view of the demise of Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge; 3) sonic space, one characteristic of the Chicago music, which is a loaded possibility for creation to happen; 4) outer space, spiritual dimensions, and the musicians collective I’m part of called the MB Collective and the Participatory Music Coalition.