I am a first year PhD candidate in jazz studies and a composer, baritone saxophonist, and political activist. Before enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh’s Jazz Studies program, I was mentored by the Guggenheim Fellowship recipient Fred Ho, in Baritone saxophone technique and composition, from 2009 until Mr. Ho’s passing in April of 2014. I partnered with Mr. Ho to produce several mixed media musical projects spanning the United States, from Hawaii to most recently to in Vermont of 2014.
I have played with the bands of a diverse cross-section of innovative voices in New York City’s jazz scene, ranging from Arturo O’Farrill to Craig Harris. He has performed at New York’s prestigious cultural institutions such as the Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Lincoln Center. As a producer & curator, Ben was responsible for the launch and development of the music program at the iconic Red Rooster in Harlem. He has also worked across disciplines, such as with choreo-prosodists Daria Fain and Robert Kocik, and with poet Magdalena Gomez. In Pittsburgh, his town of residence, he plays with a wide spectrum of musicians, from the reggae fusion music of Zambian artist Mathew Tembo to the jazz-funk band Chop Shop.
My scholarship, like my music, aims to bring stories of resistance and self-determination front and center. My current areas of interest relate to the struggles of Indigenous communities in Mexico as social actors that have challenged ecological destruction and unbridled capitalism. My prior work has related to the work of African American musicians to employ jazz and improvised music as sites of community building and challenges to racism and exploitation. I have presented my musical and scholarly work at the “Technologies of Liberation” Conference in Riviera, Mexico, with my partner, Gizelxanath Rodriguez; as well as at the Association For Asian American Studies Conference. Overall, I see no contradiction between my areas of study and consider jazz to be intrinsically transnational, while maintaining a Black American core, and thoroughly on the side of justice and self determination of oppressed peoples, ecological justice, and gender equality.
More about me can be found at BenBarsonMusic.com.
Nonantzin, with Gizelxanath Rodriguez
Composed by Salvador Moreno
This song is sung in the Indigenous language of Nahuatl. It is dedicated to the Yaqui tribe, of Sonora, Mexico, who are in a historic struggle for their water rights against the Mexican government and international corporations. Despite having resided in the Sonora desert for fifteen hundred years, the scarce water resources they have depended on are being taken for others’ profit. The Yaqui have stood up and protested and fought. This song is sung in their language and is for indigenous rights everywhere.
Black Red and Green Revolutionary EcoMusic Tour – Barnard Vermont, February, 2014
The Red, Black and Green Revolutionary Eco-Music Tour performed the music of two legendary and influential big band jazz composers: Cal Massey, a leading 1960s African American composer whose lonost magnum opus “The Black Liberation Movement Suite” is one of the 20th century’s great undiscovered lonform works; alongside famed composer, political activist, ecosocialist and, “Best baritone saxophonist of all time” (The New Yorker) Fred Ho. I produced the tour, chose musicians and speakers, and worked with venues.
Insurrealista (composed by Benjamin Barson)
The composition submitted for your consideration, “Insurrealista,” is a homage to the revolutionary surrealism of the father of Negritude, Aime Cesaire. In terms of influences, the piece employs a 20-string koto, within a jazz-hip hop rhythmic section. Such a connectivity is the first of its kind. The rhythm is a consistent 13/8 time signature, also a highly unconventional and unusual sequence. spiritchild joins in vocals. This piece will be part of Brooklyn Rezound.