The Spirit of Jazz & Democracy

Improvisation ~ innovation ~ freedom


about the spirit of jazz & democracy

Increasing divisiveness in American politics generates new challenges for our democracy. How can we embody the spirit of toleration and cultivate more mutual understanding among citizens?

We begin by listening.

In 2016, Dominic Fragman developed The Spirit of Jazz & Democracy with Paul Murphy, Larry Willis, Jere Carroll, and Sybol Anderson to illuminate key lessons about preserving democracy that can be derived from experiences of jazz music. Jazz is the true American art form and the music of freedom in performance as well as concept. Improvisation, the essential element of jazz, expands freedom and improves the human condition through its reliance upon the dual liberatory powers of listening and self-expression.

The Spirit of Jazz & Democracy is a program of lectures, concerts, workshops, and master classes that engage audiences in experiences of intentional listening and expression in the context of performances and discussions of jazz and democracy. At the center of the program are fully improvised concerts by master musicians Paul Murphy (drums) and Larry Willis (piano), with guest performances by poet Jere Carroll and drummer Dominic Fragman.

An important facet of the Spirit of Jazz & Democracy is innovation.

Innovation is essential to the expansion of freedom. We promote and facilitate freedom through free-thinking, self-liberation, and the peaceful tolerance of ideas and truths. All Spirit of Jazz & Democracy performances and classes therefore emphasize the value and power of innovation.

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Meet the people of the Spirit of Jazz & Democracy

dominic fragman

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A perpetual student of the arts, Dominic Fragman, studies drumming and composition under master drummer Paul F. Murphy. He has also studied and performed with iconic pianist and MacArthur Fellow Cecil Taylor, and with renowned bebop pianist Larry Willis. Fragman's lineage through these musicians links to Gene Krupa, Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich, Lee Morgan, Philly Joe Jones, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Rashied Ali, Jimmy Lyons, Salvador Dalí, and Joan Miro. In 2013, Oxford University Press invited Fragman to author an entry on Paul Murphy for the Grove Dictionary of American Music.

Fragman is also a simultaneous multi-instrumentalist who performs on guitar, drum set, and vocals at the same time. His performances are all live, no looping—a presentation method he’s dubbed the Solo Trio. He uses rock music as a foundation for intense, captivating songs interweaved by exhilarating improvisations drawing from African, Brazilian, Eastern, and jazz influences. What’s Up magazine described Fragman as “the next generation of trailblazing drummers [who] pushes the boundaries of rhythm exploring music from all angles with his instrument and free spirit.” Fragman released his debut EP, Obsonatus, in April 2017.

Fragman’s primary instrument is drum set. He has performed throughout the US and Europe with artists ranging from Top 40 to free jazz, including Jimi "Haha" Davies, Charles Gayle, James Brandon Lewis, and William Parker. He has played the Jazz and Wine of Peace Festival, Salerno Jazz Festival, So What's Next Festival, and the Jamboree Jazz Club Festival. He has performed as the Solo Trio on the National Mall for the DC Rally 4 Refugees, at FloydFest, The Annapolis Fringe Festival, Rams On Stage and Rams Head Live. He is a Regal Tip Sticks, Wicked Chops, Booty Shakers, and Kaces Gig Bags Artist.

Fragman is co-founder with Paul Murphy of The Spirit of Jazz & Democracy, a program he began researching and developing as his senior honors thesis at St. Mary’s College. Subsequently, as an independent scholar and active clinician focusing on composition, improvisation and innovation, he partnered with Murphy and philosopher Sybol Anderson to expand the program into a series of lectures, concerts, workshops, and master classes.

paul f. murphy

Percussionist, bandleader, and composer Paul Murphy began playing drums as a child. He was befriended by Gene Krupa at age six and later studied with Louis Bellson. He also worked under the tutelage of Joseph Leavitt, the director of percussion at the Peabody Conservatory and the principal percussionist of the National Symphony Orchestra. By age 16 he was performing regularly with Duke Ellington's bass player Billy Taylor.

Calm Reflections Photography

Calm Reflections Photography

In 1970 Murphy relocated to San Francisco and established himself as a bandleader in such jazz venues as Keystone Korner. After meeting Cecil Taylor and his longtime alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons in San Francisco, Murphy moved to New York. There he managed Rashied Ali’s club, Ali’s Alley, and became Lyons’s first-choice drummer until the saxophonist’s death in 1986. During the 1980s Murphy led recording dates at CBS and RCA with a band that included Mary Anne Driscoll, Karen Borca, Lyons and Dewey Johnson. He has subsequently collaborated with renowned pianist Larry Willis and poet Jere Carroll, performing works that link the worlds of bebop and the avant garde and that have been noted as a new direction in the jazz and art arena.

In addition to leading pioneering recordings and ensembles, Murphy is renowned for his innovative approach to the drum set. He is a fluent, compositionally minded master drummer and has performed with numerous musicians across a vast spectrum of genres. Murphy’s biography is included in Oxford University Press’s Grove Dictionary of American Music (2013).

larry willis

Larry Willis is a world-renowned jazz pianist and composer who performs jazz fusion, rock, bebop avant-garde. He is a three-time Grammy nominee for his work with The Fort Apache Band (Crossroads, 1994; Pensativo, 1995) and Roy Hargrove (Strength, 2004).

Calm Reflections Photography

Calm Reflections Photography

Willis was born in Harlem, New York City. After his first year studying music theory at the Manhattan School of Music, where he regularly played with Eddie Gomez and Al Foster, he began performing regularly with Jackie McLean. After he graduated he made his first jazz recording, McLean's Right Now! which featured two of Willis' compositions. His first recording of any type, however, was as a singer with the Music and Arts Chorale Ensemble, performing an opera by Aaron Copland under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. He decided to concentrate on jazz because of the difficulties African American musicians had in finding work in concert music.

Throughout his career Willis has performed with a wide range of musicians, including seven years as keyboardist for Blood, Sweat & Tears (1972-1979). He appears on more than 300 recordings and has performed, toured, and recorded with iconic artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey, Stan Getz, Lee Morgan, the Adderley Brothers, Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn, Wynton Marsalis, and Hugh Masekela. He spent several years as pianist for Nat Adderley and Roy Hargrove.

Willis has recorded 19 albums as leader, including A New Kind of Soul (Brunswick, 1972), My Funny Valentine (Evidence, 1988), Unforgettable(SteepleChase, 1992), Solo Spirit (Mapleshade, 1993), and Let's Play(SteepleChase, 1994). His composition "Sanctuary," from the album of the same name (Mapleshade, 2003) began exploring works employing strings. After a successful performance in Frank Lloyd Wright's Annie Pfieffer Chapel at Florida Southern College's Child of the Sun Jazz Festival, Willis was commissioned to write a full-scale orchestral work for jazz trio and orchestra. His 2008 recording with Paul Murphy, Exposé (Murphy Records), demonstrated the fusion principles of bebop and avant-garde jazz. His latest recording as a leader is This Time the Dream's on Me (High Note, 2012).

Willis received the Don Redman award in 2011, and the Benny Golson Jazz Master Award at Howard University in 2012. He is still recording and touring around the world.

Jere Carroll

Calm Reflections Photography

Calm Reflections Photography

Jere Carroll, master poet, artist, and dancer, was a staple of the Washington, DC art scene from the 1980’s into the turn of the century. She was poet laureate of the grand opening of the Mary Pickford Theatre at the United States Library of Congress (1983) and is the subject of Real Earth Productions’ documentary, Poet’s Song (1990). Her recordings include a spoken word album, Breakaway, with jazz drummer Paul Murphy and pianist Joel Flutterman (Cadence, 2000).

Carroll is a co-founder and former director of Amnesty International’s call for posters human rights campaign. She has performed at the DC Jazz Festival, DC Space, Howard University, George Washington University, Morgan State University, the Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts, and the Wentworth Gallery.

Sybol Anderson

Social and political philosopher Sybol Anderson, PhD, is Chief Diversity Officer at Loyola University New Orleans. She joined The Spirit of Jazz & Democracy as a lecturer and program developer in 2016. Previously, Anderson was Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland where, among other things, she organized campus-wide democratic community conversations and was lead architect and former director of the DeSousa-Brent Scholars Program, which promotes leadership for inclusiveness among students from underrepresented groups. Anderson has also served as Senior Program Manager and Senior Consultant for the GE-National Medical Fellowships Primary Care Leadership Program, which provides service-learning experiences in community health centers for medical students, graduate nursing students, and graduate physician assistant students interested in practicing in medically underserved communities.

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Anderson’s scholarship focuses on liberal theory, recognition theory, and the philosophy of race. She is author of Hegel’s Theory of Recognition: From Oppression to Ethical Liberal Modernity, and is co-editor of Race and Racism in Continental Philosophy and A Passion for Wisdom: Readings in Western Philosophy on Love and Desire. She has also authored articles on liberalism, recognition, race, and pedagogy. A Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Anderson earned her PhD in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.